Your Self-Respect

03 Jun 2010

I was at a dinner party where the hostess was full
of righteous indignation.  Her next door
neighbour had left a violent husband – the episode leading to her departure had
been the talk of the very genteel street. 
Now they were back together, playing ‘happily ever after’.  

“Hasn’t she got any self-respect?” my hostess
snapped.  (Underpinning her indignation
was a belief that ‘things like that don’t happen in streets like this, to
people like us’.)

I carefully sheathed my claws and replied, as
neutrally as I could: 

“You know, it is not quite that simple.” 

My hostess, who is blessed with a very happy marriage,
interrupted, warming to her theme.  “How
could she let anyone…?  I would never…
Blah!  Blah!  Blah!” 

I can remember saying the same thing myself; and really
believing it. 

In fact, I actually said it to my mentally abusive

And I didn’t have the slightest idea of the irony of it! 

I said as much to my hostess, who was still firmly astraddle
her high horse, and wasn’t budging. 

So, I explained to her that most times we don’t recognize
abuse, for a couple of very good reasons: 

  • First,
    because domestic abuse is incremental. 
    Abusers, generally, start in a small way, get compliance, and then
    up the ante every time, so they ‘break you in’ – relatively
    gently.  (Think, if you will, of
    the school of thought that suggests starting a lobster in a pan of cold
    water, and gradually bringing it up to the boil.)
  • Second,
    we were probably pre-programmed to accept abuse. 

I can’t tell you how many times an abused woman has expressed
disbelief that a partner could be violent towards her; and grown up with
a violent parent.  Or else, she has been
stunned that a partner could ‘speak to her that way’, when one, or both,
parents ‘groomed’ her, by the way they treated her. 

My hostess huffed and puffed a bit, and then said: “Well, I
would never…”  

In my most polite, British way, I pointed out to her that she
had grown up with parents who were loving, supportive and indulgent of
her.  She agreed.  She wasn’t convinced, but she had the
good grace to agree.

But the story does not end there. 

A couple of days later, I had a call from a client who I
have worked with for some time, first individually, and then through the
Healing Journey Teleclass Program.  She
said she had some exciting news.  

This client, I’ll call her Mary, has spent 7 years trying to
make an abusive relationship work.  Mary
was pretty good at: 

  • Self-blame
  • Making
  • Denial
  • Overlooking
    the evidence
  • Giving
    her partner one last chance after another
  • Settling
    for crumbs
  • Misplaced

You know the behaviours as well as I do.  

Mary’s ‘story’ was that she was addicted, and could not let
go of this man.  Most abused women have
a touch of the limpet about them – do we not? – but Mary was in a class
of her own.  Still, I did not buy the
‘addiction’ story.  It’s a great line to
get you off the hook.  Mary’s argument
was, basically, one of diminished responsibility, because of her addiction. 

All the work we did individually, and in the teleprogram,
never seemed to develop strong roots. 

And then she made an appointment to speak to me.  Boy, did she sound excited.  

She told me a tale of her partner reverting to his usual
(unlovable) behaviours.  True to form,
he started attacking her about her children. 
Then he said he couldn’t take her somewhere nice for dinner, because
of her shoes
And then he threw
a spectacular – but not uncharacteristic – tantrum. 

And Mary walked away, once and for all. 

“Why?”  You
might ask.  “What was different this

What was different was that she finally understood – at all
levels of her being – that this man was abusive; and she is not prepared to
accept abusive behavior. 

It reminded me of how my own marriage ended.  As soon as someone, whose opinion I could
not dispute, told me that my marriage was abusive, the decision to leave was

I’ve worked with many, many women who have put up with
extraordinarily bad treatment from their partner, and managed to excuse
it.  Either the poor little poppet had a
hard time as a child, or he was stressed at work, or it was the drink, or it
was her fault, or he had ‘so much potential’, or whatever.  

As long as it was purely an interpersonal thing – a difficulty
in the relationship
– it was possible to stay and work it out.

Once the cold, hard, ugly judgement of abuse kicked in, it
became a whole different ball game.  

And, strange to say – or not – self-respect kicked in. 

So I do not share my hostess’s opinion about a lack of

I believe that something different occurs in abusive
relationships.  I believe our needs,
wants, dignity, personality, and sense of self, all become increasingly
compressed, by an abusive man, into the smallest possible space.  

We lose sight of them in the struggle for survival.  

We try so hard to accommodate to our abusive partner’s whims,
wishes, and demands that we completely lose sight of ourselves. 

Still, somewhere in that tiny space, our self-respect
remains.  And the day comes when
something finally triggers it.

When that happens we respond from an entirely different
place, from a strength and a clarity we didn’t even know we had. 

So, in answer to my hostess – who will not be reading
this:  Yes, we do have our self-respect,
it never leaves us.  Compressed though
it may be, it remains, and one day something will trigger it and cause it to

Bring it on! 

And what of Mary now? 

Well, like all abused women Mary is a tryer.  She is not prepared to give up, even for a
while – as I would like her to – on the search for a relationship.  Happily, she sees the need to learn how to
do a relationship very, very differently, from a place of enlightenment, and
personal power.  

She will be joining my 7 Secrets to Successful Relationships

hope you will, too.


Annie Kaszina, international Emotional Abuse Recovery specialist and award-winning author of 3 books designed to help women recognise and heal from toxic relationships so that they can build healthy, lasting relationships with the perfect partner for them, blogs about all aspects of abuse, understanding Narcissists and how to avoid them and building strong self-worth. To receive Annie’s blog direct to your Inbox just leave your details here.

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