By Richard Bleil
My friend will know that I’m talking about her in this blog (if she reads it), but I think there is an important lesson here for all of us, especially people like me.
See, she was raised with an emotionally abusive mother who had a habit of belittling her and trying to control her. Today, she’s engaged to a man who is doing the same thing. And this worries me.
This evening, she told me that she knows that she’s not a good person.
Okay, she’s tough. She’s a divorced mother with a very sweet daughter, and she has a physical disability (or, perhaps more appropriately, she’s “differently abled”). She’s also intelligent, not afraid to speak her mind, and she is very supportive.
Here is my hypothesis. I believe that she does believe that she is not a good person, because this is the message that she has been hearing for her entire life.
We hear messages throughout our lives, and many of these are interpretive. In other words, if we don’t hear “I love you” often enough, we begin to interpret that to mean that we are not loved, and not worthy of love.
I’ve heard negative comments my entire life. Let’s put it this way; the executor of my father’s will is not me, nor is it my sister…it’s my sister’s husband. I like to say that my brother-in-law is like the son my father always wanted.
So is it any wonder that today I have low self-esteem? I’ve managed to accomplish some amazing things; I have my doctorate, reached the level of tenured full professor, was the director of a forensic lab, Dean in a university, and yet, I have tremendous self-loathing and self-doubt.
I’ve been bullied my entire life, never been able to fit in, and today I’m estranged from my family. It’s astounding how the lessons we pick up from this input when we are young stays with us. After all of these accomplishments, I still hear the criticisms of my youth, and I still believe I am not worthy of love.
When I married, I married an emotionally abusive woman. Naturally I did not see it at the time, but hind site being what it is, now I have pink eye. It certainly wasn’t a happy situation, but it was very comfortable to me. Because I was raised in an emotional abusive home, being in such a marriage made me feel at home.
Here is the reality; we deserve better. Yes, all of us. It’s so difficult to get past the way we were raised, but I believe the first step is to believe that we do indeed deserve better.
It helps to have honest (and brave) friends for this. When I was in college, my best friend was in the services. His girlfriend from high school (she was a freshmen when he and I were seniors) decided to go to the university were I was attending. Her behavior certainly was not that of a woman in a committed relationship, and he was talking about proposing marriage as soon as he returned. Eventually, I had to take the difficult path, and tell him my suspicions. I wasn’t trying to break them up, but I felt an obligation to be sure that he had a heads up that things might not go as he anticipated. And, yes, it harmed the friendship, but as a friend, I felt I had no choice. I would do the same today.
When I was married, I’m sure I had friends who saw how harmful she was for me. I don’t know if it would have made a difference. But, the reality is that often it is easier for our friends outside of the relationship to see the hazards than those of us submerged in it.
Tonight, I again felt the need to speak honestly. It wasn’t easy, but I felt the need to speak out. Fortunately, she is much better at listening, and considering, the opinions of others, even if they are harsh. My concern for her is that she might be in the same emotional place that I was eight years ago, when I felt like my time was up, my chances were gone, and it was a now or never situation. I made a terrible mistake because of that, and married a woman who was as emotionally abusive to me as my family had been.
It’s difficult to listen to advice like this, but my advice is to try to listen. Don’t make decisions right away, but at least hear what is being said. Take some time to process later on, when emotions are less heightened, and ask yourself if there is any truth to the advice you were given.
And it is worth repeating; you deserve to be happy, and loved.