We all know the fabulous world of dating comes with a lot of uncertainty. You get a little apprehensive, nervous, maybe even insecure when it comes to getting to know your new partner. Figuring out how to read them, what they like and don’t like. Things that may irritate them or things that make them extremely happy. It can be exciting and also confusing.
Now imagine you are a domestic violence survivor trying to navigate a brand new type of relationship-a healthy one. Sadly the likely hood that you are dating a domestic violence survivor is so high. 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men. As a domestic violence survivor I can tell you it makes the world of dating a very scary place. The relationship with my abuser is over. The physical acts of violence are gone, but the psychological effects are long lasting.
We are sometimes weary of kind gestures. From my experience, my abuser was prince charming at first. Taking my family out to eat. Always getting me flowers. Taking me out to nice dinners, fun vacations, sporting events-a total gentlemen. He would always tell me how pretty I was. How great I was. Showered me with compliments. He totally sucked me in, as well as some of my family. Because of this I will always deep down question as to why a new man is being nice to me. Does he really think I am as great as he is saying or is this a way for me to let him in and get abused again? It is nothing against you, its my way of protecting myself. Its not that I am ungrateful for the compliments either, I do appreciate them, it will just take time for me to get used to it.
We can have a low self esteem. Any abuse survivor will tell you that we at some point in time felt worthless. The people who abused us were so critical and demeaning that we tend to be so critical of ourselves even after the abuse ends. I will be getting ready and look in the mirror and immediately point out the flaws I see. I am not thin enough, I hate my lips, I hate my legs, my arms aren’t toned enough, I am not pretty enough. I won’t feel smart enough to accomplish goals the that I have set. I beat my self up because these flaws were pointed out to me on a daily basis. I don’t always feel bad, but I do have my bad days. I don’t need to be fed compliments to feel better, just understood through the days where I feel less than pretty.
We can have PTSD. I am not saying I am going to jump up and hurt you if I have a flash back, but I handle things differently. If an argument happens and voices are raised I will immediately shut down. Its not that I am afraid of you, I just don’t have it in me to argue with you. I would rather take a breather and then calmly discuss what issue is going on. I will always be looking at my surroundings. Its not that I don’t feel safe or protected with you, I just need to be able to protect myself also. Certain smells, restaurants and surroundings will trigger horrible memories for me. I can’t help how nervous I get, or the rash I break out in, its my body remembering what happened and making me aware.
We might sabotage the relationship. I am a professional red flag spotter. This also makes me question a lot. When are you a domestic violence survivor you are so used to being lied to and completely brainwashed. We knew these things weren’t okay, but we believed that we deserved it. I will never let myself be put in a position to be a victim again. I may ask you a question different ways, to see if you are lying. I may be more critical of how you handle your anger, or how you treat your loved ones. The scariest time for me is when I am actually letting my walls down and letting you in. Give us time and please be patient.
We may move way too fast. We can get attached way too fast. Sometimes people who have survived abuse jump quickly into relationships to try and replace the abuse. They can be so hungry for love and respect that we didn’t have with our abuser. It can be from spending all your time together to even pushing to move in together, wanting to meet your family and go on vacations together. You have to understand that some abuse survivors have never had a healthy relationship, because of that we don’t know healthy boundaries. Just communicate how you are feeling. Tell us to take things slower.
We might feel unworthy of a healthy, loving relationship. This is HUGE. When you are abused we are left feeling completely broken. We feel unworthy, disgusting, stupid, that we do not DESERVE to be loved or respected. It takes some time to override those negative thoughts. We are working very hard to overcome all of the negative things our abuser has done. Just like everyone else we want love, happiness, respect, intimacy-it just might take us longer to get there. It takes a lot of courage to leave an abusive relationship, and a lot of trust in you for us to share what we went through( if you don’t have a public blog of course). Please understand that we are constantly working on ourselves. Trying to rewire our brains to know that we are worthy of love, respect, and are still desirable. Sometimes I almost feel like I am branded with a scarlet letter for being a domestic violence survivor. I have all this emotional baggage that can be a lot for someone to take on. I have this blog that is read all over the world, while I absolutely love that it helps other survivors, it also airs everything that I went through.
No matter what we will still carry scars from our abusive relationship, whether those scars are actual physical markings of our survival or emotional. However we have a hell of a lot to offer someone. We have compassion, courage, and strength. We will never put you down because we know what its like to be beat down to nothing. We will love harder than anyone you’ve ever been with before. We just need someone with compassion and patience to see us for the blessings we really are.