Huh. This novel idea of simply stepping away from someone who's abusive to me has really given me a lot of clarity about how I handle those types of situations. I went back, very far back, to the beginning....
My parents were both raised in abusive environments themselves and shouldn't have had children. That being said, they each did the best they could. Which wasn't very good. My mom would flip out over nothing that I could understand, and run screaming at us, (mostly me, as the elder child, but sometimes my sister) and hit and slap us. Or get the belt and order me to take off my clothes so she could whip me.
She only beat me with the buckle end the one time, but the belt was a common tool. I can still remember and feel the welts from the beatings. If I tried to run away or hide, eventually she'd catch me and it would be worse. So I learned to come when she told me and just stand there and take it in order to get it over with.
My dad hit me too. He always used to tell me that it hurt him worse than it hurt me. I always disagreed with that in my mind.
The beatings stopped by the time I was 13. But my mom still slapped me if she got angry. Until she divorced my dad when I was 15. She didn't hit me after that.
They've both gotten better over time. I credit my step-mother, who married my dad when I was in college, with teaching him to be more open. My mom did some therapy, and not living with my dad was good for her too.
Anyway, I soon learned to keep my head down and stay out of the way as much as possible. No, I didn't feel loved. I used to look for signs that they loved me. Like, I remember even in junior high thinking, "My mom packed this lunch for me to bring to school. So she must love me." And, my dad fenced our property (with my help) so I could have my first horse. That's the best thing he ever did for me, and I'm truly grateful for it.
I never internalized what it feels like to be loved unconditionally. (The closest thing is my boyfriend in college. But that didn't work out for other reasons.) I had no internal warning system about when to run.
Imagine being trained from a very early age that when someone tells you to come over and be beaten, that's the proper response to a loved one's request. So I married someone who was verbally and emotionally abusive because he didn't know how to deal with his dissatisfaction about life. He would flip out over something like my wanting dimmable light switches in the newly remodeled basement. (He really didn't like dimmers, until we had one. Then he liked it.) His eyes would bulge out, spit would fly from his mouth, and he'd loom over me and yell at me. If I told him I needed a break and would talk to him in a little while, he'd follow me around, screaming at me that his mother would do that kind of thing then never discuss it again, so he needed to finish his tirade. I knew that made no sense, but I stood there and took it anyway, because that's what I knew how to do.
One time, he showed a glimmer of awareness that he had some issues. I was in the bath, getting ready for work (We didn't have a shower at the time.) He came into the bathroom and and started yelling at me about something. He wouldn't go away. He finally finished what he had to say and left to let me get ready. When I got home that day, he apologized and told me that he was in a bad mood about something from work, and I just looked so helpless sitting there in the tub, that he took his anger out on me. Yep. Times that by about a 1000 incidents.
Still, I didn't really know there was another option. The option to leave. In my world, even though it made no sense, you sat there and took what your loved ones dished out. I knew it wasn't really about me. I knew they were expressing pain inappropriately. But I thought that absorbing that pain for them was the thing to do.
As I spent more time thinking about it, I knew that wasn't a healthy dynamic, but leaving just wasn't on my radar. That's how messed up my internal warning system was. (To this day, I don't react "normally" to verbal or physical attacks. Most people run or fight. I just stand and analyze the situation.) So leaving my friend, who I love, until he gets some help is a huge fucking deal.
It's like the little girl who routinely got beaten for laughing too much, and being told her needs and wants weren't valid or important, finally came out of hiding. I feel a little strange. Like two different people. The adult who can finally protect the little girl, and the little girl who can finally come out and play. Because she never has to get beaten or verbally and emotionally abused again.
During my meditation this morning, the scene that came to me was of the little girl. She's playing in a meadow by the side of of a creek. Some of her little friends are playing with her. She welcomes any others who want to come and play. But if they start being mean to her, she can just decide she doesn't want to play with them. She doesn't get angry, she feels a little sad that they're so unhappy and can't be pleasant, but she feels no compulsion to bring them into her world until they start to play nice.
I thought it was a lovely metaphor. And one that will be helpful to keep fixed in my mind as I decide who I want to play with. Choices are awesome.