I see women being released from the confines of past experiences and expectations.
The words that come to mind when we think of release, or being released, are freedom, escape, emancipation or liberation. But there is more to release than that. There are two aspects to release. We are first released from the things that confine us and hold us captive. Then we are released to do the things only we can do in the world.
Both experiences and expectations can hold us captive.
Released from experiences
All of us experience different things in life that can hold us captive. Many of them are pleasant and happy, contributing to our bank of great memories. But just as many of our experiences are extremely painful, especially when we have faced domestic abuse in any of its forms. We have stories around our worth, value, decisions, opinions, capabilities, strengths and talents.
Once we have left that place of abuse, it takes a long time for us to rebuild our trust in ourselves. One reason is that we are stuck in our story. We are addicted to our story of abuse. And we even enjoy being a victim of our story.
I wanted to leave my husband when my youngest son was two, but I didn’t leave until 10 years later. The reason? Just because I was unhappy did not seem a good enough reason to make my husband and my sons unhappy by leaving.the relationship. I was stuck in the story of marriage. And I was committed to this story for life.
And after I finally left, it took me a long time to accept, or own, my story of divorce. It took even longer to stop living in the story of the wronged woman.
Coupled with these experiences are the expectations communicated to us from birth.
Released from expectations
It doesn’t matter what cultural group we were raised in, we inherited a series of expectations around how we should behave, what we should wear, the life path we should take, and what our position in society is. And it is often these expectations that led us to readily submit to the abuse in the first place. These same expectations also kept us in the relationship long after it was safe for us to stay.
My conservative Christian tradition expected women to be submissive. This tradition taught that men were the head of the house. I readily took on that expectation as I wanted to be a ‘good’ wife and a ’good Christian wife’ at that. My husband was raised to not hit a woman or to be violent towards a woman. But had no way of coping with his own anger. Because he couldn’t yell at me or hit me he took out his anger on me in subtle, hard-to-see, ways. I endured it because I was a ‘good Christian wife’. I also tried to help him with what I perceived to be his low self-esteem (classic passive-aggressive persona).
The expectations placed on us as women by our various cultural heritages lead us to accepting abuse in our intimate relationships. We are taught to accept abuse as part of our role.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. We do need to leave the experience of abuse and we do need to leave many expectations behind. Then we can move into knowing who we are and valuing who we are. We need to be able to leave behind both the abuse and the stories that emerged from that abuse environment.
Released into a new life and a new purpose is the second part of the journey. Such release includes a new role to inhabit that only you can fit and fulfil.
If we stayed in the ‘released from’ space there is a temptation to keep looking back. We could stay defined by our past experience. But now, we can look to the future with hope. We are released into new roles, opportunities. Some opportunities come from the dreams that have bubbled away beneath the surface for years. Now they have the opportunity to come to fruition.
I was released into completing a degree and then going on to do my honours. I edited my honours paper to less than half its size to be published in an online peer-reviewed journal. PhD studies are a possibility in the years to come.
I am released to impact the lives of others. But I didn’t know that the experience of abuse would shape that impact. But that experience gives me a platform from which to speak. My move from survivor to thriver gives me the credibility. Now I can speak to those who have done or are doing a similar journey.