No one intentionally invites others to treat them badly. Unthinkable acts are inflicted on some of us in circumstances completely beyond our control. Any form of abuse is unacceptable. I dream of a time where all forms of violence and aggression are eliminated.
My aim is to bring awareness to the insidious kinds of mistreatment in relationships. In my yet-to-be-published memoir, ‘Where Have I Been All My Life?’ I expose my painful stories of suffering as a result of coercive control, passive aggressive bullying and gaslighting.
Without excusing toxic behaviour, I don’t believe we actually grow up until we take responsibility for our own life. I had to acknowledge the role I played. You will have to read my book to hear the full story, but in a surprising way, I had been complicit in the pattern of abuse I was experiencing.
After over a decade of unhappiness, I stopped focusing on who was treating me badly, and started to address the issue of why I was tolerating such behaviour. Was it a lack of self-worth, a fear of repercussions, a need to please, or the result of outdated social norms?
I was in a toxic loop and attracted partners with similar personalities because I was scared and unaware of how to make changes. No matter how pathological it seems, we also attract situations where we can confirm our pain and we may seek comfort in its familiarity. I was ashamed to admit the mistreatment I was putting up with - imagining others judging me and believing I was weak. So, I said nothing and remained trapped.
While ever I tolerated the behaviour, I invited it in. It horrifies me, but by remaining silent, I was also protecting and enabling my abusers. It doesn’t help to berate my younger-self. I am compassionate towards the younger version of me. She did the best she could.
I understand why women haven’t spoken up. We haven’t been taken seriously. We have been told we are exaggerating and have been afraid of the consequences. We can only share our stories when we are ready.
The messages we absorb from our culture and what we are exposed to as we grow up, have a profound impact on us. I was brought up in Gen X, where there were distinct male and female roles. Maybe that’s why I didn’t notice what I was putting up with. All my life I’ve witnessed the mistreatment of women and the way we have been portrayed as the inferior gender in the news, on television and in the media. Our lives cannot help but be a reflection of what is going on in the greater cultural environment.
Women have a voice more than ever, but during my youth, people cared too much about appearances and what other people thought. Silences were considered admirable and women were conditioned to hold their emotions in, and pretend anything uncomfortable never happened. We have been shamed into shutting up, being ‘good,’ and keeping quiet. Cultural changes can take several generations to be recognised. Not expressing ourselves is old-fashioned!
We are not in charge of how people treat us, but we can learn how to respond better. I only see — looking back — that even though I felt helpless, there were things I could have done differently.
An individual’s actions seem insignificant, but if we appreciated the power of our collective voice, and knew we had support, we would be more confident to speak up. Women like Grace Tame have stood up and been role models for speaking out about the abuse that has been lurking in our relationships, schools, homes and offices. The culture is slowly changing, and it is becoming more common and less humiliating to call out bad behaviour.
When women reach their limit and say no, sure we may seem angry. Some aren’t expecting what comes out of our mouths, but it’s been festering in our bellies for decades, waiting to erupt.
I’m glad we’re teaching the next generation how to set healthy boundaries, and that abusive behaviour is punishable. Maybe one day soon, males and females will be revered as true equals.
I know the regret of not saying no. My age and experiences have left me intolerable to even the subtlest forms of bullying these days. If I had my own daughter, I would want to be a positive role model, showing her how to be confident enough to stand up for herself.
May we have the courage to honour ourselves by expressing our emotions, no matter how ugly it looks, or how unsteady our voices are.
Thanks for taking the time to read my thoughts. If you want to hear more from me, please like my ‘Lisa Benson Author’ page on Facebook or follow me (lisabensonauthor) on Instagram.