Domestic Abuse Can Change Who You Are

July 5, 2013 Kellie Jo Holly

Domestic abuse can change who you are out of necessity or self-protection. This harmful effect of abuse is often overlooked, but very important. Find out more.

A lifetime ago, as I sat on my bed unable to put my feet on the floor and get going, I cried to myself, "I am better than this! I deserve more than this!" I knew intellectually that my relationship with my husband Will caused me great harm, but I couldn't quite get my emotions and my mind to align. My head told me to RUN, but my emotions cemented my feet in place. The best I could to get out of that bed was to tell myself that today I would get through to Will. Today would be the day I led Helen Keller to the water pump . . . today Will would understand. Today, my husband would change and we would break through the walls between us. Today I would get it right.

With faulty motivation in place, I put my feet on the floor, wiped away my tears, and stood firm on an impossibly shaky foundation. I didn't understand so many things! I didn't understand that there was nothing . . . NOTHING . . . I could do to "get it right." I didn't know that my abilities to communicate, to be empathetic, to nurture and to believe in another person could not affect him. All of those great qualities in me fell dead at his feet.

I fell dead at his feet day after day after day. I woke up crying in the same cycle. And still, I blamed myself for not reaching him. My frustration caused me to act in extremely undesirable ways, too. No one likes waking up each morning feeling like a failure, but that wasn't the end of it. I could be really, really mean.

Abuse Caused a Change in Who I Was at Heart

My Reactions to Abuse Became Less "Normal"

Over the years, the person I learned to be while living in abuse became very unlike me. I heard myself say things to him that I never thought I'd say. I wished bad things to happen to him so I could be his savior. I wanted someone to do to him what he did to me so he could feel the pain, but no one could do to him what he did to others. He embodied super-human strength against pain. He didn't respond how a "normal" person would react.

And over the years, my reactions to his abuse became less and less "normal" too. I became ashamed of myself. My good qualities were no longer valuable - they had failed me, it seemed. I felt tempted to curl up in a big hateful ball of spite and venom, forsaking every gift God gave to me.

Changing Who You Are Causes Inauthenticity, Incongruity

Possibly the most harmful effect of abuse occurs when the victim "turns into" someone dissociated from their true nature as I had. Some abuse victims do become dissociated and feel like they sometimes watch themselves from outside their bodies. This can happen during abuse or when the victims feel forced to react in ways that protect them, but go against who they are (such as hateful reactions toward another person, toward their abuser).

Domestic Abuse and Dissociating From Our True Selves

The most harmful effect of abuse occurs when the abuse victim turns into someone dissociated from their true nature.Domestic abuse can fuel feelings of dissociation and incongruity (our feelings of being a fraud or feeling ashamed of our behavior). The abuser encourages those feelings by calling us hypocrites, weak, et cetera because validating our negative feelings keeps us under control. But it may help you to know that every person at some time feels a similar inconsistency between who they are and how they act. When an un-abused person feels this way, it is often as tough for them as it is for you to put their finger on the problem.

Abuse Changes Who You Are, But You Can Get You Back

Recently I read Brendon Burchard's book The Charge: Activating the 10 Human Drives That Make You Feel Alive. He claims that our drive for congruence causes negative feelings when our behaviors/thoughts do not match up with who we think we are. Likewise, when we set standards for our behavior and meet those standards routinely and habitually, we feel congruent and satisfied with who we are. When our self-image aligns with our thoughts and behaviors, we feel good about ourselves!

Mr. Burchard says a worthy goal for everyone is to "create higher standards and expectations" for ourselves and then "bring those standards and expectations into how [we] interact with the world." His mantra for us is

"Think more of yourself, and demand that your actions be congruent with the best of who you are and who you can be."

Of course, in the world of abuse, sometimes your basic survival instincts (such as "stay alive"!) outweigh the desire to be a congruent person. If your life is at risk, do whatever you need to do to stay alive, then get the hell out of there (How to Report Domestic Violence, Domestic Abuse and Hotlines).

