“He pushed me against the wall, his rough hands around my neck, strangling the life out of me. I can still remember feeling like I was drowning. Like I couldn’t breathe at all. It was horrifying. Suddenly he let go, whacked me across the cheek and stormed out of the house with a menacing grin on his face. I don’t know what to do. I love him so much.”
I watched my friend break down right in front of my eyes. Any advice or help I offered was instantaneously rejected. It is as if she was under a toxic love spell, unable to snap out of it.
It’s one thing to come from an impoverished part of the world where basic human rights and gender equality lack precedence. It’s another to belong to a highly developed country like Canada and still find yourself warped in horrendous situations pertaining to physical/verbal abuse at the hands of a loved one, unable to reach out to the myriad of resources offering assistance and coping mechanisms.
Having seen patterns of abuse amidst friends and family, I conducted some research and compiled the following list to encourage those in toxic relationships to look at alternatives instead of staying within the confines of abuse.
1. You are not alone.
The Canadian Institute of Research and Advancement for Women revealed appalling statistics indicating that more than half of Canadian women have been sexually or physically abused. Fortunately, these incidents have given birth to forums, organizations, NGOs and individuals that have dedicated their time in providing abused women with therapeutic platforms, shelters, hotlines, aid and respite from their tortured lives.
If you are in need of instant safety from a tormenting spouse, partner or family member, do not hesitate to reach out to social workers at Woman Abuse Council of Canada, Battered Women’s Support Services and Family Service Toronto to name a few.
2. Beware of signs and symptoms that encompass sociopaths.
The DSM IV, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fourth edition, delves into various markings and warning signs that define sociopaths. The most common of these are alcohol and substance abuse, aggression, lack of empathy, anti-social behavior, pathological lying, theft, impulsive behaviour with disregard for consequences and heightened levels of deceit while dealing with fellow humans.
In today’s impulsive world of dating, it is hard to ascertain a person’s character and personality without spending a considerable length of time with him/her. However, it is crucially important to analyze, observe and look out for these vices in the individuals we choose to let into our lives. Though this might take out the excitement out of a first date, and replace it with paranoia, it could end up saving you from a worse fate later.
I cannot stress on this enough. With the recent advent of blogs and journals focusing on self-love, individuals can access all kinds of activities and strengthening exercises that aid in increasing self-worth, self-esteem, spiritual and mental growth, self respect and more importantly peace of mind and true happiness which eventually stems from self validation rather than validation received at the hands of others. Psychology Today states that “Possessing little self-regard can lead people to become depressed, to fall short of their potential, or to tolerate abusive situations and relationships.”
Honoring oneself through healthy activities such as Yoga, working out, dancing, honing creative skills can lead to heightened self awareness which is key to loving oneself. Dr. Steve Maraboli, author of Life, The Truth and Being Free eloquently observes: “How would your life be different if you stopped allowing other people to dilute or poison your day with their words or opinions?
Let today be the day you stand strong in the truth of your beauty and journey through your day without attachment to the validation of others.” Once confident and committed to yourself in the most positive and beneficial of ways, it will be easier to walk out of toxic, abusive relationships.
4. Reach out.
The National Coalition of Domestic Violence reports that 25 percent of physical assaults, 20 percent of rapes and fifty percent of stalking against females goes undiscovered and unreported. There are many reasons for this; shame, embarrassment, fear of loneliness and abandonment and paranoia. Victims of abuse need to understand and realize that there is somewhere safe they can retreat to, in order to escape the brutalities committed against them.
It is also the moral responsibility of social workers, cops and aid givers to give benefit of doubt where needed, because women have reported of cases where they were not heard, or were outright accused of lying and being delusional. This is not only detrimental to any progress desired to keep sexual and physical assault toward women at bay but further encourages women undergoing abuse to keep quiet about it.
Fashion designer Diane von Fürstenberg states that: “When a woman becomes her own best friend life is easier.” I could not agree more. Loving yourself, spending time with yourself, getting to know yourself better can do a world of good. Catering to your own desires and needs, both emotional and mental can create huge breakthroughs when seeking out self-improvement and self -love. I would like to share here a technique I learnt from the wisdom of Deepak Chopra but altered to suit myself.
Every morning before starting the day, look at yourself in the mirror. Look at yourself deeply and profoundly. Once you hold your own gaze, look deep into your own eyes and say the following words: “I love myself unconditionally.” Repeat three times and watch how the rest of your day transforms into a channel of positivity and enlightenment.
6. Financial independence/education.
Studies by Women’s Aid find that often abusers will use “authority and dominance to completely isolate a woman into a complete state of financial dependence.” It is a century old tactic used to oppress women and continues to exist in our day and age. Education leads to employment opportunities that can provide women with a sense of self worth, dignity, independence and confidence. It also enables them to walk away and fend for themselves if the need arises.
7. Love comes again.
There are close to seven billion people living in this world. That’s a lot of people, if you think about it. Alongside abusers and violators against women, there will always be respectful, dignified and loving men looking for equal partners and not subordinates.
Victims of abuse tend to rationalize the patterns of abuse and some even go as far as to defend their abusers, justifying their behaviors by dismissing the aggression as temporary. Being punched, slapped, verbally abused, beaten, and dominated are not forms of love.
These vile actions perpetuate cycles of abuse and are the embodiment of criminal acts against individuals deemed as weak by the abusers.
Abuse is more common than we think it is and is prevalent in societies the world over. It occurs in all kinds of relationships: familial, heterosexual, same-sex and comes in a variety of forms such as sexual, physical, verbal and mental abuse. Abusers can be male or female, of varying ages, belonging to a variety of social classes and demographics.
I leave you with a quote by bestselling author, Jane Green’s Bookends:
“… you don’t have to wait for someone to treat you bad repeatedly. All it takes is once, and if they get away with it that once, if they know they can treat you like that, then it sets the pattern for the future.”
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Assistant Editor: Heather Hendry/Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: elephant journal archives