Maya is in her early 40s and came for counseling because she is in a long-standing, verbally abusive relationship. She has been living with her son’s father, Eric, off and on for the past 26 years. They would break up for years, then reconcile and this pattern continues into the present.
Emotions overwhelmed May her story unfurled. Eric berated her both in private and in public. It did not matter who was in his presence; he couldn’t control his temper with her. He has never taken responsibility for his actions, but blames her for everything wrong with their relationship. He has never apologized for his behavior towards her because he assigns all the fault to her. It was Eric who told Maya that she needed counseling for her behavior and not his.
When Maya told their sons that she never wants them to treat women the same way they asked her, “Why do you let dad treat you this way?” “I don’t know,” she responded. As they reached out to hug and comfort her, she wept. She knew that day she was going to look for help.
“Why do I do this to myself?” she asked through tears at her first session.
We had not interrupted her or pushed during this meeting. We wanted her to feel safe and not under attack. But, with this question, it was time for some therapeutic input.
"I asked her if he ever had been unfaithful and she said yes. I asked her if the abuse was ever displayed in front of her sons and she responded yes. Then I asked her if she was tired of it. She responded “I’m simply warn out.”
I then began to share with her four components of nurturing herself and they begin with God.
Maya admitted during the first hour of the session, that she had left the church and stopped obeying God. She loved her boyfriend more than God, she admitted, and she could not and did not want to live without him. She asked ” How did I allow this to happen?” It’s not difficult when you lose sight of the most important Person in your life–Jesus Christ, I told her.
We shared with her that the second component calls for realistic goal-setting and an idea of what a positive outcome in their relationship would look like. Maya now expects to be treated the way she always treated Eric–with kindness and respect. She hopes for a relationship in which Eric demonstrates respect towards her. She also wants him to be equipped with skills to care for his family in a proactive manner. And, very importantly, she decided she never wanted a repeat of this abusive ordeal.
Having realistic goals for her family began with her respecting and loving herself. To be able to make those goals, she also had to accept responsibility for allowing disrespect to continue as long as it had. And, she had to forgive herself. That issue will be addressed further in future sessions with her.
Refuse To Be A Doormat
So, quite naturally, the third component involves respect for one’s personhood. Maya has to learn to be completely honest with her feelings and the need to express herself openly to Eric regarding the abuse within their relationship. She must be willing to say no to anyone who feels that they can use her as a doormat because of their own insecurities. She must also find within herself the ability to reconstruct the framework that has fostered this negative lifestyle.
The fourth component is to adapt to a paradigm shift. A paradigm shift is an important change that happens when the usual way of thinking about or doing something is replaced by a new and different way. Maya’s thinking and actions did not produce healthy characteristics for her family or herself. She already knew that Eric was the abuser, and that she was the codependent. She knew that the household structure was falling apart, but didn’t know how to rebuild it alone. Counseling opened her eyes and motivated Maya to make a change.
What Happens Next?
Maya hopes to have a home that reflects a sense of balance, respect and love. It is out of hope that things could be better that she recognized that she needed change. Maya’s counseling is in the initial stages but she is making progress.
Eric should attend a few sessions with her because he is unwilling to address the problem on his own. However, if he is not willing to attend, it is time for Maya to leave. That prospect will be difficult for her because she truly loves him. As her therapist, however, I had to remind her this is a very unhealthy type of “love.” Ending the relationship will be hard, but it is better to end the relationship than for her to continue in a long-term, unhappy relationship that could destroy her life.
Maya made a decision right then to give her life back to Christ and asked us for a bible study. She is ready to take a good look at herself and make some significant changes in her life. She no longer desires to be Eric’s doormat and settle for less than excellence. She is looking forward to counseling and becoming a better woman and mother.
The name has been changed to protect the innocent.