But most of the time, we can choose congruity over non-congruity. If you will set a standard of behavior for yourself and then live that standard in your thoughts and actions, you will feel powerful. You will realize that you control you instead of feeling emotionally controlled by your abuser. When you feel more powerful, you are better able to see the truth of your situation. You will see that the abuse becomes clearer and focused further away from you (instead of you being the focus of abuse).

Today, I challenge you to pick one of your best qualities and LIVE IT. If you are smart, do something to make you smarter. If you are loving, do something to spread love through your environment (a word of advice: loving your abuser stops at their feet - they do not continue the cycle of love, so don't waste it on them). If you hate yourself when you yell, choose to speak only at a neutral volume. The possibilities are endless.

You get to choose who you are. I dare you to do it.

APA Reference
Jo, K. (2013, July 5). Domestic Abuse Can Change Who You Are, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 22 from

Author: Kellie Jo Holly

August, 18 2013 at 4:14 pm

I just typed out the longest coment and I dont know what I did but I lost it. Please tell me you recieved it I am disabled and typed the whole thing with one hand and it was very emtional typing it. I am right in the middle of it right now and am in such a bad place. Can you let me know if you recieved it, and then I will start where I left off. Gotta go here he comes. A
thanks, Alesia

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Kellie Holly
August, 18 2013 at 4:50 pm

Dear Alesia,
I am sorry, but your other comment did in fact disappear into cyberspace. I didn't receive it. It sounds like you're scared of him, and I hope that doesn't mean you're in physical danger, too. If he hits, chokes, pushes, blocks your path, won't let you leave the room, pulls your hair, pinches, or otherwise lays his hands on you in a foul manner, that is physical violence. You could reasonably receive a restraining order if those things happen to you. If you feel as if you're in danger, I urge you to at least call the police/sheriff's department as soon as possible to discuss your options. Ask them what they would do (in theory) if you called them to your home for a domestic disturbance. Remember that if they do NOT take him away at that time, you will most likely want to leave with the police and stay somewhere else until he calms down (at least). I know it sounds like a is a safety plan that can help you think about these difficult things and plan for your safety whether you decide to stay or leave:
I offer a mentoring service to people who are in a bad space (its free). My mentors have all been in abusive relationships and can understand where you're coming from as well as share their wisdom concerning how to make the bad space better. The only thing is that I don't allow them to use the phone (safety reasons), so all communication is done through email and you said that typing is difficult for you. (
If you can call someone to talk about your situation, I suggest the National Domestic Violence Hotline ( They're available 24/7 via phone or chat; their volunteers helped me through some of my bad space. They have lists of local resources that you can reach out to for help.

August, 16 2013 at 6:49 am

I recently left an emotionally abusive marriage of 20 years. I didn't realize until I was actually gone how much damage had been done to me. When I left, my husband called and/or texted me 24 hours a day and told me how awful I was, that I was killing our 2 kids, that I was going to regret my decision to leave. It was beyond horrible. I was very nearly suicidal. He knew all the things to say. He was also having the kids call and tell me to come home at the same time. He said he was doing all this to "save our family". It was lonely and horrible and I started to believe him. I had been hearing for years, in his own special way anyway, that I was never that smart, that pretty...this went on for 3 1/2 months after I left. It suddenly stopped when he found someone new. She is half his age, has 2 small children and comes from a physically abusive marriage herself. This poor young girl will be Victim #3 for him. I see it happening all over. And now I see how it started for me--the lies, those constant lies and manipulations, until I never knew which end was up. I feel bad for her, but I am so glad I got away from him. I have so much healing to do...

