5 Life-Changing Lessons I Learned From An Emotionally Abusive Relationship

I didn’t see it coming.

When he got down on one knee, popped open a small box and asked, “Will you marry me?”, I just stood there; my feet planted firmly on the ground, unable to move.

I thought it was a dream.

The night he proposed to me felt surreal; but I remembered the butterflies in my stomach and how I went weak at the knees. I thought to myself, so, this was how it felt.

I said, “Yes”, doing my best to hide the excitement and joy welling up inside me. He slipped the ring on my finger and we hugged and we kissed and we lived happily ever after

 … or so I thought.

The months that followed our wedding was far from the fairy tales I used to read when I was a child.

When he hurled our groceries on the wall, when he screamed at me while driving recklessly, when he didn’t talk to me for days for reasons I couldn’t fathom; I didn’t see them coming. Not at all.

For some, it sounded like he was just having a bad day and he needed to let off steam. But, when his bad days became more frequent, he blamed them on me. 

He never laid his hands on me during the course of our marriage, but he left behind unseen scars.

Yet, despite the painful experience, I'm grateful for it. I believe everything that happens in life has something beautiful to teach us. It may not be obvious at first, but all will make sense in time. I trust in that thought. 

Besides, if not for the experience, I wouldn’t have gained clarity and learned these 5 life-changing lessons:

#1 Truly Love Yourself

During one of my therapy sessions, I was telling my therapist how I could easily empathize with people and how I could see myself in their shoes. Then she asked, “Do you have empathy for yourself?”. I stopped and I pondered on that. I realized she was right, I had a lot of empathy for others, but not enough for myself.

When I was still in the relationship, I was always trying to please and appease my husband that I forgot myself in the process.

I was quick to judge and blamed myself for the things that happened. Later on, I discovered that loving myself meant being gentle and compassionate with who I am. I accept I make mistakes, I make bad choices, and it’s all right.

To practice self-love, here’s one simple exercise that can help. Take a few deep breaths and put both hands on your heart and meaningfully say to yourself, “I love you”. Keep repeating it and say it with conviction until you believe it. Do this in the morning when you wake up and in the evening before you sleep.

It’s easy to forget yourself when you want to please others and make them happy. But who will give you love and happiness when there’s no one else to turn to except yourself? Loving and accepting yourself can be a struggle, but if you don’t give the kind of love and respect you want for yourself, how can you expect others to treat you the same?

Instead of looking for love and validation from others, take time to know yourself and learn to accept who you are.

#2 Live One Day At A Time

The tension that was building in the relationship made me jumpy and anxious most of the time. I spent a lot of energy thinking and worrying about the future and it could be overwhelming. Instead of feeling better, this made me more desperate and anxious.

I knew, worrying and fretting wouldn’t help solve the issue, so even when it was a struggle, I taught myself to live in the present.

I started by taking it one day at a time.

Doing so allowed me to deal with my situation moment by moment. I didn’t think about tomorrow and worry about how things would be between me and my husband.

Taking it one day at a time made me grounded and mindful of my thoughts and actions. It taught me resilience and perseverance in moments when I thought I had none.

#3 Stay Positive

Being in an emotionally abusive relationship can cause extreme stress and anxiety. For me, they came in the form of sleepless nights and bouts of depression. Often, I would conjure images in my head of the possible scenarios my husband would do or say when he’s in one of his bad days.

I realized that spending a lot of energy worrying about the future was not helping me. So, to keep a positive state of mind, I turned to things that made me happy. I listened to empowering podcasts, watched funny movies and TV shows, listened to uplifting music, and read personal development books.

Whenever I felt overwhelmed and anxious, I would read my favorite affirmations, bible verses, and quotes. I would read them aloud and let the words linger a bit. In my mind, I created a safe space, one where he wouldn't be able to go in. 

As much as possible, find ways and means to stay in high vibrations. Don’t allow yourself to be engulfed in the negativity that’s hovering around you.

It’s easy to get sucked in the vortex of fear, best way to avoid it is to stay positive and remain hopeful that the best days are yet to come.

#4 Help Is Available If You Ask For It

The first time I encountered my husband’s wrath, I didn’t know how to react, so I kept quiet. In my mind, I would justify his actions. He’s stressed out, he had a bad day at work, or he wasn’t feeling well, were my usual thoughts. But, it wasn’t long before I started blaming myself for his actions.

 My friends and family would often check on me and asked how I was, I would always say everything’s fine. I was too ashamed to admit what I was going through.

One time, in a desperate attempt to keep myself from having a panic attack, I found the number of the National Domestic Violence Hotline. I called, and hearing another person on the other end of the line saying it was all right, I broke down and poured my heart out.

After, I realized it was all right to speak about it to people I know and trust. Opening up to my family and closest friends gave me assurance that I wasn’t alone. I also reached out to institutions who were more than willing to help me deal with my situation.

There’s no shame in telling your story and asking for help. People will go out of their way to help you when you ask for it.

#5 Have A Grateful Heart

Practicing gratitude can be challenging especially when dealing with an abusive partner. Your thoughts and emotions are centered on the person and it can be difficult to see the good in the situation.  

But, being grateful for the simple things can make a lot of difference. When it was especially tough, I would force myself to stop wallowing in self-pity. Instead, I would look around our 300 sq. ft apartment and mumble a silent prayer of gratitude for everything I have.

I was grateful for the roof on my head, for the food I eat, for the bed I sleep on, for the flowing water, for the comforts I enjoy, for the books I read, for the clothes I wear, and the list goes on. It made me realize that I had everything I need. Importantly, practicing gratitude took me out of my negative state.

Looking back, gratitude was what kept me going and saved me from giving up on myself.