All relationships may entail some form of compromise, but under no circumstances should your partner make you feel bad about being youself, says Denise Li.
I woke up today to an email from an old friend based in Australia. The email only contained a subject line “Me being done with shame and loving that you’re my friend”, and a link to a blog post she had written a few days ago.
In the post, she chronicled her past toxic relationship – which entailed not just verbal and emotional abuse, but also physical violence – as well as the process she went through cutting all ties with this man and how she learnt to move on.
I am so happy and proud of her that she has managed to move on. I know it’d been pretty tough on her – I’d been urging her for awhile now to cut out this tumour from her life, but it wasn’t in my place to force her to do so. It was a decision that she had to make for herself. And if she was anything like the strong-willed, opinionated woman I knew her to be, I knew she would do it eventually.
But the thing that struck me the most about her post was her describing the sense of shame she felt during this traumatic period. I’m not exactly sure what she felt ashamed about: Is it the low self-esteem brought about by the endless name-calling by this horrible dude? The fact that he continually made her feel worthless, not just within the context of the relationship, but also as a human being? Or did she feel ashamed of the fact that it took her four years to take action to make things better for herself?
To this friend (who I’m sure is reading this right now), I would like to say: If it’s about the last point, you have nothing to be feel ashamed about. Sure, things might have taken a turn for the better sooner if you had done something about it earlier, but it’s pointless mulling over those lost years. If you didn’t go through them, you wouldn’t be the brand new you you are today. All that matters is that you’re in a better place right now and proactively taking steps improving your situation.
But if the sense of shame is related to how he made her feel about herself as a person, there are no two ways around it: There is no place for shame in any relationship.
Honest self-reflection, yes, but not shame.
My last relationship wasn’t abusive in the same way my friend’s was, but there were many instances where I was made to feel like my emotions didn’t matter. To be sure, I was more unstable and suffered from mild depression back in the day, but the worst feeling of all was being met with stony silence whenever I tried to open up to him. Being an emotional person has always been and still is a part of who I am – though admittedly, I am less prone to bouts of depression these days. The ex never came outright to say it, but it felt like he saw the part of me that couldn’t deal with my emotions logically and rationally as “disabled”. I felt ashamed of myself for being “out of control” and “psychotic”, and to a certain extent, it was as though I wasn’t worthy of being loved because of my “handicap”.
These days, I have a slightly better grip on my emotions, though sometimes, I still have no filter. When I am tired or emotionally drained, the worst of me rears its ugly head, but I have to say that Alain deals with it quite well 90% of the time. I have talked about the importance of picking your battles in this column, but I am not able to practise what I preach all the time. I sometimes fly off the handle over the smallest of things (we recently had a small argument over, of all things, Facebook “Likes”, don’t ask) and, unless he is himself under great pressure or stress – he always takes the time to talk me through my little tantrums.
He listens to me without judgement and stays calm to talk me through the process, without belittling what I have to say or what I’m going through. If I do feel any guilt at all, it’s all self-imposed, because I feel bad for putting him through the wringer.
It’s the best feeling in the world to know that he doesn’t just love me IN SPITE OF me being “damaged” (note the inverted commas), but that he truly he loves all of me, good, bad, whatever. When I Skype with him, he often tells me I look beautiful, even though I’m feeling anything but in my Chang beer T-shirt and with my uncombed hair. Best of all, I KNOW he’s not patronising me – he really means it.
And you know what? I don’t think it’s wrong for anyone to want to be in a relationship where the other person thinks that the sun shines out of your ass. Too many of us think that we are somehow not worthy of love, that there is a part of ourselves we first need to improve on in order to be deserving of the other party’s affection.
No. If we want to make a change for the better, we should do it only for ourselves, and not for anyone else.
Love In Lines is a special under the Relationship section of Material World. The four founders each takes a week in a month to talk about dealing with love from different perspectives. Founder Denise Li talks about the trials and tribulations of being in a long-distance relationship. Stay tuned for more!
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