August, 15 2013 at 9:00 pm

Hi. I am a mom of four beautiful children that are my life and I have been married 14 years. It has been a major roller coaster ride for me and my children. Luckily not so much for them. I know I rushed to get married believing his lies because he told me he had brain cancer and a couple months to live. I loved him and believed him and wanted my family, friends, and him that I even wanted to marry him to show how much I loved him before he died. I was so emotional thinking everyday that it was a day closer to death. But he then said the tumor shrunk by a Gods grace. I asked questions but wanted to believe him and I loved him so much. It was an unhealthy relationship right away. He told lies right away. He wanted me to loose contact with family and friends. My mom and dad were abusive. My self esteem was shot and he knew that. He was going through a divorce but didn't tell me that was the reason why we didn't get married then. He just brings it up like it is nothing. I was mad and didn't hide it. Now after years if lying and be littering of me and now the kids I have had enough. It was never this bad. I want to leave but know I don't want to go back to my mom and dad and how my mom is so controlling. It is scary because I have no money and the kids wouldn't understand and they would tell him. He loves them and they love him but they have to here the put downs about me. How I look, the fat on me, that I am just like a child not an adult and him grabbing my nipples butt around the kids and it hurts. I don't want the boys thinking that is all right and the girls too. Sorry I am writing too much. I don't know if we should go to counciling if he agrees? I have invested so much time with him and I don't want to leave with my kids hating me for not living with their dad. This is what they know. It isn't all bad but I don't like the nagging he does and the put downs. I wish I could make him see how he is to me and the kids. To see how wrong it is.

August, 5 2013 at 3:36 pm

I was in an abusive and manipulative marriage, twice. The first marriage was both verbal and mental, the second marriage was verbal, mental and physical.
The second marriage was my undoing, because of me reacting to the abuse and not knowing my legal rights, I went to jail for domestic violence, me the victim, I was accused of being the aggressor, I felt so betrayed by the system. I wish I had reached out for help long before that day and worse than that I wish I had left the relationship when the abuse began, instead I thought I could change him.
Upon attending court ordered anger management classes, I realized there were MANY women of all backgrounds in the same situation as myself. What we learned was NOT to react or make decisions based upon our emotions, especially when we were hurt or angry. We also learned we COULD NOT FIX
our abuser, they are not broken, they feel ENTITLED. They think the world revolves around them and their needs. They utilize the emotional roller coaster ride to keep you off balance(walking on egg shells), so you will begin doubting yourself worth and intelligence. They pretend to smother you with attention in the beginning which is a RED FLAG, this is the beginning of cutting off everyone else involved in your life, so you will have no one to reach out to ( so it seems). Keep your contacts and DON'T let shame keep you in an abusive relationship.
Learn about yourself, what attracts predators to you? What are you attracted to in a predatory individual? Break the cycle...your life depends on it.

July, 31 2013 at 10:10 am

I feel VERY strange reaching out for help, as though I am being disloyal to everyone I care for. Our lives have been very hard. Some of our own making, like moving from a stable job, to what we thought was stable to disaster and more loss and tragedies. Also, because I have fibromyalgia, candida, and a host of other issues, I have cut my family, and most especially my husband slack. But , I am losing myself. I want to be kind and gentle and not fight back. But when my husband was his most abusive, the kindness and gentleness seemed to feed him. He became worse. However, when I do fight back and act like he and a couple of our 4 kids, he uses that as an example of how abusive I am to "them." He includes the children. But then says he doesn't. He sort of defends me when they tear me apart, but not always. He often sits there and "seems" by his silence to be in agreement with them. I feel suicidal when this happens, which then he will let me know all my thoughts are wrong, and I am acting crazy. He will point out that when I finally lost it on our kids taking everything out on me, that I was wrong, and hurtful to them. If he had stepped in and been a father and husband, and I felt protected, I KNOW i would have said less. My husband says I get that from wanting to be a victim, and on the latest thing I have read. He always tell me he loves me, and how pretty I am. But he grabs at me sexually, and I ask him to stop,and won't. He says most wives would like it. Especially the "how pretty I am." Because I "feel" abused, I don't respond to how pretty he thinks I am, or the grabbing. I feel crazy,and maybe he is right. He sure worked overtime in wanting me to think so yesterday. I love my kids, and I know this isn't good. The kids and I get along when he isn't home. Something about his being there triggers a lot. He is always tired, and has reasons to be so, but does that excuse abuse. I have been unemployed since May. He encouraged this,due to health issues, and my inability to keep up with work and home,and kid issues. BUT each day he frets about money and bills. I tried to look for work yesterday which threw him into a tirade because I should trust what he said about me being home, next breath, "how are we going to pay these fucking bills?" Plus he mentions I don't make enough to help. The kids put the value on the person who works,and get them the stuff. I am not valued very much. Thank you for reading this. I don't know if I can do anything to change it. I don't have a lot of working skills. I am in pain and fight fatigue. My dad abuses my mom in similar ways if not worse, so I could never go there to get on my feet. My mom acts like it is normal and just buck up. My sisters think if I put out more sexually it would improve. They don't know that has never helped. At times I think it makes him worse. We moved to our current state almost 5 years ago, and I don't feel comfortable sharing this info., especially since I often think there are good "reasons" he acts as he does. AND I am just as bad. As he says. He is always right!!!

