Everyone has had a “fuck this” moment. It’s that moment in which you became painfully aware that you deserve more out of a relationship than what you are getting. Even emotionally-beaten domestic violence victims have fleeting moments where they realise their self-worth.
I clearly remember the night that I was arguing with my abuser when he head-butted me in the face. Despite him being bigger, stronger, unpredictable, intimidating and drunk, something in my brain snapped. I grabbed him by the shirt and and threatened him, instead of the other way around. What I felt in that short space of time was an all-consuming, intense, unadulterated, adrenaline-fuelled fury. For that fleeting moment, size, strength, and even danger to my own life became insignificant. I snapped back to the “me” I had been before domestic violence. Before the emotional beatings. Before being paralysed in the state of learned helplessness. It was at that moment that something deep in my soul finally cried out to me, that no matter how badly I thought of myself, I never, ever deserved to be treated like that.
I’m certainly not the only abuse victim to have reached this critical mass of emotion. Every domestic violence survivor has experienced it to varying degrees. Julia* took a knife to her abuser’s throat after being beaten one too many times. Leanna* saw the fear in her abuser’s eyes as she threatened to stab him while he slept if he ever laid a finger on her children. She would endure his relentless abuse day after day, but she recognised her worth as a mother and a protector of her children to the point that she would have killed him had he harmed them – and he knew it.
This is the “fuck this” moment, more appropriately known as intense cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance occurs when you strongly identify with an outcome that is not yet true. In the case of the domestic violence victim, the outcome is being free of the abusive relationship.
In order for this cognitive dissonance to take place, an abuser has to cross your personal line of respect by treating you worse than you would ever treat yourself. Your brain has to be forced into a position where it can no longer rationalise his behaviour against your most deeply held values or beliefs. Once this occurs, you experience a powerful cognitive shift. In that split second, it becomes more painful for you to stay in the relationship than what it would be to leave.
Some women break off the relationship then and there and never go back. This is usually what happens when women with high self-esteem see the first red flag of trouble in their relationships. Women with low self-esteem take longer. I had rock-bottom self-esteem, and it took me another three months after my initial “fuck this” moment for my reality to catch up with my desired outcome. In the case of some women, the process takes years. Some never escape and are either abused for life or are murdered by their abusers.
Abusive relationships manifest when a woman’s internal environment of low self-esteem meets an abuser’s external environment of continuous negative reinforcement. Women with low self-esteem magnify their faults to gigantic proportions while simultaneously disregarding all of the good things about themselves – the exact same thing that the abuser does. The external conditions reinforce the victim’s internal beliefs. She becomes trapped in a state of learned helplessness as her self-image gradually atrophies.
The decision to leave an abusive relationship is not easy, even after a powerful “fuck this” moment. It is NOT simply a case of “well, if he treats her so badly, why doesn’t she just leave?” Making the decision to leave requires tremendous inner strength and courage, as she is making this decision against nearly insurmountable odds. On top of the paralytic state of learned helplessness and the same feelings of loss that everyone feels at the end of a relationship (which are magnified in the unhealthy co-dependence of an abuser-victim relationship), abusers routinely threaten to hunt down and kill victims if they try to escape. They may threaten hurt or kill a victim’s family members, friends, or children. They may threaten to take custody of the victim’s children. On top of this, the victims often have no money and no support network, as the abuser has severed their ties to the world outside of the relationship. These women are stuck in a torturous cycle of being being raped, beaten, burnt, forced to do drugs, and slashed with knives, believing that there is no way out other than to risk their abuser inflicting pain and possibly death upon themselves and everyone they love. It takes the type of courage that most people have never had to summon in their entire lives to leave an established abusive relationship, no matter what the cost.
Don’t think that domestic violence can’t happen to you or that you don’t know anyone that is being or has been abused. You do. Domestic violence is very common, but is still surrounded by such a social taboo that it is not discussed openly. Think about how many women you know personally, then consider that statistically, one in every four of those women has experienced some form of domestic violence in her lifetime. If you want to avoid becoming a statistic yourself, one of the best things you can do is to hold yourself in high regard. Make sure you have high self-esteem and high standards that you will hold yourself and your partner to before you even consider starting a relationship. Your relationship standard should never be, “well, he puts me down and calls me names and embarrasses me in front of my friends and family, but he doesn’t hit me so it’s okay”. NO! Your standard should be “I absolutely refuse to tolerate anyone in my life who doesn’t treat me with the utmost respect, love, honesty, and kindness. I deserve the BEST, and anyone who gives me less than that can take a long walk off a short pier!”
Ladies – please don’t wait for an abuse-induced “fuck this” moment before you start to realise your self-worth. You absolutely do NOT have to tolerate men treating you badly. There are plenty of good men out there who would be honoured to date you and treat you with the love and respect you deserve. Have your “fuck this” moment right now. Dump the losers who don’t respect you and hold out for one of the great men who will.
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