I received a post-holiday newsflash to myself the other day. It came in the form of that Inner Voice that always speaks the Truth of what I’m thinking or feeling. It said, “I am the kind of woman who gets beaten.” I’m going to need to give you a little background to explain that.
I got married almost four years ago to a kind, intelligent, gentle and caring man. John has never been abusive or intentionally discounted my feelings.
I, on the other hand, have had a life-long habit of abusing myself and discounting my own feelings, and in the safe space of my marriage, I have come to recognize that and work on healing the pattern that eliminated my own needs and wants from the equation of what to do in a day.
It has not been entirely easy for either John or me. I was angry with him, mostly because I was making decisions about what to do about division of labor based on my assumptions about what he wanted me to do. It was not a fair situation, and it took a lot of fits and starts for me to wake up and smell the coffee I’d made. I had to stop blaming him, and I needed to learn 1) to identify what I needed and wanted and 2) express what I’d identified.
One small example: we had company this holiday season, and we were in the mad dash to complete preparations for the last wave of family to arrive. We knew some family were arriving sick, and we needed to finish making the beds in order for them to crash. However, there were multiple other agenda items, like food prep, and I needed to stay on task with those. So when John said, “Do you want me to help you make the bed?” I said, “No. I would like you and your dad to make the bed while I finish this.”
It might not sound like the most liberated statement, but for me it was. I was saying that I didn’t want or need to be making the bed. I needed to continue doing the task I was involved in that moment.
And a short time later, I had the thought, “I am the kind of woman who gets beaten.”
It was no coincidence.
In my household growing up, I learned young not to say what I wanted or needed because that was a direct path to being identified as a problem and being beaten back into the quiet and the shadows. My wants and needs were used as direct ammunition against me to demonstrate how selfish and ridiculous I was. I didn’t tell anyone what I wanted or needed for years: it was better to figure out what others wanted and to make that happen for them. It seemed safer.
It was a useful strategy for some years, but it has some obvious limitations for happiness and satisfaction in life, let alone emotional intimacy.
So I’ve dug my way out, with the help of some loving and supportive friends, family and my husband. I’m finding my power and exercising it.
But…the cellular memory of abuse is still there. It arose in that spontaneous thought that, “I am the kind of woman who gets beaten.” In my history, this kind of strength and visibility is exactly the kind of thing that makes me a target.
One day at a time, I’m moving forward and owning the power of my own voice. I’m also listening to the awareness that arises from my past that this kind of thing would have gotten me beaten in my childhood, and some women are beaten for less in their marriages or relationships. And I will observe that this is different. I will breathe in that I can be powerful. Today, I have the courage to feel the fear, and do it anyway.