Adventure Girl puts the pieces together
A while back I wrote a post on being THAT girl. Recently, and to my horror, I discovered I can be another kind of girl, too. The girl you see on trains with a black eye, looking defeated, the one who won’t look you in the eye, the one who loses herself, her values, her family and her friends, in trying to be whatever she needs to be to earn her partner’s approval, to keep his attention, to be that special person to him. The girl who lets herself be beaten down and abused and then begs for forgiveness.
‘Of all the girls, I choose you.’
When I heard these words I was on top of the world. Finally. This is what I’d been waiting for. These were the words I craved, what I’d put up with everything to hear. Words that blinded out every lie, every betrayal, every hurt, and the complete disrespect shown to me.
I had become the Battered Woman.
Self-esteem is something both tangible and intangible. It manifests in all kinds of ways. The way we try to earn good grades, or seek praise, the way we grasp for the attentions of prospective mates. It can also make us yearn for things that are bad for us. Self-sabotage, if you like. It can mean we don’t trust when people are good to us, and seek out those who mistreat us instead, because this is all we think we deserve. It is what feels real to us, safe, and familiar.
Over the past year I have let someone close to me hurt me, lie to me and manipulate me, over and over. Every time I was ready to walk away he drew me back in. Somehow the memories of the hurt and the betrayal blurred and I was blinded by hope. This time it will be better. This time it will be fixed. This time I can heal. It never was and I never did.
In fact, each time I went back the situation got worse, because I was a little weaker than before, hating myself that much more for giving in, for being wilfully blind. Shame ate away at me until there was nothing left but a blinding, desperate need turning me into a person I despised.
A wonderful friend described it as like being addicted to playing the pokies. You insert coin after coin, blow hundreds, thousands of dollars, waiting for the rare times you put your money in and get a few dollars back. Even if you hit the jackpot, it doesn’t last, and how much money have you thrown away to get there? The coins come out eventually, just enough to keep you trying, to see each win as so much more significant than it actually is. Then the machine ticks over. No more flashing lights. No more returns. And so you insert more coins, starting over, hoping against hope for another return, another jackpot.
This has been me. Waiting for the rare times when things are good, when I’m getting the attention, the love, the security I crave. Never the respect I deserve.
Each time seems like a breakthrough. ‘He did THIS’, or, ‘He said THAT’, I tell my friends, bursting at the seams.
They look at me, uncertain, sometimes with awful pity. ‘Isn’t that how it should be all the time?’
To me, now beaten down, throwing good time, effort, love, and even money, after bad, I say, ‘But he sees me, knows me, flawed as I am, and still loves me. The others, they never saw me. Not really.’ Those others being any guy who has ever shown me love and respect, who has cherished me, who I have tested and tested and finally pushed away. Because I haven’t trusted that what they were showing me was real. How could it be? It must be cracked and flawed, or else aimed at a false image of me.
Finally I have some perspective. My trip gave me enough distance, enough time, to break the cycle. Working on my underlying needs, I was able to begin to recognise the situation and also see how I got into this mess in the first place.
It has meant that when I came back and it happened again, worse than before, I was able to see the situation for what it was. Recognise in myself the Battered Woman. This time I was able to walk away and stay there.
Still, I know it will take time. To not want to go back, to grieve and to heal. Time and space and reason.
I am very lucky. I have incredible friends to support me, an awesome psych to help me work through my underlying issues, and I’m not afraid to ask for help.
My biggest enemy at this point is myself. I have to stop from weakening and continue to build my self esteem.
Because not going back is only the start of the battle. I have to address the underlying need, the child in me who seeks out a partner who will treat her badly, who in her messed up way equates this to being loved, to re-train my childhood brain to seek love in better ways and to offer her the support and protection she badly needs.
Then one day when I meet someone who treats me with respect, who loves and cherishes me, I won’t cringe away, feeling unworthy. I won’t test their love to breaking point. I will be able to accept that it is real, solid, dependable, and that it is actually intended for me.