Once I dated someone who needed to vet the clothes I was wearing every time we went out because – as he told me – he wouldn’t have anyone criticising his girlfriend but him. But we never went out anywhere decent because he might be seen with me. The same guy considered my past promiscuity an abhorrence and took it upon himself to make me hate sex, so that – in his words – I would never consider having sex with anyone else. Through systematic emotional and sexual abuse over two years, he trampled on my already poor self esteem until one day he came to despise me so much that he beat me and then pissed on me as I lay bleeding on the ground.
It’s 20 years later now. I have a son and a daughter (with a man who is as far removed from being an asshole as it is possible to be). If either of them were ever caught up in a situation where they were the perpetrator or the victim of such a situation, I don’t know how I would contain my vitriol …or my guilt. Because in both positions, my children would be operating out of a place of low self-esteem. One who needed to feed their ego by taking power to control and manipulate. One who felt they were worth very little and that this was the only relationship they deserved.
It takes two to create a relationship. Me, the victim. And him the asshole – or in psychotherapy terms – the persecutor.
Assholes on the dating scene are those who have an over inflated ego, a sense entitlement, a need to possess and those who blame you for whatever hurt they’re feeling when you upset that precarious balance.
If you are consistently dating them, you can be sure of one thing. That you are attracted to assholes who treats you badly has to do with your low self-esteem. Whilst you are not to blame for it in the first place, you are the only one who can improve it. That means taking responsibility for it.
Surprisingly, an apology from the person who you blame, does not (usually) cut it. Why?
It’s true that sometimes apologies bring about healing, but only as a side effect. An apology does not heal the wound, but it may stop the cycle of anger and hate which keeps the wound open. To bring two parties to a place of better objectivity so they can see which part both of them played in the creating of the situation. It de-escalates the conflict and opens the door to communication. An apology that sits with blame, does not permit further exploration or analysis. It only serves to make you right and the other person wrong. It does not allow you to take responsibility for your feelings in the now. It simply allows you to walk around thinking that everyone is inferior to you and that they are to blame for all that is bad in your life. It does not allow you to ‘own your shit’. And if you don’t ‘own your shit’ you will continue to be hurt and blame others for it. You will continue to be the victim.
Let’s be clear about it. You are not responsible for the actions of others. I am not responsible for my boyfriend punching me in the face. That was his responsibility. But I, with him, was entirely responsible for creating the relationship where it occurred in the first place. Who else but me chose to go out with him for two years?
So the only question remains is why.
Why did I choose to go out with him? And the answer is, because my self-esteem was low. It’s the answer to why women stay with abusers, and why the cycle is so hard to break. Low self-esteem begets ill treatment which begets low self-esteem. Power experienced by the asshole, feeds his self-esteem and leaves him wanting more, like a fix. It’s the reason why violence escalates. You cannot ‘cure’ someone of being an asshole (although in some cases you can put them in jail where they can’t do anymore damage). They, like you, must do the work themselves. Unfortunately assholes don’t realise they are suffering from low self-esteem. They think they are too important for that. And that the women they date are just crazy bitches.
So how did I get out? I don’t have all the answers. I am not better than others because I managed to, just luckier. But some things I know. I know that he helped me without meaning to (yes, I see the irony). I feared his judgement so much that I went out of my way to be nicely presented, to do well in my career, to curb my drinking. In doing so, my self-esteem improved somewhat. The work was only partially done of course; I hadn’t valued myself enough to invest in myself, I had done it out of fear of someone else. Nevertheless, on that day near the end of our relationship when I lay on the ground bleeding, I thought, ‘Jesus Christ. What am I doing with this asshole?’
The healing cycle had begun. And for that I am eternally grateful.
Only a small proportion of women in abusive relationships have self-esteem high enough to be able to get out. They are not to blame, but they must be the ones to make the choice to get out (and hopefully be able to access the support they need when they’ve made this choice). Be there for them. Often the way it occurs is that you do it for someone else. Sometimes it’s out of love for your children (they are unquestionably worthy). Or like my case, it’s that your self-esteem improves for some other reason. But it takes time. It’s taken me years of personal development. If you get out, but don’t work on your self-esteem, you will wind up with another asshole. I’ve fallen in my journey several times, but each time was never quite as low.
There are assholes in this world of both genders. But you don’t have to date them. If you find yourself attracted to and dating assholes, then you need to take a look at improving your self-esteem, of truly believing that you are worth more.
In the meantime the advice I would give to my younger self is to stop dating. I mean it. Don’t get caught in the cycle. It’s not that you don’t deserve love, you do. Totally. It’s that you deserve love from someone who isn’t an asshole. But you need to tune up your asshole detector first by improving your self-esteem. If you go on a date with a guy who mentions his ex was a crazy bitch, there’s a good chance that it was him. Of course there are also some crazy bitches out there… no one said this was easy. Test the waters, by all means. But be on the look out.
Because once you do truly believe you’re worth more, then you won’t be attracted to assholes anymore and they will look like the unattractive douchebags they are.