“The truest form of love is how you behave toward someone, not how you feel about them.”
A co-worker came up to me the other day with a very odd request. She wanted me to write a Facebook status about love and respect, because of a situation involving someone close to her. She said that she had read some of my posts and just wanted me to write this little thing for her, because she knew someone who was staying in an abusive relationship. I was of course flattered, and did what she asked, but what struck me the most was how many people I know right now who also needed to learn more about love, respect, and abuse.
While doing some research, I came across countless really amazing articles on the subject, and honestly don’t have the time or energy to read them all. Nor do I think I can do them justice by summarizing their content here. Links to them will posted at the bottom of this post as always. As I was reading these articles of how to spot abuse, shame that comes to the victims, and how love and respect are mutual, I was very teary-eyed because there are too many people right now who I wish would read these articles and take them to heart. They are people close to me who I love very much, and each is going through a different kind of toxic relationship.
I thank God for how blessed I am for my ability to walk away from unhealthy relationships. I haven’t always, nor do I believe I’ll always be able to, but I know that I don’t tolerate harmful relationships. I sometimes fear that this is even a fault, because I walk away from a lot of potential relationships early on once I spot something that will be a much bigger problem down the line. Not always, but most of the time. I’m thankful that I’ve had a lot of people teach me what a good and bad relationship looks like. More importantly, I’ve had people who love me, and who have showed me what kind of relationship I deserve, whether it’s with a boyfriend, a friend, or with family. I am so thankful that I am not mistreated by those who love me, but it breaks my heart to know that it’s not like that for those who I love.
For my loved ones who are in unhealthy relationships, I’ve already expressed my feelings to them about what they deserve and what they can do, but I know I have no control over their actions. I accept that it’s their life, their decisions, and their path to walk. Still, I want to share my experience with a toxic relationship I had, and then I want to share some loving words dedicated to those I love and to anyone involved in a harmful relationship now.
With her permission, I want to talk about my mom, who was not always the person that she is today. Accepting a relationship with a significant other often starts with the first relationship people ever have, which is with their parents. When parents are good to us, we learn to accept that from others. When they mistreat us, we either learn that it’s normal for others to mistreat us or to never accept that kind of treatment from anyone else.
Before I go into my story, I want to start by saying that I love my mom with all my heart and she is and always has been an amazing mother. All of my life, she has listened to every word I say to her, she has spent hours talking and listening to me, she has taken a deep interest in every little detail of my life, and she has always encouraged and believed in me more than anyone else ever has. But, as she is well aware, she has also made mistakes. Mistakes that she learned from her own upbringing.
My mom grew up in abusive household, which included verbal and physical abuse. It was normal to her, and how she thought every household was like. At seventeen, she got involved with a guy who would beat her often, but since she had witnessed her own parent’s physical fights, she also thought it was normal to get hit. My mom is not a passive person though, and she definitely fought back, and acknowledges her part in instigating her boyfriend. She doesn’t say this gave either of them an excuse to abuse each other, but she takes responsibility for her part in it. She got pregnant from him, and he beat her while she was pregnant which resulted in a miscarriage. After that, she was told she would never be able to get pregnant again.
No one had ever told my mom that it wasn’t normal or acceptable to be physically or verbally abused. No one had ever told her that she deserved better and could walk away from that kind of situation. Not until a time when her boyfriend at the time had beat her so bad that cops got involved. A female cop asked my mom if she knew that no man is ever supposed to hit her. The cop told her no man is supposed to ever hurt her that way. At seventeen, it was the first time she had ever heard words like that, but she took them to heart and left her abusive boyfriend.
Then my mom met my dad, who, as she has often described, was the most caring and nicest man she had ever met. By some miracle (what I like to think of myself anyway), my mom accidentally got pregnant, even though she wasn’t supposed to be able to. My dad was the first man to tell her that there is never a reason for a man to lay a hand on a woman. However, my mom had a lot of growing to do, and from what I’ve been told, she would abuse my dad. She would yell at him, hit him, and even scream for him to hit her back. It was what she was used to, but he never hit her. I have no memories of my mom physically abusing my dad, which she eventually stopped doing, but I have plenty of her verbal abuse towards him.
Regardless of how my mom treated my dad, she never treated me the same way. When she was pregnant, my aunt (my dad’s soon to be sister-in-law), told my mom to never hit her baby. This was a strange notion to my mom, considering that her mom had physically abused her and her siblings, and her older sister would hit her daughter as well. In fact, as far as I’m aware, physical and verbal abuse has not been uncommon among my mom’s family. My mom accepted my aunt’s words and made a decision to never hit me or cuss at me. Throughout my entire life, my mom has kept that promise.
