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Some Thoughts for A Sister in An Abusive Relationship

The relationship that we generally have with ourselves is similar to the analogy of standing too close to an elephant. The conceit is that if we stand too close, we cannot see the elephant in its entirety. However, when we take a step back, the whole animal comes into the frame. The analogy is not solely limited to the relationship with ourselves, but even to our relationships with loved ones. We tend to mimic tunnel vision in ourselves and our personal lives, moving quickly and entangling down a narrow path that disables us from seeing past a limited viewpoint. Objectivity washes away as we grow to become loyal and emotionally attached to those in our orbit. The picture is too close for a clear focus, as is an elephant when we stand eye to eye with its frame.

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Lately, I have been thinking about my college relationship more than I care to admit. It was abusive and toxic and not unlike most experiences of pain, it changed me and how I view relationships. I and my loved ones, who I know only cared for me, were probably too close for productivity. I could not see that I wasn’t going to be my best self with someone who brought out the worst in me, or that him grabbing my arms so tightly that my sweaters hid bruises didn’t mean he wouldn’t let me go. All I saw were hidden were hidden moments of magic behind loud arguments, a steady stream of messages from other girls on his phone and body parts hitting plaster walls. And they, my loved ones, couldn’t see the magic. They saw suffering, and I was unable to give that up just yet. At that point in my life, my orbit and I were like two trains going in the opposite direction whose tracks would never cross — we constantly missed each other.

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The experience of loved ones disapproving of your romantic relationship is an unnerving one. It emotionally pains the way your skin burns after an abrasion — you are suddenly raw and exposed, shocked to the touch. The dissonance between your logic and your emotions ping pongs back and forth, again and again. As mentioned before, disapproval from loved ones is often hard to reckon with because of the woven nature of those relationships. There can be difficulty in untangling their feelings from facts or taking words at face value. It can be easier to receive guidance or feedback from a more impartial party as there is less room for subjective, clouded error, be that as it may, the intentions are pure.

In reflecting upon my college relationship, I thought about what I know now compared to then. I thought about this from a personal lens and a social work lens. I thought about what could’ve saved friendships from years of repair after the collapse of my ex and me. I thought about the fact that no matter who or what attempted to “save” me from my ex, I ultimately had to be my hero. I couldn’t suit up in my cape until I was truly ready to enter the phone booth – looking the part wasn’t enough. This tidbit of reflection and vulnerability are for those similar to a past version of myself – ambivalent, skinned to the bones by watchful eyes.

If you or a loved one are looking for support surrounding domestic violence, start at the National Domestic Violence Hotline – Free. Confidential. 24/7:

  • CALL: 1800-799-SAFE (7233)

TEXT: Text “START” to 88788