A Mormon woman shares of the heartbreak of abuse, and how she was able to find healing.
It is over a decade later. I have finally come to the realization that I am an abused woman. No, I never received a bruise, a cut or a strike of the hand, but the words that berated me daily broke my spirit, cut into my confidence and beat me into a silent depressed ghost of myself. I no longer laughed, I no longer made goals or plans and I never ventured out of my little cell of allowable actions.
I had the perfect life, from the outside. Many women envied my world. They couldn’t see into the shaded windows and the tinted glass of my prison. The man they respected and honored was not the man that I lived with. The even-tempered loving demeanor changed instantly when he walked through the door. I became a whore in the bedroom and a housekeeper outside of it. My own views, desires and needs meant nothing.
How does a strong, self-assured woman turn into a cowering child? Day by day; Choice by choice. Criticism by criticism, a person is bludgeoned into believing that they are the ones at fault, that no matter what they do, it isn’t right. No amount of change matters, for when one thing changes, it is no longer interesting and the next fault is the focus. Criticism kills. The abuser would be appalled to hear that they are being abusive. It isn’t intended, it isn’t what they believe they are doing. Usually they believe they are “helping.” They are in the right! They are trying to make things “better” after all!
Taking away money, resources, the ability to go out alone, connection with friends, time to explore individual talents, all are necessary to remain human and productive. A slave has little agency, and little ability to progress.
I am divorced. Now, I hear continually, “You are so funny!” – “You are always so happy!” – “I never wanted to be around you before, now you are fun!” – “You used to cry all the time.” – “I didn’t think you knew how to smile!”
There are lingering echoes of pain.
Healing didn’t come quickly, but it did come. Through the loving Atonement of the Savior of the world, I have forgiven my abuser, for I know that he will never find happiness for himself with these behaviors. I have forgiven myself for allowing him, and me, to make me disappear.
Through the blessed and loving counsel of priesthood leaders, I have cried away the bitterness, prayed away the anger and laughed away the despair.
Sometimes I still doubt my ability, my worth, my contribution to the world, but now I know that it is temporary. That I have much to give, I have an open and willing heart, and I am good, just the way I am. I know because the warmth and acceptance of the infinite has burrowed deeper into my soul than the pain ever could.
There is healing from abuse, but the abuse must be distanced before healing can begin. Sometimes there are worse things than a “broken home.” A home that is broken on the inside while appearing “intact” on the outside is one of the worst. Fix it or leave it, but do NOT continue to die daily because you are unwilling to let others see what is broken. Turn to the Savior; the Atonement isn’t only for sin, but for comfort, solace and healing. It is the only way.
I loved this post. Thank you for opening yourself up like this. I know how hard it is.
One thing I don’t want to believe about what you said, however, is that “the abuse must be distanced before healing can begin.”
I am also divorced, but I have to have frequent contact with my ex because I have two small children. There is no hope for me to be completely distanced from the abuse for at least the next 17 years, because he manipulates and uses them to get to me.
I have to believe there is a way to heal from abuse while it is still going on, even if it is still happening in only a relatively small way. If not, what hope is there?
Of course, I can’t speak for the author of this post (and I’m not sure if she will be commenting) but when I read that part of her post, I thought she was talking about doing enough to draw boundaries. So, for example, making efforts to say “this is not ok” and even being willing to end the marriage if change does not happen and/or if that feels like the right thing to do to me is more along the lines of what I felt she was talking about. (I have a hard time imagining that she has been able to have complete distance as well.)
So what I heard is more that boundaries — rather than just letting the abuse continue to happen without any action at all — can create a distance even when complete distance is not possible, such as in your situation (which I think is very common for most women who have been abused and have divorced but still have to have interaction with the abuser).
Wow…. can I relate. I too was once years ago married to a verbal/emotional abuser. It has been 11 years. I have since remarried (9+yrs extraordinary years ago) but I can fully appreciate the lingering embedded effects of abuse. I still deal with them.
