The Courage to Believe in Ourselves

April 6, 2010

I have been thinking a great deal about a friend of mine who has been stuck in an abusive relationship for years. No matter how bad it gets, she continues to stay. I have a very hard time understanding this. Why would anyone want to stay in a relationship where they are treated horribly, suffering verbal and emotional abuse regularly? Where they get less than they give?

My friend has no satisfying answers to explain her failure to leave. When we talk about the dysfunction of her relationship and I ask her why she doesn’t leave, the rationale she gives include statements such as “I am afraid,” “I have to stay in this relationship for financial reasons,” “I don’t want to be alone,” “If I keep trying harder, things will get better,” “If I just keep my mouth shut, things will be OK,” and even “This is the best I can do,” “I need this person,” or “I don’t know what I would do if I leave?” All of these reasons make me sad for my friend. She is a kind, caring and wonderful person but has little self esteem. She doesn’t realize how unhealthy and damaging this relationship is to her, both emotionally and psychologically. I have watched this strong, capable women dissolve into self loathing and paralysis. She feels stuck and even trapped. It is obvious to me and to her other friends that the longer she stays in this abusive relationship, the more destruction to her self esteem and self worth. The light of her spirit is fading and she is loosing the joy that once flowed freely from her heart.

I guess it is just human nature to believe what others tell us about ourselves or say about us. Many of us carry such wounds from childhood. If you hear from someone who is supposed to love and care about you that you are worthless, not good enough, or wrong, pretty soon you start to believe these things about yourself. Even when you know what is being said isn’t true. Even when you know the handcuffs being placed upon you by the relationship aren’t deserved and do nothing other than to impede your own self determination and put others in control of your life and your happiness.

When I have let those with whom I am in a relationship bring me down, destroy my self worth and esteem, treat me poorly, verbally or emotionally and psychologically abuse me, I often turn on myself and start adopting as true the messages those people tell me, even when I know deep inside myself that they are wrong. It is both a painful and an incredibly lonely place to find yourself. It is hard to shut out those messages and believe in yourself. I know. I have been there.

It takes tremendous courage to leave a relationship where you are being abused either verbally, emotionally, mentally and/or  psychologically. It may be harder than leaving a physically abusive relationship. After all, psychic wounds aren’t physical and no one can see them. “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” But words often do more damage to us as people than physical injuries. Wounds to our psyche take time and effort to heal. They stay with us and impact all of our future relationships. Unless and until we find the courage to stand up for ourselves and believe we are deserving of better.

Our fears often immobilize us, keeping us trapped from growing and believing in ourselves. They keep us enmeshed with our abusers. They convince us we don’t deserve better and prevent us from defending ourselves, and often, from leaving.

When I have been in this situation, I have found that it helps  to look at my own issues and explore why I don’t feel I deserve better treatment. I ask myself, what in me propels me to tolerate such an unhealthy relationship? I talk to my friends. I have even spent time in therapy working on myself, my self esteem and self worth, exploring the issues that brought me to this place. And once I left the abusive relationship, I worked hard to build and nurture the relationships I have with people who value and appreciate me.

To my friend who is struggling, I am here for you. To listen, to lend a shoulder and to tell you how much you mean to me and how deserving you are of a healthy relationship where you are valued, appreciated and loved. All human beings are so deserving. Life is too short to waste energy on and with people who verbally, emotionally or psychologically abuse us, use us to make themselves feel better, stronger or more powerful, or who make us feel worthless and bad about ourselves.

I hope my friend finds the courage to believe in herself as much as I believe in her.


  1. I think it really helps to change the language we use in dealing with abuse – to make people more accountable. Your friend’s relationship is not abusive. Your friend is in a relationship with a person who is abusing her. “Abusive relationship” implies that both parties bear some responsibility in the abuse, but it is not her fault that her partner chooses to treat her badly. No one deserves to be abused. I hope this doesn’t come off preachy 🙂 as a survivor, it is so hard to learn not to blame myself because our society really tends to blame the victim even in these little ways like using words that unintentionally deflect responsibility from the person who abuses.

    I really enjoyed your post, I recognize your struggle and I’m glad your friend has a friend like you 🙂

    • Excellent point. Thank you for reading and for sharing.

  2. My late (and still sorely missed) mother used to say that there are people who will treat you as well as you insist and people who will treat you better than you require of them–and to hold out for the latter and that, while rare, they are there. BUT under no circumstances not to insist on being treated as well as you would treat someone you valued.