My mistreatment came in another less overt form. My mom had grown up with a lot of wrong notions about respect, especially when it comes to authority figures. In her world, someone older can treat someone younger however they want, but the younger person can never mistreat the older person. In other words, a parent can verbally abuse their child by cussing, putting them down, shaming them, making them feel worthless, etc, but if the child ever speaks up or against it, then that’s disrespectful. A child is never allowed to talk back, yell at, or disrespect their parent (aunt, uncle, grandparent, etc) in any way.
Everyone who knows my mom now never believe me when I say my mom used to be crazy and didn’t always treat me the way she does now. She is much loved by a lot of people, and shows respect to everyone. She has matured and grown so much, but I remember a time when she wasn’t like that. If there is one word I can use to describe my mom when I was a child, it would be angry. It’d be unfair to say she was always angry, because she’s definitely always been a good mother, but my most common and vivid memories of her involve her being very angry. She wasn’t the kind of person to be level-headed, rational, or get mildly mad. She was the person who would blow up over little things, yell and scream about everything, and had no consideration for who was around.
I remember her yelling at my dad often, to which he reacted with something of annoyance and would just tell her to stop. I’ve been told of times when she was screaming so much, that my uncle who lived with us, would take me to another room, which sometimes infuriated her more because I was being “taken away” from her. The worst part of her anger was that I was an only child and my parents stopped living together when I was about five years old. So, whether I deserved it or not, I got the full blast of her anger. She would take out her anger on me even when I had done nothing wrong, or wasn’t involved in why she was angry at all. I remember once, she had lost her keys. She was going crazy, looking all over our small house and yelling at me to help her find the keys. Though she never cussed at me, she didn’t refrain from doing it in front of me. I stood there in front of her too terrified to tell her that they were in her hand. As I stood there, she yelled at me saying why wasn’t I helping her look? Finally, all I could do was point to her hands. As she always did after she took out her anger on me, she became incredibly apologetic, completely changing her demeanor to that of a concerned and caring mother. She took me into a hug and said she was sorry for yelling at me and what a bad mother she was. I told her it was okay and that she wasn’t a bad mother.
Many people only saw my mom as this yelling monster, because it’s what stood out the most to them. Not many got to see that my mom tucked me in every night, always asked what I learned in school, or that we would laugh over the stupidest things. They didn’t get to see that we would bake together and try to steal the batter from the other to lick. Or that we would decorate together for the holidays, and she wouldn’t ever do it without me. They didn’t see that we would have water fights, and throw cups of water at each other in the house, until we ran outside and she would grab the water hose.
When my parents separated when I was eleven, my mom went crazier than she had ever been. She became homeless for six months, and sometimes I would stay in motels with her, even though my dad got married and had a nice house. No one understood why I would move with my mom from place to place. Everyone else saw an unhealthy and toxic relationship, in which my mom depended on me like a parent never should depend on a child. What I knew was that my mom was my home, and that didn’t exist with anyone else, not even with my dad who had a new family. What I didn’t understand was that though my mom was my home, she wasn’t a safe place at the time.
The turning point in my mom becoming a different person, and our relationship becoming healthier happened when I was fourteen. We were staying with my grandma, who would put my mom down every day no matter what she did. Me and my mom would go to the car a lot to spend time away from my grandma. My mom would cry to me about her situation and her mom, and I was supposed to be the one to support her. I don’t remember all the details of this one particular instance we were in the car, but I remember I couldn’t keep quiet and listen anymore, because I needed her support too, and I was so angry that she didn’t see that.
I yelled at my mom in the car. I had never so much as talked back to her, because I was taught to never disrespect my parents. But I was hurting and angry, so I yelled at her. I told her that she didn’t care about me or about how I felt or how the situation was affecting me too. I told her that I needed her, and that I shouldn’t have to be her mom, she should act more like my mom. In my mom’s world, these words and the way I yelled at her are considered disrespectful, because how dare a child ever tell their parent how to be a parent. Thankfully, my mom sat quietly and listened. Afterward, she didn’t yell at me. In fact, I think she’s only yelled at me twice since then.
The road to my mom being the person she is today has been long and filled with lots of obstacles. I am so proud of my mom and all the good she has done for herself, and now as a counselor, all the good she does for others. But my point in all of this isn’t about her progress. It’s about our relationship and what I’ve learned about abuse and toxicity.
