Michelle’s story

What happened:

I dated her for two years. In the beginning, it was like any other relationship…fun, romantic, exciting…but about 4 months in, things changed. She said we were “losing the mystery” which really meant she was learning things about me that she didn’t like or approve of. Soon, it became more specific — my clothes were silly, my hobbies stupid, my hair not flattering. She dated other people, claiming we never agreed to be committed, but when I showed interest in someone else, she “punished” me with silence or mean-spirited arguments. She criticized me and blamed everything that went wrong in our relationship on me — if I were more fun, if I were less of a nag, if I was more accepting, if I were thinner — she could commit to me and we could be happy. She even told me that if I’d do more social drinking/recreational drugs, I’d be more fun and she could enjoy me more. There was never any physical abuse, but the emotional abuse was constant and extensive.

How I coped:

First, I did all of the stupid things a person does to try to “fix” the situation. I tried to change who I was, make things more agreeable to her, placate her in all of the areas she complained about. What I discovered was that, not only did that not solve the problem, it made me feel AWFUL — about myself and about life in general.

How the situation changed:

Well, we broke up…NUMEROUS times. But there was obviously something that attracted us both to the relationship and we kept coming back for more. I should’ve known when the break-ups started in the first few months, followed by reconciliations, followed by more break-ups, that something was wrong. Eventually I did, but not until it nearly broke me — I had to hit the rock bottom of depression and self-loathing before it occured to me that it was the relationship, not me, that was the problem.

What helped me:

My mother and my sister. They were able to make me realize, over time, that all the negativity I was feeling in my life — anxiety, depression, self-doubt, etc. — was coming from the relationship. They were smart not to attack it head-on, however, as I would never have listened. Instead, they focused on ME, not on her or the relationship, and how I was feeling and why. It eventually became clear that the root of the problem was the relationship, not me.

What I would say to someone who is being abused:

IT WILL NEVER GET BETTER!! You can’t change who a person is or how they behave. All the problems of their past or present, no matter how sad they may seem (abuse, neglect, addiction, etc.), do NOT excuse their abusive behavior. No amount of love, yours or anyone’s, will be able to fix those problems if they don’t acknowledge them as problems or have a desire to fix them. I mean, my ex- acknowledged ALL of her behaviors, but maintained to the end that they were acceptable and only bothered me because I was too “uptight,” “square,” and “sensitive” to understand her. Just take care of yourself and don’t let someone else tell you who you are or treat you badly! If you don’t love yourself, you can’t expect someone else to!

© Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria

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