In A DV Environment
I grew up in a violent situation, where the adults around me were not only violent with me, but were also violent with each other. Domestic violence was really confusing for me as a kid. Then I had the fortunate opportunity of living in a completely different situation with my adoptive Mom and Dad, and the contrast between the two situations was drastic.
I read something a while back that made me think about the situation. I remember really strongly how I felt as a kid when the adults around me fought with each other, argued and were violent with each other, were disrespectful towards one another, and treated each other as less than a person. Their actions had a huge impact on me--I was afraid the majority of the time, I didn't feel safe, cared about, or stable, my world felt like it was always on the brink of crumbling, and I had no way to get myself out of the situation or to improve it, so I felt really trapped. Considering I didn't have anything to compare this environment to, I figured this was just the way it had to be--that adults argued, fought, were violent, etc.--and I often felt as if these things were my fault. Fortunately, once I got out of the abuse situation and my Mom and Dad adopted me, I found out that relationships and conflict within relationships could be drastically different.
My Mom and Dad often disagreed with each other, had arguments about a multitude of things, didn't see eye to eye sometimes, but they never treated each other with anything less than respect--they never name-called, put the other one down, exposed their intimate issues to others, etc. And they always let each other know that they loved each other, especially after arguments, and they weren't violent with each other, ever. After a while of living in this environment, I learned that adults fighting doesn't have to mean the end of the world, doesn't have to mean choosing sides, doesn't have to mean watching adults be disrespectful towards each other, and doesn't mean that they say or do things that treat the other person as less than human. The biggest thing about my Mom and Dad though, is that existing as a unit--a couple--made them both better people than they would have been by existing individually. Mom and Dad both were getting something out of the relationship, contributing to the growth of the other, and were much happier together than they would have been apart. I've seen this especially since my Mom passed away--my Dad was lost for quite some time, because that unit was so strong and important to him.
Because of my extended childhood exposure to the abuse environment, I have lasting psych issues. I have difficulty trusting that disagreements and arguments are a normal part of the interactions between any two people, and that disagreements can happen without drastic, violent consequences. I really struggle in relationships because I started out with an unhealthy model of how people relate to and interact with each other. Through therapy, I'm starting to understand healthier relationships and build some myself, but it's taking a long time to undo the damage that happened because of what I lived in as a child. I've also started to realize that I'm not obligated to any relationship if I don't wanna be. I can keep the relationship if I want, or I can get rid of it, for any reason or no reason at all.
When I look at a relationship to see if I wanna keep it or not, I've found it helpful for me when I look at what I'm getting out of the relationship, how I feel when I'm with the person or think about that person, and how much effort and time I'm putting into it--whether it's a mutual relationship where we both play equal parts, or it's unequal, with one of us dictating how things are gonna go for both of us. I've gotta say that the most rewarding (and the longest lasting) relationships I have are ones where we both enjoy it, where we both put something into it and both get something out of it, and we both feel good around each other--not that everything is always sunshine and roses, but that overall we feel happy and uplifted by each other's presence in our lives. I guess all that is just to say that I enjoy relationships where I grow, instead of where I feel like I have to mold myself to be what the other person wants.
I really learned a lot about the difference between living in domestic violence and living in a peaceful, loving family thanks to my Mom and Dad. I feel lucky to have had the experiences with them that I did, especially after the violence I was living in before they adopted me. When looking at the relationships in my life now, it really helps me to look at how Mom and Dad interacted with each other, and to see the contrast between their example of a healthy relationship and the domestic violence I was living in before they helped me get out.
~ Janet Long
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