July, 30 2013 at 11:50 am

I am so happy I stumbled upon your blog. I am a mother of two small boys and I have been struggling every day for the past five years. My husband can be so controlling, manipulative and mean. When my children were born, he went straight to work and never called or visited me in the hospital the next morning. When I called him later in the afternoon, he yelled at me that he was busy and seemed annoyed I would bother him at work. When I was able to go home with our second child, my husband came home from work and the first thing he asked me was if our three day old baby was on a feeding and sleeping schedule. I told him that I was breastfeeding him every two hours and he looked annoyed and told me that I needed to make sure that he was on a three hour feeding schedule and nap schedule. When I told him that the doctors told me to feed every two hours, my husband went ballistic and scolded me for hours. He never asked how I was feeling and He made me feel like I was the worst mother. Days, weeks and months after, he would call me to make sure our baby was on a schedule and napping exactly every three hours. It was so stressful. He yelled at me one day when my mother came to help and put our little one to bed because he was tired. My husband was so mad that his schedule was now messed up...He was only a week old!
He criticizes me constantly...even when he's being "playful". He'll say things like, "you're the only person I know that would do that..." He explodes if I double tie the garbage bags, even if their full because he thinks he can fit more in and tells about how expensive garbage bags are. I constantly walk on eggshells around him and I'm afraid to be alone with him because he has such a temper. He travels a lot and that is the only time I am able to relax a little.
When I try to do nice things for him, like clean the house, he'll say "oh you must be having friends over." He is rarely ever thankful for the things I do for him and I literally fall all over myself while trying to make him happy.
Well, I have been questioning myself over and over again whether or not my relationship is really that bad. I know in my heart that there is something wrong and that no matter what I do, it will never be good enough for him. He treats me like a child and I feel like I'm working for him. I don't know what to do because we have children and I'm afraid he'll make my life a living hell if I left him.
Thank you so much for blogging about this. When you wrote about your nurturing and empathetic side, it made me cry. My husband is the first man that I have been with that finds these things annoying and weak.

July, 6 2013 at 4:45 pm

I was this person. after approx a year of abuse from my husband and his children, I decided to fight back and I became them.
For everything of mine they stole because I didn't give it to them, I stole something. For everything they destroyed because they were angry, I destroyed something.
I finally attempted suicide. When I was releaed from the hospital, I discovered they were going to punish me for doing that. I left, but I went back. I felt powerless and had no resources. They had my money, my belongings, they had destroyed all the goodness that was in me and my relationships with my children and family.
But I got sober. It took six months to plan, but I escaped while no one was home.
Now, incredibly - I let him back into my life and he has power over me again.
I'm smarter now and know my legal rights and tell him that i do. He no longer has his army to back him up because I let him into my world. But now I am at his mercy again because I believed his lies about how he wanted to make up for the past and help me and my children recover. It was all lies that became apparent the minute he signed the lease, just as it did the minute we got married. It's all about being used to further his spending agenda and furthering his financial prosperity.
Now I've cut it off. I will probably be homeless but will no longer have to worry about his approval.
Every night I cry and want to die. I have lost everything due to my stupidity about this man.
God help my family.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Kellie Holly
July, 10 2013 at 9:26 am

You are not stupid, Newbeginning. You made the same mistake many other people have made, and now you have the chance to recover from it. Don't do the abuser's job for him - congratulate yourself on your decision to leave the relationship and rebuild your life instead.

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