From the outside, what looked like a beautiful home in the perfect neighbourhood became like a jail for me. In fact, I called it the “Big House.”
Never Ignore Red Flags
After a whirlwind courtship straight out of a Nora Roberts’ novel full of textbook love bombing, exotic travel, A list events and extravagant gifts, I accepted a marriage proposal and moved in with a man I had only known for six months. To the world, he was a charming, successful, accomplished business tycoon with a celebrated career and a network of the most impressive friends. Privately he had a very dark side that became my daily nightmare once we began living together.
While there were signs of insecurity and controlling tendencies early in our relationship, I told myself the good far outweighed the bad. As the weeks and months unfolded, I was the victim of extreme control, psychological and at times, physical abuse. Going to yoga class and the grocery store were cause for outbursts of rage. Slowly I adapted my actions to serve my new husband to avoid conflict. I cut out friendships, stopped going out socially, ceased having any interaction with men professionally to try and make my husband more relaxed.
No Such Thing as Having it All
As a single mom already divorced once, I was ashamed that I tolerated this treatment as I felt I should have known better at my age. There were warning signs, after all. I felt trapped every day, even when my husband was out of town. Often that is when he was the angriest and most controlling. All my actions had to be accounted for, and if he called and I did not answer, there was hell to pay.
There is so much social shame that comes with being in an abusive relationship, and while I was trying to hatch an escape plan I was so worried about the shame, I would bring to my family going through another divorce. So ultimately I waited until the passing of my father so he would not have the burden of worry.
Society celebrates women who “have it all” and can “do it all.” A great marriage, cool job, polite and talented children, beautiful home, exciting friends and of course, always looking fabulous. A mythical aspirational goddess who keeps the perfect “house.” A happy marriage is the foundation of this metaphorical house. When the foundation is rocky, it can cripple all aspects of women’s lives. This is magnified when women are dealing with psychological or physical abuse. We are conditioned to put on a brave face and carry on with the business of life despite our crumbling spirits after being told daily, we are worthless. If the wife/mother is facing the breakdown of her relationship and family, she sees this as a failure, which is otherwise known as shame.
What I didn’t understand until my escape and recovery was that my brain was very much hijacked. The psychological impact of being in an abusive relationship cannot be minimized, and we are left with complex PTSD and zero self-worth. The psychological abuse tears down our spirit and rendered me without the mental capacity to be rational, plan and be confident that I could thrive outside the relationship.
The Brave Moment
As I reflect back on this time, there was a defining moment that changed the trajectory of my life, my Brave Moment, when I finally determined enough was enough. It was the day after my dad passed away. As I witnessed my dad’s strength and courage in his final days, I reflected on how my parents raised their three daughters. Respect for ourselves and each other was paramount as a family virtue. The Golden Rule was our code of conduct.
I couldn’t live like this anymore. After my dad’s death and my husband’s gross lack of empathy throughout my grief, I planned my escape. The first night out of that house, I felt a sense of peace come over me that I hadn’t felt since before that fateful first date. In the weeks and months that followed my short-lived marriage, I learned to fall in love with myself again, and this is the greatest love story of my life. I knew enough to seek professional help, and I was wise enough to know that the tincture of time would see me through.
I needed to understand how I got emotionally hijacked, and this became my quest. If it could happen to me, how many other women were struggling inside an intimate relationship? According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline 48.8% of women experience psychological aggression by an intimate partner in their lifetime. How did my wiring and personality allow for this to happen? As an analytical mind, I craved the science behind why. There had to be reasons, and as I came to understand, with the help of some brilliant minds in the world of psychology I did get my answers, and this has greatly helped in my healing.
The Science: Our Personality Can Shape Our Destiny
I learned about the predictive association between our Big 5 personality traits and how we behave in romantic relationships. The 5 factor Model of Human Psychology, also known as OCEAN are the main building blocks of our personality. They are:
Understanding ourselves is an essential aspect of healing. Once we expose our tendencies in relationships, we can retool and grow to be a better version of ourselves. It starts with knowledge and awareness. Click on this linkto take the Big 5 personality test to see where you fall on the spectrum.
There is a Recipe for Healing and Thriving
Thank goodness I had the personal financial resources and a network of dear friends and family that helped enable me to escape. Many women have neither. As hard as it is for me to own my story as the humiliation still lingers, I realize that the more I share it, the more I own it, the more women quietly share their own stories with me. I am not alone. None of us who have fallen into the trap of psychological, emotional or physical abuse by a romantic partner are alone. My story is many women’s stories.