While married I adapted very well to the abuse in our very short marriage of 4 years where 3 children were born. I developed without any notice, into a text book definition of the “battered wife syndrome” where I was the cause of all abuse and worthless. I was denigrating as a human being, just the way he wanted me to… BUT I KNEW I had MORE worth than that. After many months of weekly temple attendance and lots of prayer, it was clear I needed to get him out of my face and away from me as much of possible. I was his “drug of choice”, controlling and manipulating me was all the sustenance he needed to thrive. Because of this, recovery for me certainly has involved many things but (emotional) distance has played a huge role. There is very little if any verbal communication now. Thankfully we have other means of communicating due to email. I had to establish boundaries to keep me emotionally safe.
Another very challenging aspect of my recovery was the explicit denial of any abuse from my ex. To this day there has never been any recognition of my experience which initially proved to be very painful. There was also a pornography issue that was discovered after I filed for divorce, that addiction shed light on many of the other behavioral dysfunctions. BUT you have to move on. I completely reject the notion that I have a broken home. IT WAS already a broken home, and I FIXED it! Sure being divorced has it’s challenges and is not ideal and certainly not part of Heavenly Fathers eternal plan…..but I had to make some very hard decisions and when prompted by the spirit I knew what was to be done. We have all thrived since. I have once been called an “outliner”, meaning that “my story” lies outside the norm. I have been overwhelmingly blessed in so many ways, not sure why but I embrace any woman who leaves a toxic and abusive marriage for something more, even if it means being alone… in this case alone meant safe. It is better to be healthy alone than to be sick with someone else. Leaving was the best thing I ever did and I have gained far more from it than ever lost. I am so thankful to my Heavenly Father who sparked those feelings of self worth deep within me that had been all but squashed that ultimately gave me the courage to get out of a mean suffocating marriage.
Recovery is a life long process. There are many layers to recovery but one thing I have learned is only I can CHOOSE to give my power away, no one else can take it. In that frame of mind I am strong so when “he” tries to blow my house down (which inevitability he trys to do almost in a cyclical pattern), I can stand solid with an unflinching resolve to not let him “in”.
Best of wishes to all those in any stage of recovery. Remember the LORD is on your side.
Michelle, good point. One thing I’ve come to realize, though, is that setting boundaries is not an event, it is a constant.
Thanks for your comment, Jen. I would guess it’s also better to be sick alone than sick together. It’s like that old framework of married/singlehood I saw once in order of desirability:
Healthy together/Happily married
Healthy alone/Happily single
Sick alone/Unhappily single
Sick together/Unhappily married
And I think it’s easier to heal when you are alone, if the person hurting you is your spouse.
i too, am one of many who was abused emotionally by those whom i trusted as a small child. i still remember waking up as a5 year old, or younger and feeling ‘heavy, or blue’.
i was the ‘unfortunate’ result of a ‘forced marriage’ during world war two, which was the ‘proper’ thing to do to conceal my mothers indiscretion. unfortunately, her husband /my father was killed shortly afterwords during a night raid over Germany. i resemble my fathers heritage, not my mothers, and therefore was a constant visible remembrance of her ‘wrongdoing’.
it is only recently, after much prayer, pondering, counsel through the Holy Spirit, that i have been able to give my pain and suffering to Him who willingly takes all our suffering, even Jesus Christ. He has broken down the walls built around me since childhood for protection against the abuse, because there is no one now to hurt me. The realization of this great mercy is overwhelming, humbling, and grateful I love Him, and I know He loves me.
“One thing I’ve come to realize, though, is that setting boundaries is not an event, it is a constant. ”
Oh, yes, I hope that my comment didn’t come across as making it sound like it was something you can do and then check off a list. I’ve watched too many friends go through this process and I know how hard — and how constant — it is. But I have seen how healing can come in that process as well, and how strength grows within the abused over time as confidence grows and more clarity comes about how wrong that abuse really was. As awful as it has been to watch friends go through this, I’ve also come to believe strongly in the strength of women to face this trial and to become stronger and stronger as they reclaim their worth and perspective and power in their lives.