They say the body remembers. It keeps the proverbial score, and if that’s true, my body remembers a lot. My legs can still feel where they were struck when I was 7, lashed with a brown leather belt. My nose can still feel where it was hit when I was 27, when my husband’s knuckles connected with it — cracking the cartilage and breaking the skin. And my mind can still recall years of emotional abuse. I was put down, pushed aside. Made to feel stupid. Useless and worthless, through and through.
While the bruises have faded — the marks are gone and my skin has healed — growing up in an abusive household shaped me. Marrying an abusive man changed me, and while I do not want to give credence to their behaviors, I have learned a lot because of them.
Here are 10 lessons I’ve learned from a lifetime of abuse.
I can be changed by what happens to me, but I am not reduced by it.
While I have felt — and will continue to feel — the effects of abuse for years, I am not victimized by my past. Rather, I am a survivor, one who is growing in spite of it all.
I am capable of loving myself, even if no one else does — or will.
Feeling, or being in, love is an amazing gift, one that cannot be overstated. But growing up in an abusive household taught me self-love is essential. I need to remember my value and worth even if no one else does, or will.
I am not responsible for others’ mistakes, flaws, or lack of empathy or compassion.
Many victims of abuse grow up believing they are “bad” or “at fault.” I felt deserving of the tongue lashings and beatings. Every time I was hit, I believed I did something wrong. But years of therapy taught me I am not responsible for other people’s feelings, actions, or reactions. It was — and still is — not my fault.
You can come back from rock bottom.
The day my husband tried to drown me in a bath was without a doubt the lowest day of my life. I thought there was no path forward. No moving on. But the thing about rock bottom is that — once you hit it — there’s only one way you can go: Up. And living through years of abuse reminds me, again and again, that I can bounce back. I can always get up, and out.
Actions may speak louder than words, but the latter matters too.
Words are powerful. They can convey love, joy, excitement, and gratitude, to name a few, but they can also hurt. My mother was verbally abusive, for example, and her words cut deep. Never underestimate the power of your actions and/or what you say.
I am a survivor, not a victim — that’s an important distinction.
While many abuse survivors are and/or were victimized by their abuser[s], that does not mean they are hopeless or helpless. I am a survivor, not a victim. You are too.
To forgive is healthy. To forget disregards the lesson you learned when you forgave. Always heed the lesson.
It’s possible to trust others. It’s possible to trust yourself.
Years of abuse made me cautious. I didn’t trust others, nor did I trust myself. However, with time, therapy, and distance, I’ve learned that trust is possible, though it should be earned through one’s actions and behaviors.
Feelings are not facts, and emotions do not define you.
Being emotional is not a bad thing, but it’s important to distinguish feelings from facts; just because you feel like a failure doesn’t mean you are. Learning to differentiate the two is important, for your physical, social, and emotional wellbeing.
Growing up in an abusive household made me feel insignificant. I was invisible, irrelevant and small, and I felt that way for years — hence why I married an abusive man. But today, as a survivor of abuse, I know I am someone. I have many things to offer, and more importantly, I know I matter. I deserve to be and breathe, to exist and take up space.
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