Today, my mom would never dream of yelling at me for any reason any more. She won’t take her anger out on me. She won’t put me down or disregard what I have to say. She makes sure she listens to my input and that we talk about things in a way that respects both of us. These are the traits of a healthy relationship. One that respects both people involved.
I used to think that if I felt mistreated by mom, I wasn’t allowed to tell her anything about it, because she was the parent and I was the child. I had to respect her and she didn’t have to respect me. We both know better now.
What I learned also applies to any kind of relationship, not just between parent and child, but also between friends, significant others, employer and employee, and the list goes on. Though I stuck by my mom’s side for the simple fact that she was my mom, many other people use the excuse that they love the person. That’s why they can’t leave them or walk away. Or other times, it’s because they don’t know how to be alone, so they’d rather be with someone bad for them than have no one at all. It’s also hard to walk away when you’ve been with someone for so long that you just don’t know how to live your life without them. You’ve both grown so attached and have been such an integral part of each other’s life that the thought of not having that person there anymore tears you apart.
Whatever the case, I want to share some words that come from a very loving and caring place. Some of these are from the articles I’ve read, and others are reminders to those I love:
- “It’s not shameful to love someone for who they could be, or for the person they led you to believe they were.” – from “Why do I Love my Abuser?”
- “There is nothing anyone could ever do to deserve to be abused.” – from “Dealing with Same After Abuse”
- “The truth is, even though you love your partner, you can’t “fix” another person.” – from “Why do I Love my Abuser?”
- “… just remember: you did your best, and you do not deserve to feel ashamed.” – from “Dealing with Shame After Abuse”
- You deserve respect just as much as you should always give respect to others.
- You can walk away from anything or anyone that is hurting you.
- You are wonderful and amazing, and I wish that you would only ever choose to be treated with love and respect by someone who is also wonderful and amazing.
- Abuse comes from somewhere, and it’s important to understand that, but it’s more crucial to know that it’s always a choice.
- The way someone treats you is never your fault. Ever. People will treat others with kindness or malice based on who they are, not what you’ve done.
- I know it feels good to have someone who shows you affection and tells you nice things, especially if you’ve never had that, but is it worth it to you for how much pain you’re constantly in?
- Even if you don’t feel strong enough to walk away, I hope you know that you are not alone in this.
- You are stronger than you think and worth more than you know.
- Even if you feel alone and overwhelmed, I hope you know that you are still very much loved.
- I know you know there are reasons you should walk away, and it’s understandable to find excuses to stay, but I hope you realize which one is better for you.
There’s a really important lesson I learned that I couldn’t see when I was younger. My mom was home – my place of comfort and security. It’s like that for many people in relationships. That person becomes your rock, with whom you feel safe and at peace. When that person stops being a safe place, it’s hard to accept, because you still think about all of the good things. They can still make you laugh and bring your happiness, but it’s a sign of toxicity when you’re more often in pain and unhappy. At fourteen, I couldn’t see that my mom wasn’t a safe place for me. As adults, we should get better at spotting that kind of thing, but it’s not easy. However, there are usually others who can spot it for you, and it’s wise to listen to those who care about you.
This article is very helpful if you’re trying to spot it yourself – “5 Questions to Ask Yourself if You Think Your Partner is Toxic.” No matter how much we love someone, we have no control over their choices or even whether they can see how they’re being mistreated. Even if we can’t show them, they can learn to see for themselves by asking a few important questions: “Is it a pattern – something that happens over and over again, over time?... Are they doing it to gain power and control over you?... Is the relationship mutually beneficial?... Are you expected to sacrifice when they won’t even compromise?... Do they respect your needs?” Lastly, are you mostly happy, or do you spend most of your time being confused or hurt? I would also add the questions: Is this what you want? Do you think you deserve better?
In the above mentioned article, Melissa Fabello says, “Relationships aren’t easy – and they aren’t always fun – but they’re not supposed to hurt.” It’s the same with love. The article, “Why do I Love my Abuser?” sums up what I learned from my relationship with my mom, “Love is something that is safe, supportive, trusting and respectful. Abuse is not any of these things; it’s about power and control. It IS possible to love someone and, at the same time, realize that they aren’t a safe or healthy person to be around.”
I’m so thankful that now both of my parents are a safe place for me. I can go to my mom for everything and never have to worry about being judged or looked down upon. I know that I’ll be listened to and respected. My dad is also a foundation for guidance. My friends are my support who love me despite all my flaws. My family loves me and cares about me. I am truly blessed. I pray the same for all whom I love.
p.s. Love is Respect is a website dedicated to help people get through abuse and teaching about healthy relationships. I highly recommend this website, as well as Love and Respect