The Emotionally Abused Woman by Beverly Engel, M.F.C.C. is among the classics in my bookshelf. When choosing books to write about, I passed it over a dozen times. It was almost easier to talk about my childhood sexual abuse than this. I guess it’s because I was a child at the time – innocent – totally undeserving of the abuse.
I haven’t felt that way about the other abuses in my life, especially the emotional abuse. I was an adult. I could take care of myself. I just didn’t. I was weak. So much shame.
One of the most significant emotional abusers in my life has died. Not only has he died, we made amends before he died. He’d changed. I changed. We’d changed.
I don’t want to talk about it.
I want to hide in a cave.
The cycle of abuse started way before my first marriage did – for both of us. Neither of us had the tools to build our own self-esteem. We looked to each other, both broken and needy, and found the task too large. We just didn’t realize it. Instead, we blamed each other for our shortcomings. We lashed out.
He cheated on me over and over, pulled my hair, punched holes in the walls. I spoke to him (i.e. screamed at him) like the dog I thought he was. I raised myself above him. I looked down on him. It’s difficult to explain how at one moment I believed I was better than he and at another, lower than a worm.
There were quiet years in-between. Nice years. Happy years. And then the cycle began again.
In year eighteen of our marriage, I weighed 300 pounds. My self-esteem was at an all-time low. A coworker walked into my office and told me he had feelings for me. Oldest line in the book, right?
An emotionally strong woman might have said she was married. She would have sent him on his way.
I made another choice.
I remember thinking, oh… this is what it feels like to lower myself to his level.
The other man and I met at a motel once. I confessed the same night it happened.
Looking back, I can see how a lifetime of abuse sealed the fate of our marriage.
Boys will be boys, he said.
I was dirt. A slut. Worse.
I lost everything that mattered to me because of my choice. Nothing was ever the same for our family, my children, or me. My fault.
Years later, I was in therapy, trying to rebuild my life with my second husband. My therapist listened as I talked about the end of my first marriage.
“You do realize he was abusive, don’t you?”
We sat there like that… three, five… seven minutes.
“No,” I said.
And so my work began.
She suggested this book.
Engel takes you on a step-by-step journey that leads to self-acceptance… self-love… and healing. It helps if you have a therapist on the path with you. It seems a lot of women, like me, have a hard time believing what they’re enduring is actually abusive.
I rarely tell this part of my story. I used to hate the “me” who made that unhealthy decision. Know that I originally wrote “stupid, selfish and dangerous” decision. Old habits die hard. So much guilt and shame.
And of course, since I lost everything, I got what I deserved.
Now, I see myself through a different lens. With compassion.
My late ex-husband and I did make amends. We forgave each other. Such a blessing.
I met the man of my dreams and he loves me – all of me, even my flaws. He knows everything about me and I trust him with that knowledge.
I no longer accept abuse of any kind in my life. I am worth so much more than I ever thought. This “me” also got what she deserved. Redemption.
This book played a very large part in my healing.