It’s hard to shake old feelings for an abusive ex-partner

Despite her initial reservation about her husband, Linda found herself being drawn into the web again
“In the meantime, my mind was playing havoc along with my feelings. I was beginning to ponder over the thought “had he changed,” and had life experiences in travelling changed his perception on things, that maybe he can see the damage he had done.
It wasn’t long before he was asking for us to give things a go again. He promised all the good things, pleaded that we should be a family again, and not to keep the family apart. That he has changed now, and is ready for a family and for settling down. He told me he still loved me and always would. He said we would have back what we once had.
Deep down I knew none of this would happen and that this was a big fantasy. I have learned so much about abuse that I knew this was the NICE Stephen coming forth and the ugly one was to follow. However this didn’t prevent havoc on my emotions and feelings. It was as if all the pain and hurt and loss was brought to the surface again. When I had seen Stephen for the first time with our son, it immediately brought it to the surface like a volcano erupting. Once again I found myself in pain! How could this happen? I thought I had dealt with all of this. I couldn’t believe it was happening again.
Stephen’s return had reopened my grief- every inch of the pain and hurt, sorrow, loneliness, stress and longing for when it was good. I soon realised that I WAS STILL GRIEVING MY MARRIAGE. Stephen in reality in front of me, brought all that back to me. I went over the marriage again and again. I took out the photos of the wedding day and cried. I cried looking at my son asleep longing for the dreams that were in place for our family, before it was ripped apart.
I shut everyone out, I went to work and when I came home I shut the door and wanted to hide from the world. I looked forward to going to sleep at night because it would give me peace for a few hours from the world and my pain. Because no one would understand how I could be upset. He had left for so long and done so much – how could I still be upset? But, these were my feelings and I couldn’t prevent them. I knew I had to accept them and take the time to myself to deal with it all, and go through all the feelings that had once again resurfaced.
Meanwhile, Stephen was trying his utmost for me to give him a chance and go back. The strength I had to gain to do this was very hard. On one occasion, Stephen brushed his hand on my back. This might seem like an insignificant thing to do, but in the light of what I was going through it was hugely emotional. I knew that this was going too far, and was too dangerous. I was on very thin ice. I knew very clearly that Stephen didn’t love me, that he was not going to be there for me and Jack
So, I understood the reality, but my feelings played havoc in my fantasy world of what it could be like to be back as a family again.”

I was surprised when Linda returned for counselling. From her previous narrative and the exploration of her issues I wrongly assumed that she had completed her grieving, and would be able to withstand any emotional impact his eventual return would have on her. But, when grieving is incomplete returning feelings can be overwhelming. It is like the final sting of a dying wasp. Therapy, therefore, is important to embrace and complete the journey of grief. If therapy is too expensive for you as a way of grieving and exploring the dynamics of your abusive relationship, there are other ways that you can cope, integrate and eventually grow. It is always beneficial to talk to other survivors, and perhaps join a support group, although Mike Lew advises that it is best to see a therapist for a while before joining a group. Group work will help you to feel less alone, to feel understood, or perhaps to receive practical help, especially if you suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Victims of abuse lose a sense of identity, and often become disconnected and split within themselves, so volunteer work in the community can reconnect you with other people, and help you reclaim your sense of worth. You will receive assistance from the state body, the HSE (Health Service Executive), and support from some of the voluntary organisations mentioned in the next chapter.
Adapted from Jim O’Shea’s book Abuse. Domestic Violence, Workplace and School Bullying published by Cork University Press


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