How My Abusive Relationship Helped Me Become A Great Therapist

Photo by Mathieu Stern on Unsplash

Photo by Mathieu Stern on Unsplash

This article first appeared on Your Tango and has been republished with permission.

One of the things I have come to appreciate about myself is my willingness to continue to learn, to grow and to heal my wounds. I don't see how I can ask my clients to go into their dark places if I'm not willing to go into my own.

Even with all my education, training and skills, when I work with someone, I need to be able to meet them with my heart in order to help them. If I'm resisting my own emotions, I can't help them feel theirs. If we don't feel, we don't heal. That journey into the darkness where our hurts lurk is a difficult one and most don't or won't take it.

We live in a culture that worships the rational mind, but without the heart, the rational mind is irrational.

All that said, I've recently revisited a part of myself where residual hurt and anger lay. It was triggered by recent stories in my area of a woman killed by her boyfriend. Though the horror of that story seemed unimaginable, I grew up knowing that such abusive relationships were possible.

A frog in a pot of water on the stove feels warm and safe — before the heat is turned up. That is an apt description of my very early childhood years. Yet as my childhood went on and the temperature of the water rose, before I knew it, just like the frog, I was boiling to death.

My only hope was not receiving more pain from those who said they loved me (I understand they had their own demons, but that's another story of forgiveness and redemption).


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As I entered the world of friends, girl scouts and school, I became more confused than ever because I expected everyone else to treat me the way my parents did. That didn't happen and I started to realize that I was not some evil thing doomed to hell.

It was through those many others that I reconnected to parts of my body, heart and soul. Their influence added to my conditioning and though confusing at times, those experiences saved my life because they provided me with a template for care, compassion and love.

I began to feel someday that I would be free of the terrors of my stepdad by night and emotional rejection by my mother by day. 

Then one day, my knight showed up. We met in high school and when our eyes met everyone and everything else disappeared. I know that sounds cliché. Nonetheless, it was true.

We had an on-again off-again relationship, which was mostly off for about two years. Eventually, I moved on and found another very loving, giving and romantically sweet man. We were talking of marriage when I graduated from high school.

No one, including me, understood what happened next.

The off-again man re-entered my life and wanted me. I was caught and gave into what my mind said instead of listening to my heart. I ended my other relationship very badly through a letter and married the knight.

The night we were married I was 17 and had two more months before graduation. It was raining. He did is marital duties and fell asleep. I looked out the window and cried.

A part of me knew I had made a terrible mistake and wanted to run away. But a stronger part said, "You've made your bed now, lay in it."

For ten years I did my best to lay in it until I couldn't do it any longer. His ongoing threats, rages and rants, his physical and sexual abuse wore me down. I blamed myself for his behavior just like I had blamed myself for my parents' lack of love, care and compassion for me. I had become emotional drained; I was the walking dead going through the motions of my life.

I had large spans of time where I couldn't remember what I had been doing. It was like I woke up from a dream. But it wasn't a dream. It is what happens to a person when they have to stay in survival mode instead of being alive and thriving.

Finally, I realized I would rather be dead than live like this anymore. I left. Or, at least, I tried to — he came home and caught me leaving. He grabbed me and threw me on the floor, ripping the front of my nightgown. I said something and he let me go.

I got up and ran to my bedroom frantically searching for my keys to get out of there and drive to the police station. As I turned to leave the room, he met me in the doorway pointing his 357 magnum in my stomach. I realized that no protective order or other paper would stop him from pulling the trigger.

Luckily, I kept my cool and stated that I didn't have any guns because he had taken them all. He put the gun down and left. Shaken, I called the police and made a report.

I took responsibility for myself and moved. I didn't let anyone we knew in common know where I was for a long time. Eventually, he married someone else. I heard they ended up divorced and her children cut him out of all the family pictures.

I'm sure my history is what led me to my profession.

I know what it is like to not have anyone to talk to or to help me make sense of what was happening.

I've learned a great deal of what it is to be human. I've come to have more compassion for that in myself, which makes it easy to feel that for others. Then, giving guidance and information to others is most helpful.

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