Continuing the series on beliefs that we have to deal with when we leave an abuser --
“I don’t make good decisions.”
A victim lives with a partner who teaches her that she is incompetent. While he may encourage, even insist, she make decisions, he’s really setting her up so he can destroy her self-esteem. Any choice she makes will be wrong and her partner will berate her for hours, pointing out how stupid she is. She becomes terrified of making even the simplest decision.
After leaving him, she still carries with her the terror of the ramifications of making a wrong choice. Now, faced with the many life-changing decisions (safety for herself and children, TROs, divorce, child custody, children’s emotional well-being, lawyers, judges, living accommodations, and many more) she feels paralyzed. Meanwhile, her partner pressures her to return to him, using mind games. He professes his love and expresses his deep concern for her ability to make it on her own. This is meant to keep her off balance and reinforce her feeling of incompetence.
Whether a victim goes to a shelter or not, she can still use the services of an advocate trained to help women who are faced with major life decisions. (If there is no shelter in your area, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline for assistance: 800-799-7233) A shelter advocate lays out the choices and helps a victim think through each. Advocates don’t pressure or make any decisions for the victim, but empowers her as she develops a safety plan, walks through the court system, plans a budget, finds a home and many other needs. As a victim moves through the process she begins to realize she is competent.
Another decision-type issue we deal with is the feeling of not knowing what we want or like. We’d focused only on our partner’s wants and likes for such a very long time, ours fell away. I had to rediscover what I enjoyed doing, eating, seeing. A strange side to this issue was that since I was so used to not doing things I enjoyed, after I left I needed prompting to do things. It took a while for me to be spontaneous and decide to go to a movie or out to lunch.
After I left, I’d hesitate to buy clothing. I didn’t know what to buy because I’d lived with a strict criteria on what I was allowed to wear. Also, money had been an issue. A few years after my divorce, while shopping with a friend, I was drooling over an outfit. “Buy it,” she said. “It’s really a little more than I want to spend right now.” I told her. She looked me in the eye and said. “If not now, when?” She was right. We deserve things that make us feel happy. So budgeting in a little more for something special, on occasion, is a lovely gift we give ourselves.
My final note about decisions: It’s easy to look at choices in an all-or-nothing manner. Often there is more than one right choice. And even if I we make a “wrong” choice or one that didn’t turn out as we’d hoped, we can change it. It’s not the end of the world. I like Thomas Edison’s reply to the guy who asked Edison about all his failures as he invented the lightbulb -- Edison said, “I haven’t failed. I just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.”
Everything in a controlling relationship is so heavy, we forget that it’s not necessarily a big deal to make a mistake. We need to lighten up on ourselves and keep moving forward.