When I left an abusive relationship, dating was not on my mind. I thought I would be anti-relationship for a long time. But that wasn’t the case. I had a lot of conflicting thoughts and found myself:
- Yearning for love yet cold and detached from my emotions.
- Desperate to meet someone yet terrified of getting hurt.
- Wanting a good role model for my children, yet needing to keep them to myself.
And, I got stuck in a cycle of recurrent unhealthy relationships.
From my years of talking to other survivors, I have realised that we go one of two ways — we continue to get involved with people who do not treat us well or spend years single.
If only we could all believe, straight away, that we deserve to love and be loved. We would all be able to break the cycle of abuse.
If only we had numerous examples of survivors that have found love and happiness. We would see that love and happiness are possible for us “damaged goods”.
If you are unwilling to give up on the idea of a loving, caring relationship that is fulfilling, equal and respectful, read on. Healthy relationships after abuse are possible, and I am living proof of it.
Your external relationships directly reflect your internal relationship, which was severely damaged during your previous abusive relationship.
Despite being physically free, you remain emotionally trapped until you work through the low self-esteem, lack of self-confidence, and feelings of being unworthy and unimportant.
Despite the horrific abuse I suffered, the subsequent less abusive relationship I got involved with, the let-downs, disappointments, tears and “why me’s”, the years spent unsuccessfully dating and searching for the person who could love me the way I needed; I finally found my Mr Right. I found someone who treats me with unconditional love and support, makes me feel special every day, compliments me, gives without expecting anything back, and loves me “just the way I am”.
Was it luck? Nope, it took a lot of work!
How I got myself to the point where I was able to love and be loved.
- I became aware of the beliefs that were preventing me from finding love. For example: “I will never find someone who treats me well.” “I am damaged goods; who will want me?” “What have I done to deserve all this pain?” “I am not good enough.” And tried to ignore them as best I could.
- I started to look after myself and put myself first. Simple things like eating healthy food, exercising and giving myself half an hour to watch my tv programme.
- I set some healthy boundaries with my sons rather than letting them walk all over me and allowing guilt to get the best of me.
- I made a conscious decision to be single for a while. The only way you can truly heal from abuse is to do the work on yourself whilst being single. No one can “fix” you because you are not broken; you just need time to heal.
- I tried to treat myself with the love I craved through positive self-talk and acts of self-care, such as treating myself to a haircut or flowers.
- I still used to cry myself to sleep some nights, but I did what I had done best during those 9 years of abuse — I woke up in the morning, brushed off my shoulders and got on with it. One thing we learn whilst living with abuse is inner strength and resilience.
When I went out dating (because I could not let this dream of love go), I found that the people I met got progressively nicer, more respectful and more appreciative. This inner stuff works!
How I improved my dates.
- I consciously started dating guys completely different from the usual type I would go for.
- I continuously reminded myself that I deserved to be treated well and was worthy of love.
- I listened to my heart and gut. If something felt wrong or I was feeling disappointed, I would stop seeing them, despite my inclination to cling to them.
And then I met him, the person who was to show me what true love is all about.
The challenges I faced once I met “the one”.
I could write a book about the challenges I had to work through to get to my wedding day! However, I will condense them into a few key moments in our blossoming relationship.
- I read many of his signals wrong. I mistakenly thought that he didn’t fancy me because he didn’t expect sex straight away. I also thought he couldn’t see a long-term future with me because he didn’t want to meet my kids. Both were actually signs of respect — something I had not been on the receiving end of for a long time.
- I was always expecting him to let me down. I came up with excuse after excuse, allowing him to disappoint me — “you don’t have to come round if you’re too busy”, “are you sure you want to take me to this party?”, “If you’re running late (which was through no fault of his own), it’s not worth coming at all.” Rather than agreeing to this encouragement to let me down, he came back with “I’m never too busy for you”, “of course I want to take you, you’re my girlfriend”, and the comment that we will both never forget “if I don’t come round this evening, we probably won’t see each other for a while and then things will start to fade, and I don’t want that.” It brings tears to my eyes, even just thinking back to this moment.
- I was so scared of being hurt, both emotionally and physically. The above comment brought about a pivotal moment in our relationship. I knew that I had two options. The first was to give in to my fear, see this as a sign that I wasn’t important and could get hurt, and call it a day. The second was to push through the fear, let my guard down and open myself up to be loved. Yes, I may get hurt, but what if I don’t? He had never let me down before that moment.
As you can guess, I made the hardest choice of my life. I chose to risk getting hurt again and open myself up to what I had dreamed of for so long. Love.
I have never regretted that decision, we continue to go from strength to strength, and I am now truly free.
If I can get here, you can too!
You can find your Mr/Mrs Right, you really can, but you need to find yourself first.
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This post was previously published on MEDIUM.COM.
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