Help! I recently left an abusive relationship and am really afraid I'll get involved in another one. Can you give me some guidance?
By BATYA L. LUDMANDear Dr. Batya,
Help! I recently left an abusive relationship and am really afraid I'll get involved in another one. Can you give me some guidance?T.L., Jerusalem
Abusive relationships are difficult, as the abused usually goes back for more when things quiet down. The abusive person is frequently nice and, after all, with a promise that "it will never happen again," one wants to forgive, forget and maintain stability. Abuse is very much an issue in our society, especially given the stresses under which we live. Whether child, elder or spousal abuse, it is important to recognize the warning signs. It is easy to be in denial and blame yourself, thinking "I deserved it" or "it only happened once."
This should serve as your wake-up call. If you are involved in an abusive relationship, get professional help. Unfortunately, the next incident could be your last.
Our body is special. No one ever has a right to abuse it. That means no one - family, friend or otherwise - has a right to physically hurt or touch your body in ways or places that make you feel uncomfortable. Nor may they emotionally hurt you by saying they love you while putting you down, calling you names or cursing at you. Everyone is entitled to feel safe, loved and good about oneself.
Often the victim feels they are no good, worthless and even the cause of their own problems. I see many people within abusive relationships who ultimately acknowledge they are unhealthy. Some even think about leaving. Most, with partners who are seemingly caring, kind, jovial, charismatic and friendly, end up leaving only to return many times until they decide that they have had enough. Both men and women can be abusive.
Without exception it is never okay to hit another individual - whether a child, a partner or a parent. Hitting signifies being out of control. There are other, more appropriate ways to deal with one's anger, and if one can't deal with anger, then one needs immediate help.
Many of us have indeed struck out in a moment of utter frustration. We are all human. Sadly, once involved in an abusive pattern of relating to someone else, it becomes that much easier to lash out again.
For many reasons, the victim takes abuse silently. Secrets are often an abusive use of power to ensure that unacceptable behavior can continue unchecked. Pretending that all is okay engenders fear as one waits for it to happen yet again. Abuse cuts across all social, cultural, religious and ethnic groups. Both victim and abuser are in need of assistance in order to change destructive behavior.
While you fear a new relationship, remember - healthy relationships are not abusive and an abusive relationship is not healthy. This is true whether the relationship is with a child, parent or partner. All healthy relationships depend on good communication, trust, mutual respect and appropriate boundaries.
Here are some questions to ask yourself as you become involved in another relationship:
1. What is the communication like within your relationship? Are you good friends? Can you talk without fear of repercussion or put-downs? Can you be open and honest, and feel free to express negative thoughts? Are you heard? Is your language kind and caring or insulting, overly critical and derogatory? Is there anger?
2. Is it a trusting relationship? Is there honesty or fear of reprisal or concern for your personal safety? Can you count on this person and are they sensitive to your needs? Is there "healthy" jealousy or an uncomfortable sense that who you see and what you do is being monitored? Is it acceptable to have some "me" time or time with your friends without the other person being overly controlling or possessive about how you use this time, how you dress, etc? Does he have your best interests at heart? Does he engage in risky or reckless behavior that endangers your well-being, such as driving while intoxicated, threaten suicide if you leave, destroy personal property, etc?
3. Are there boundaries within the relationship and are they well maintained? People have a right to say no and set comfortable limits. Whether these boundaries are physical or emotional, how much respect does the other person show? Is there suggestive, threatening or violent behavior? Is your partner intrusive or not respectful of your life in such a way that he takes over and "demands" certain behaviors? Do you feel uncomfortable within the relationship and if so, why?
4. Is there a healthy level of mutual respect within the relationship? Is there a good level of personal self-respect? Are your beliefs, goals and ideals challenged in a positive way, or are they degraded and are you made to feel terrible? Are you allowed to be you and are you respected for who you are by those with whom you have a relationship? Is there a healthy respect for differences within your relationship?
Abuse is a painful subject. Without intervention, it seldom disappears and the victim may have life-long scars, while the abuser himself feels little remorse. Many victims feel trapped and see no escape or alternative. Some feel that occasional violence within a relationship is better than no relationship at all, and this is especially true when one depends financially on the abusive partner.
Abuse is no laughing matter. It is serious enough to be deadly. Trust your instincts.
The writer is a licensed clinical psychologist in Ra'anana. This column offers general psychological advice and is not intended to replace treatment by a mental health professional.
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