Step 4: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
Introspection is the key to becoming a survivor. We have to look into ourselves and go backwards so that we can identify our issues. Let’s be honest – we all have issues. And they all stink.
We have issues from our childhood and we have issues that result from our domestic violence relationship. We have bad habits and ways of doing things that are downright unhealthy. We also don’t really know how to function in a healthy relationship. We may not be able to identify relationship red flags or we may have negative self-talk floating around in our brains influencing how we see ourselves. We have a bunch of junk (commonly known as baggage) that we are carrying around with us. All these things will result in a continuation of our cycle of abuse – suffering- running- abuse – suffering – running if we don’t learn from our mistakes.
In order to learn from our mistakes we have to take them out of the secret, dark, box that we have put all the bad things in. We have to stop pretending to ourselves that everything is alright as long as we don’t do X. We have to stop pretending to ourselves that everything is okay with us, it’s just him. Because yes – he is a person with a lot of issues. But we have issues too or else we wouldn’t let him do the things he did to us in the name of love.
Bottom line – we can’t move forward and break our cycle if we don’t identify the reasons we entered into the darn cycle in the first place. We have to identify the broken parts in order to even fix them. So, that’s what this step is all about.
It’s hard and scary. But, we are fierce. We have a big God who goes before us and clears the way. We have a big God who sits next to us and holds our hand. We have a big God who stands behind us, all around us, when we’re too weak to stand. So, we can be fearless. We can do the hard things.
We have to identify that thing that was inside of us that caused us to enter into and be okay with another person physically and emotionally harming us. There’s something broken that we need to address. By identifying our own flaws and what we see as lacking or mixed-up or missing within ourselves we can address those issues.
It took me a long time to work through this step. I have many issues. My question was always the why question. I wanted to know the reason that I was able to enter into the abuse and take it. I wanted to know why I accepted an “I love you” instead of an apology for his wrongs. I wanted to know why I accepted responsibility for his actions when he laid it on my shoulders. I wanted to know where my weakness came from. Why it was there. I wanted to know why it persisted in relationship after relationship.
My ‘why’ turned out to be that I believed that I was unlovable. For me it took ten years and a deep search into my history of relationships. It wasn’t just the romantic relationships either, it included those with co-workers, family members, and friends. I did things and behaved in ways that told people that I believed that I was unlovable. I behaved in a way that told people to treat me as less than what respect demanded. I wanted to change that about me but I could not because I didn’t understand it.
I’ve recently heard an expression: “We teach people how to treat us by what we accept from them.” I was teaching people that they could do anything to me and I would take it as long as he/she said “I love you.” I was teaching people that I didn’t really matter to me and so I didn’t really have to matter to them. I was deep down afraid that I would be alone and lonely if I stood up to them and required that I be treated the way God said I should be treated. What didn’t occur to me was that if the person didn’t treat me with care and respect then I didn’t want him or her to be in my life anyway.
Additionally, I had other character defects that allowed me to continue my cycle. These were things I learned from my family of origin. Things about how to behave and how to act were ingrained into my character from my history. Things like yelling and throwing things and how to be in relationships. I had to identify each issue and make a change related to that issue in order to stop each behavior that flowed from the issue.
I was embarrassed to say that I constantly picked liars, cheaters, and beaters. Once I realized that I was the common denominator in each relationship, I could identify the issue related to it. All of my issues stemmed from a common core – I believed that I was unlovable. It was the lie that I had built my house on. Once I found that root of the problem, I could do better and be better.
Before this identification, I was unable to stop my cycle. I was constantly allowing the people who I let close to me take advantage of me, tell me who I was, and show me that I was paying lip service to self-respect. I constantly chose the wrong people to let in my life, which would reinforce the foundational lie. Over time, I identified each issue and came to understand it and then was able make a change.
I think many of our issues are rooted in fear. We may exhibit too much pride or feel worthless. We believe we are unlovable, unwanted, or invisible. There are as many issues as there are people. When we don’t identify and fix our issues we exhibit behaviors that tell others that it is okay to treat us poorly.
In order to identify these issues – the underlying reasons we do the crappy things we do – is to get alone in a room with God. We may need to be in that room with a friend or a mental health professional also. Really, the idea is to look at the things we’ve done, the things we’ve allowed to have done to us, and the relationships we choose to be in, and then ask why. We ask the hard questions: “what is the reason I do the things I do”; “what are my feelings about my self”; “who am I really”; “what do I want my life to look like?”
The idea is to take an honest and true look at ourselves from the inside. The journey from one point to the other may be a short walk or a long trip that spans years. We also need to look at why we have accepted treatment from others and what allowed us to accept that treatment. The behaviors we allow to be done to us reflect the understanding of what we believe we deserve. And that latter is rooted in how we view ourselves.
I spent years saying that I deserved to be treated better. I also spent those same years panicking and doing everything possible to keep the love and attention heading my way. It didn’t matter if the love and attention were painful, I just needed to have them. I accepted physical beatings under the guise of being loved. I accepted cheating and felt brokenhearted when the claim to love was revealed t be false. I accepted less than I deserved because deep down I believed less was what I deserved. I suffered greatly. It was senseless suffering.
I didn’t overcome anything until I entered into a relationship with God. A real relationship where I knew that I would not be abandoned, that I was loved unconditionally, and that I had a purpose and home in His world. Once I knew those things, I was able identify who I was in the kingdom, who God says I am, and then I was able to leave bad and toxic relationships behind. I was able to stand up for myself and require that people treat me as I deserved to be treated.
Only then can we cast off the lies that we believe about ourselves, the lies that come from the people around us or from our own self-talk. We adopt a better understanding of our personal value. Once we are freed from the lies that bind us to our abusive relationship cycle we can be loved and love in return. But, it’s better, it freer, and it’s healthy.
I want to make clear – as clear as possible – it is not your fault that he hit you. It’s not your fault that he blamed you. It’s not your fault that you believe the lie. It’s not your fault that you get trapped. The part that is your fault (and mine too) is that we don’t stop to think about the junk that we’re bringing along that sets us up for the crappy abusive relationship. It’s in your hands to identify the issues and to make the changes. It’s your life and you get to choose how it turns out.
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