Yes, you read that right. And it's offensive, isn't it? I thought so too before I had to do some deep work on myself. I had to shed the fear, anger and resentment I carried with me after I left a verbally and emotionally abusive marriage. The scars were showing up in my own defensiveness and insecurity. How many of us are walking around like that today? Are you happy? Are you at peace? Or are you, like I was, still hearing that voice in your head calling you vulgar names, telling you how stupid and worthless you are, how you'll never be "good enough." Those words attach themselves to us... and the longer they linger, the more we believe them.
Now look I'm not going to pretend I was as blonde as I paid to be back in the day. Before I said "I do," I saw signs. Little inklings and some big ones: the name calling, the cursing, the demeaning. And yet I didn't walk away. I'd conveniently pull the cover up over those moments and drape them with the loving ones... the "I love you," "I'm sorry," and, "I don't want to be without you," Band Aids that erased the sting. At least for a bit. I wanted so desperately to believe in the good I knew was in that man that I was willing to bury that nagging but constantly subtle poke in my gut telling me to get out before it was too late. Before I took the vows.
But I took the vows. And at the end of a not-so-euphoric wedding day, I went to sleep thinking "Dear God what have I done?" Yep. I own it. I had to. Because until I did, I'd never get to the truth that was just waiting, not to bring me down, but to lift me up.
Truth is funny that way. We avoid it like the plague because we know the punch it throws is going to hurt. But after four years of dodging verbal assaults, emotional belittling and a fear of my ex that was the elephant in every room I walked into, the slap of the truth looked a lot more attractive than it had four years before.
What was the truth? Well after a lot of introspection, I discovered that the fear I lived with was born in me much earlier than the day I met my ex. I had an insecurity, as we all do to some degree, that I wasn't worth it. I wasn't worth the time or the energy or the love someone might invest in me. Why? Well for one, in my formative years of high school, when you're really vulnerable and trying to figure out who the heck you are, another young man I thought I adored told me so. Maybe for you it was a parent, a teacher, a friend you thought you could trust. Whomever it was, we know those words are haunting.
Looking back, I remembered how that "high-school sweetheart" criticized everything I did, from the way I plopped myself down on the couch to the clothes I'd wear to the friendships I treasured. "You don't deserve all the friends you have," he told me. And eventually, I believed him. Not only that, but I let it fester in me. Subconsciously that lie planted itself in my brain and as the years went by, the roots of it got deeper, while the branches stretched out to shape the very image I had of myself. And soon, well... well God forbid if anyone else ever criticized me. I could take it up to a point, but those iron-rooted judgments from high school would subtly latch onto any new ones in my college years and 20s, and I learned to believe them. I put more credence in what they thought than what I thought. Way back then I learned to allow someone else to define me.
It followed me so closely that I wound up marrying someone who mirrored that high-school boyfriend. But after four years of a marriage like that, I knew I was either going to have a breakdown or a breakout.
I chose to breakout.
I finally realized I'd rather live authentically than live a lie. I'd rather have genuine people in my life than just lots of people. I'd rather be alone than be with the wrong person. That's when I really grew up.
But part of what was wrong was in me. Though I could finally walk away from the abuse, I couldn't walk away from the belittling I'd habituated in my head. Think about it. You can have 20 compliments in a day, but the one thing you remember is the criticism.
In came Dr. Amelia Case, who told me to "grab a pen, paper and my gumption." I had to make lists. Lists titled "The Drawback of Never Having Struggles," "The Benefits of Being Criticized" and the list that initially turned my stomach, "The Benefits of Verbal Abuse."
But as I twisted my thoughts to see things differently, I found myself scribbling fiercely.
How did verbal abuse benefit me? It helped me realize the importance of words (and to choose mine carefully). It helped me become more independent and learn to take care of myself. It helped redefine what security means to me (that just because you're married that doesn't guarantee you'll be happy). And it helped me learn boundaries -- something I clearly hadn't set in my life. To recognize what I was and wasn't willing to allow into my life. It brought me closer to God and helped me recognize what I can and can't control. And it helped expand my capacity to forgive, not just other people, but myself.
I found 63 benefits to verbal abuse. And I found freedom.
The big takeaway is that once you learn how something served you, you can learn to let it go. Now let's be very clear here. Recognizing the benefits of something negative isn't saying, "It's okay that it happened to you." It's not okay. But it is saying, "It's not okay that you let it wreck the rest of your life." At any given time we have the power to say, "This isn't how my story is going to end."
I had to choose faith over fear. I hope you can, too.
For more by Christi Paul, click here.
For more on emotional wellness, click here.