From childhood, I survived by watching others’ behaviors, movements, and matching those with intention and action. It became apparent by the age of 9 that my parents used people for their personal financial, physical, and emotional gain. By the age of 11, I exposed the secrets that our core unit tried to keep so tightly locked, to the entire extended network. By 13 and couch surfed, and by 14 I had a job and lived on my own. So, in a short paragraph, I financially supported myself before the time I could drive a car. Living independently is my first and foremost goal. This is also how I avoided entrapment in a violent relationship. It’s not that opportunity never presented itself. With street experience from my first decade of life, I became attuned to the signs and adapted for survival. I will never depend on another for financial reasons. I watched as my mother tolerated the abject abuse my father so freely dealt us, and I vowed: never again.
Why would I put all this personal stuff out there to the world to read? Because this is the reality of trying to escape an abusive environment. No one believed me except for my maternal grandmother. She was immediately outcasted and her life threatened by both parents, shamed for bring up such horrible accusations. When I came home from school one night, my mother and father held hands and told us how they planned to renew their vows. Celebration. Hugs, kisses, we’re starting anew. Never mind the horror that filled our lives every single day prior to that or the later deaths and destruction that followed. RIP Jeff, I will never forget you.
There have been several tens of people that came across my traveled path that attempted to intimidate, shame, guilt, psychologically degrade, and somehow control my being either mentally or physically. With this gift that trauma has brought into my life, I recognized the pattern and GTFO before these relationships became escalated to the point of physical harm or psychological impact. One way or another, I declined to become someone’s punching bag.
I knew the second the onset of the familiar gut churn and a twisted, sickening feeling, something is wrong. Very wrong. I fought back. Every time, even when it was not the best decision. There were also many instances I put myself in danger unnecessarily, not knowing intricacies about the domestic abuse cycle. So when this wonderful roommate I had 10 years my elder, at the age of 16, raised his hands to threaten to punch me for not taking down my pantyhose one day from the bathroom because it was embarrassing to his brothers (living in my own apartment, emancipated from my parents), I said go ahead. From what I know, cellmates have a special spot in their heart for child abusers. Still, this person was safer than my mother.
He never tried- and I moved out that night. During the magnificant dating years in my 20s, some folks tried the whole dominate and control thing, and quickly found out this is just not a great way to interact with me. I did not escape domestic violence from childhood to enter into a relationship like that in adulthood. I don’t care who, how, what, or why. There will never be an excuse good enough to make hitting another person, psychologically fracturing, or emotionally manipulating your partner/victim okay.
Funny enough- those that try this are extremely fragile individuals themselves. That is the first characteristic I picked out from these individuals. With my brain, I can identify patterns instantaneously. The diminished self esteem, entitlement, projection, and non-existent boundaries gave it away every time. I knew within a day who was capable of violence. And, I leaned into friends to support me when this occurred. And when it did pop up, I ended the situation immediately. Cut ties, cut contact, and disappear like Hoffa. Ghost in the Mist. You get the rock wall, Sir/Maam.
Sure, I had stalkers. Working in the restaurant business makes one a target. As a waitress for 15 years, from the age of 16, I had to keep myself safe from the creeps who tried to “just have a conversation” at two in the morning outside my car door. I took workmates with me to the parking lot, asked store clerks to help me load groceries, checked in with friends and roommates when I went out for the evening, and frankly learned how to scare those types off. It really is not hard. Be a strong, fiercely independent woman who has an army of kick-ass friends and a backbone.
This behavior includes intense focus and adoration for a short time, then the mask falls off. The monster that ran the show from behind the curtains makes his way to the surface, and ugliness begins seeping into the relationship. Discrediting reality, shaming one’s identity, comparing to other women, blaming me for uncontrollable life events, and projecting the very actions of the offender’s behaviors as tactics of control were instead, for me, terrifying signs of future impending violence.
I learned to stop giving information unnecessarily to individuals until a significant amount of time and life experience has built trust. This information would be turned onto me as a weapon for identity destruction. My very weaknesses were used in an attempt to carve a wound into my already hollow existence. Fresh still from the combines of a childhood of terror, I built up an excellent self-protecting measure of personality and perseverance that allowed me to protect myself. To this very day, individuals from my circle of daily living attempt this wonderful tactic of intimidation that I just have to say- I’m sorry, that never worked on me. If I give someone one slice of sensitive data, and that is used to brand myself with an identity that fits their version of me, I will never again let that person know me. They will get a wall of pleasantness, curtness, and avoidance. Hurt me purposefully after a moment of vulnerability, never again.
I let people make up their stories. While I used to feel the need to defend, became angry at the injustice of the completely inaccurate and sometimes just outlandishly wrong judgments, I now let them have it. I do not see the need to spend energy defending myself against another person who 1) has no interest in believing otherwise; 2) is not willing to consider any other reality, and 3) had motivation for some form of gains like an ego boost or exploitation. I learned to step out of the power struggle and take it back for myself, and my family. I give it to my girls who use it daily.
Karate, Krav Maga, and R.A.D.D. are excellent ways to wear that armor. Krav Maga, my favorite of the physical arts, gets straight to the point without any of that fancy dancing stuff the others do.
This occurs every once in a while in the workplace setting. When the bullying, gossiping, or other manipulative behaviors begin, I tune in. If someone is willing to talk shit about one person without that person present, then I automatically assume that person does that to anybody that person deems unworthy. I set strong boundaries outright to not speak like that about someone who cannot defend oneself when one is not present. When I hear people tell me about what my intentions are, assume completely false characteristics, or makeup stories that fit their version of a villain, then, I pretend they are like the plague and stay away. I have to admit, I do find it rather funny and simultaneously sad. I know that I absolutely cannot change such an individual’s actions or behavior. And, unfortunately, the character smearing tactics these sick people engage in often work on others, creating alliances and overall hostile work environments. I am an object to a company that makes money and mean nothing less than numbers on paper. And, that’s okay. I can protect myself and keep a healthy workflow under very boundaried conditions.
To date, I thank my higher power for handing me the amazing spouse I have shared decades of my life with. This rock has guided me through all the terrains life has yet offered. And, I have a wide support base of people I am proud to call my friends. Without these companions, I gather I would be in the same situation as my parents or worse- living in a sick, sad, and miserable world where everything is everyone else’s fault and they expect life to hand them all their desires without serious consequences, then clutch their pearls when those consequences negatively affect them. Gasp! Oh, the reality.
None of this is easy. I have endured severe pain of the loss of some very close relationships that were one-way that I held up. I have had close people betray me beyond what is already mentioned here. I’ve suffered panic attacks when in the vicinity of such toxicity when in the workplace. However, I know that I am worth it, and that I can survive it. And, I’ve already lived it.