How would you feel if someone told you they’d be more attracted to you if you had a more shapely butt?
Or if you dressed differently?
Or if you changed your diet?
Or (sorry, TMI) if you did more kegel exercises?
The answer is obvious, of course: you’d say “go fuck yourself!” and get on with your life being awesome and amazing you, because you know in your heart that you’re enough.
Of course, that's the RomCom or Sex and the City, Highly Empowered Woman version of things.
In real life, sometimes the criticism is presented in such a way that you actually take it to heart.
For the record:
I think I’m incredible. I think I’m attractive, and I’m not shy about sharing (ahem showing off) when I'm good at something. All you have to see is my yoga instagram posts to know this.
But between you and I:
I'm embarrassed to say it, and I'm mad at myself to admit it: but I let someone I was in a relationship with say all of the above things to me. And I didn't instantly break up with that person after any of them.
In fact, I actually listened. Me! I thought I was better, more confident, more no-bullshit than that.
The thing is this:
In real life, small forms of emotional abuse can be hard to recognize right away. They build up slowly, and there's a lot of gray area because usually, not everything is terrible.
The person in question was actually quite wonderful in many ways.
That made it easier to make excuses, like "this person is just blunt." "this person is trying to help me become a better and stronger person." "they're telling me what everyone else is too scared to."
Timing is everything.
You need to consider the timing of this relationship, too. I was at a point in my life, transitioning from my sweets-based business of many years. I was making on a big dietary shift.
Emotionally, I was working on transitioning from the glitter sweets queen to someone with a little more substance, who didn’t have to smile all the time, who could be authentic in different ways.
I was vulnerable, and I wanted love and attention.
And so I listened to these “helpful” suggestions, and chose to see them as constructive criticism designed to make my life better.
I thought I was being so mature, being able to listen to criticism and to improve based on it rather than reacting in anger.
Adding to the complexity, actually, some of the changes I made did improve my life.
Yet at the same time I struggle, because in spite of that fact, the unaccepting behavior exhibited by the other person was completely unacceptable.
So how do I remedy these two facts: that I grew from the relationship yet also feel as if I was emotionally abused and controlled?
Eating disorders and susceptibility to emotional abuse
This is anecdotal at best, but I do believe that disordered eaters, either active or in recovery, are susceptible to emotional abuse from partners. This is perhaps due to the fact that as confident as we may present, there's a deep-seeded "I'm not good enough" fear that loves to come out and play.
Perhaps ironically, what made me certain in my heart that the relationship had to end was not this person's blatant douchebagging. It was the fact that I was feeling the inklings of an anorexic relapse. It felt like it was just around the corner. So in a backwards way, my disordered eating kind of helped me by acting as a flashing "get out now" sign.
I was (and still am) very happy on a high fat and low carbohydrate diet, but I was beginning to have irrational food fears again. I was struggling eating around others, and I actually began to fear carbohydrates. The idea of accidentally eating an errant crouton that somehow got onto my salad plate even when I requested none...it would haunt me.
Something had to be done.
I realized that regardless of the good parts of the relationship, that overall it was a bad situation for me. So I followed Paul Simon's suggestion and slipped out the back, jack, made a new plan stan...I got myself gone.
I broke off the relationship. And suddenly, the world began to blossom again for me. I decided to experiment with eating some sweets again, if for no other reason than to not be scared of them. To make sure that my low carb lifestyle is a choice, and not fear based.
Well, turns out that after about 6 months of eating zero sweets, I have lost my taste for them, which seems kind of crazy to me.
Nonetheless, I've adjusted my diet again to be a more moderate carb diet, less because of how I feel energetically and more because I feel that emotionally, it's better to include at least a moderate amount so that I don't start to fear food groups.
Now, when I am craving sweets, I can honestly say, and not in some imperious way, that the idea of a perfect peach or crunchy apple seems like the most incredible treat.
If it didn't kill me, am I stronger?
I'm still angry, both at the other person and at myself.
But I'm choosing to take the lessons and leave the rest. After my foray into an emotionally controlling relationship, my big lesson is that autonomy is so incredibly important.
I don’t want to change myself for someone else. Part of me worries that this experience might make me slightly defiant about that for a while, which bums me out. I want to be open to changing and improving and evolving. But acceptance is important too.
I forget where I heard it (probably in yoga) but there is a saying that goes "we are all perfect just as we are. But we could all use some work."
Yes to that. But mostly, yes to being true to myself and staying the path on my life and recovery.