I was once with a man who said he loved me. He told me that he saw a light in me, buried deep down, but that I hid it from the world and he would help me bring it out. He did this by scolding me as if I was a child when I said or behaved in a way that didn't match his expectations of me. He wouldn't relent if I fought him on it, if I stood up for myself; he would keep telling me how wrong I'd been until I started to believe him. For example we went for dinner with friends and afterwards he told me how rude I'd been for sitting with my legs crossed, shaking my top leg up and down. It's just a fidgety thing I do, especially if I've just eaten a huge meal (I had), and had excess energy. He told me it made me come across as impatient, like I wanted to leave, and how it was rude of me to make our friends feel as if I couldn't wait to leave their company. Of course I fought him saying it was nothing like that, but for days and days he would treat me like I'd wronged him. These kinds of things would happen regularly. Sometimes it was something I said which he decided made me "selfish" or sometimes it was something I didn't say which made me "thoughtless."
After days of him unrelentingly treating me like I owed him an apology, I would start to think "Maybe he's right. I am a rude/selfish/inconsiderate person." Then these thoughts would develop further, into thoughts like, "I bet nobody even likes me. People just tolerate me, but no matter how hard I try, I'm just a rude, selfish, unkind person."
What came next was I would get upset, and usually cry a lot, mortified that unintentionally, unknowingly, and unwillingly, I was apparently a horrible person. Well then it was him, my boyfriend who was there by my side, telling me that I'm a wonderful person with a light buried deep down, that he can see, even if nobody else can. So here he was, the only person in the world who was capable of putting up with me, of loving me, and surely everybody else couldn't stand me.
So I was dependent on him. I was already dependent on him financially (he disapproved of me working full time or looking for better jobs), and I had no family in this country. And this way of treating me (known amongst psychologists as "gas lighting") ensured I also became dependent on him emotionally. And he slowly etched away at my self worth, my self esteem. He made sure I hated myself.
Luckily I have a loving supportive family and he couldn't turn me against them. When he began to try, that's when I started to feel something may be wrong. I spoke to my mother, and to a therapist, and I slowly, over several months, became aware that our relationship wasn't normal or healthy and that his way of treating me was textbook emotional abuse.
When I told him I wanted to break up, he didn't believe me. He told me it was a phase I was going through. We had a mortgage together, my job was working for his step-father, I used his car to get about, and I had no money. So moving out of the house, quitting my job, and getting physically, geographically away from him was not easy and took some time. But finally I managed it. When I told him I'd found a flat in another city, and he realised for the first time that he had lost control over me, he hit me. The physical abuse then began. I was luckily able to move out two weeks later when my new flat became available, and I got away before it got severe.
Over the next year, I gained perspective of the situation, and slowly built my self esteem back up. I made friends in this new city and I had to work on it, but I let myself believe that they really did like me as a person. My habit was to believe they pretended to like me but actually couldn't wait for me to leave the room.I believe this experience, although difficult, left me stronger through what it taught me.
The biggest lesson was learning that if someone says they love you, but they make you feel worthless, then it's not love. They want to control you. I am stronger now because I would never let anyone--boyfriend, boss, friend, stranger--get away with making me feel like shit. If you do something wrong, someone who loves you will tell you about it, sure, but not in a way that makes you hate yourself. There's a huge difference between making a mistake and being called out on it, and being made to feel like you're inherently a bad person just for your personality.
Secondly, I learned how to recognise harmful thoughts. I had formed the habit of thinking negatively about myself, but I learned to recognise when I was being hard on myself for something that didn't even matter (something that started during my relationship with this man), and then turning those thoughts around. For example at one time if I showed up somewhere underdressed I would be certain that people would be offended by it. I would get worked up about what people must be thinking about me. But I learned to tell myself "no actually it's fine that I'm dressed more casually than everyone else. Nobody is going to hate me for that. It's not a big deal."
I learned confidence too. I spent a lot of time reflecting on myself as a person, how I treated others, how others viewed me, and I reasoned that if I genuinely tried to be a good person, to spread love, kindness, and light, to be helpful, selfless, and compassionate, then if anyone didn't like me, the problem was not with me. I know that my friends and family will tell me if I do something wrong, and I can then do my best to remedy any harm I may have caused. So therefore someone who makes me feel like I'm just a worthless person has no role to play in my life. That person only wants to control, or to project their own issues onto you.
This realisation allowed me to go into situations knowing I could be myself and be happy with that person. As long as I always try to be honest, kind, and compassionate, I have nothing to dislike about myself. We all make mistakes, and we can be forgiven for those mistakes. Once you realise this, confidence in who you are as a person can grow, and you can spread your love and light to others.
Love and light, Adell xx