    I am sad for your friend.

  3. […] continues to stay. I have a very hard time understanding this. … View full post on “abusive relationship” – Google Blog Search Share and […]

  4. I have a friend in much the same circumstance over the last six years. She is Mensa smart; a psychologist; well-traveled; very attractive; a good communicator; and has a good sense of humor. But she has endured and suffered outright verbal and physical abuse. Conversation after conversation devolves back to issues with “him” and, truthfully, it’s a bore to listen to, and damned frustrating. She knows better, on all the intellectual levels, but believes her own “family of origin” issues trap her. Her father is abusive (emotionally, not physically or sexually). Part of me feels very deeply for her, and yet part of me says that at some point she has to exercise her own power and make a choice, difficult as it may be, to end all communication and contact with the abuser. At least he is now an “ex-boyfriend”, but there is still much contact between them, and inevitably to no good end. It does not help that alcohol exacerbates the issues, for both of them. Still, I struggle with why and how it is that she cannot cut the Gordian knot. Someone I respect a great deal once said that we make our choices based on the values we have at the time. Whenever I am trying to understand a behavior (mine or someone else’s) I think of this. It gives me insight, and I’ve shared my insights with my friend. And even though she readily acknowledges the toxicity of the situation, she persists in it.

  5. Like some of the others who have posted, a friend of mine is also being abused, but not by a spouse or lover, but by the people she works for. They continually berate her, verbally attack her, interrogate her and treat her poorly but she continues to work with these assholes! It is unbelievable to me and pretty shocking. Recently they had her so upset she was shaking and on the verge of tears. The men she works with and for are incredibly abusive to her but she continues to take it. She keeps going back for more. It disgusts me. Both how they treat her and how she takes it.

    The men who treat her this way are a bunch of controlling narcissistic power mongers who think they are perfect and know everything. My friend is afraid she can’t survive financially if she walks out. The problem is if she waits too long, she will suffer even more because all the people who would hire her are watching her let the men she works for treat her like shit and control her and they are loosing all respect for her. Guess she likes being abused. As far as I am concerned, no amount of money is worth the abuse I have seen her endure and have heard about. And the men who do this to her laugh about how they are controlling her. It is sad and pathetic and I have little respect left for my friend who is willing to let people treat her this way simply because they give her a paycheck.

    • I think I know who you are talking about. If she won’t do anything about it, I guess it either isn’t that bad or she doesn’t care enough about herself to do something about it. I don’t have any sympathy for her. If you allow someone to treat you like that, then as far as I am concerned you deserve what you allow.

    • I know who you are talking about. This non-lawyer claims to be skilled in mental health. Clearly not. If she is willing to take the abuse many of us have witnessed and heard about, then she really needs some help. I don’t think she has the courage or mental fortitude to walk away. Or maybe it is all an act to get people to feel sorry for her.

      • Well, if you hear her tell it, she feels they want her to quit but she is going to force them to fire her. They have taken her dignity, reduced her to nothing more than a victim, treat her like shit but she won’t leave. And they are hardly giving her any work! She is as sick as they are.

  6. Abuse is horrible and really destroys people. I guess the best we can do is be supportive of our friends who are in these type of relationships and be there for them when they get out.

  7. It is really hard to leave an abusive relationship but it is the best gift you can give yourself. I hope your friend finds the courage.

  8. Abusers only abuse people who let them. It is about power and control. Hard to feel sorry for the victim when they have the power to stop the abuse. Might be cruel to say this, but it is reality.

  9. I think that sometimes people stay in abuse situations at least temporarily because of their need for stability. I’ve been “stuck” in situations before: bad relationships, jobs with horrible bosses, at a relative’s house (a person who acts like an SS guard at a concentration camp). I don’t like these situations and they’ve never been good for me, but I always managed to get out of them at some point. (I’m an organized stalking/electronic harassment victim, so in my case some of these situations were socially engineered, I’m not a sucker for abuse.)

    The problem with the abuse situation is really not when it happens, it’s when you are completely stuck in it. A temporary stay in someone else’s hell is one thing, a lifetime of accepting (rather than coping) with a situation is something else. I think it’s the fear of the unknown for some people. One must see that something is not normal and decide not to accept it, even if you have to cope with it until you have the resources and support to move on.

    I hope that you are able to help your friend through this. Sometimes good friends are all one needs to see their situation more clearly.

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