Today I’d like to introduce you to Esther Adler. Esther is a dancer, author and inspirational speaker. She was married at eighteen and was married for fourteen years. She’s been divorced for about five years now and has written a book—Breaking The Chains to Freedom—about her experience growing up with an abusive father, escaping to an abusive marriage, losing her children and learning from that how to live the life she wants. We begin Esther’s story talking about her marriage. Here’s Esther:
I was married to an emotionally abusive man, and so I was completely not in control, or I didn’t feel like I was in control of me and my destiny, I didn’t feel like I had any power in this world. By divorcing, I started this healing process and I learned to find my power, on all levels of who I am and how to really live my life now, according to me, according to who I am, according to what I want to create.
I got married very young and before I got married my father was physically and emotionally abusive to me. So I went from being in my father’s abusive home to being in a marriage that was abusive. I had no self-worth. Also, when you’re in something, you don’t see the obvious like other people do. You can hear the same thing over and over again and just not be ready to hear it or just not see it, simply because you’re in the situation.
The abuse in my marriage was not obvious. The thing that happens with my husband is he’s very, very manipulative. He doesn’t have the obvious abusive characteristics. I remember my lawyer said, “Give me an example of how he’s abusive to you” and I had such a hard time coming up with examples. I felt there must be something really wrong with me, that I can’t even illustrate with very specific examples of what he does. It took a lot of real thinking for me to explain to my lawyer what the marriage was like and why I was abused, when it wasn’t like he threatened me, it wasn’t like he called me bad names or anything like that.
Physical abuse is so easy to see. Emotional abuse is different. He would preach to me for sometimes two or three hours and explain to me what a rotten mother I was, what a rotten wife I was, and give me example after example of how horrible I was, without actually calling me a name. He was a very overbearing person, and also very overly righteous. My husband moved toward insanity.
There’s three main reasons why people don’t do what’s best for them and just don’t make a significant change in their life, either. It’s like when a girlfriend comes to you and shares her problems. It’s so obvious to you what the problem is, and you give her your viewpoint. She says “OK, great, thank you so much” and then she goes and tells the next girlfriend and she says similar things, but maybe in her own way. Ten people later it finally hits her, and she comes back to you and says, “You’ll never believe what __ told me and I’m going to be doing this now…” You start laughing because you told her that three weeks ago. It’s happened to all of us, but the same is true the other way around. We hear similar advice, but maybe each person has their own take on it, and then ten years later or five people later, all of the sudden something clicks.
The first reason is you’re finally ready to hear it. Number two is sometimes it just doesn’t click the right way, you just don’t see it because it hasn’t clicked. It’s like a math problem you tried to learn in first grade or second grade and then in fourth grade with a different teacher, you get it. Sometimes you have to learn it in a very specific way. And the last reason is that most people need to hear something a minimum of seven times. When you’re going through a life circumstance, sometimes it takes a lot more than just seven times to do the obvious, because it’s so scary, and again, when you’re in it, it’s so hard to see it.
For me, because I went from one abusive situation to a different one, it was really for all of those reasons that I stayed. It’s also because I didn’t realize there were any other options because I lived with abuse for so long that I had no self-worth. I called my book Breaking the Chains to Freedom because I thought I was chained and didn’t have the key. It was only when I realized that I had the key that I started, and it’s a process, but I started to actually unravel the chain.
The Divorce Coach Says
I’m sure you’ve all heard the saying that women marry their fathers … it doesn’t mean literally of course, but it does mean we often chose men who we believe have similar traits to our fathers. Some times it’s subconscious, sometimes it’s intentional. Certainly, if your marriage isn’t working out it’s helpful to go back and understand why you chose to marry your husband, what attracted you and why you were attracted to those traits. That’s one of the assignments in the Fit4Love program … knowing this will not only help you chose differently next time but it helps you understand the change that is happening in your thinking. It helps you see why you aren’t the person you were when you got married and why you may not be able to stay married.
And then I’m sure we’ve all wondered why a friend stays with a spouse we can’t abide and Esther’s rational is very true. Another reason people stay is because they can’t see what their life would be like if they weren’t married. (My free Visioning Your Life After Divorce can help with that.)
When does behavior become harassment, controlling, manipulative or emotional abusive? Where is the line between acceptable and unacceptable? I’m not sure what the clinical definition is but for me, it has something to do with agreeing to do what’s asked out of fear for what will happen if you don’t. Fear is not what should hold a relationship together. Emotional abuse is certainly less concrete than physical but thankfully there is more acceptance today that it can be as damaging as physical abuse. As my guest Vivianne found, emotional abuse can escalate into physical violence. Julia is another of my guests who experienced emotional abuse – the house rules her husband set reminded me of the movie Sleeping With The Enemy.
If you’re reading this and thinking, “That’s me,” please, call your local women’s shelter or domestic abuse hotline. They will help you. You don’t have to do this alone.
You can read more about Esther Adler’s book, Breaking the Chains to Freedom and her work at Esther Adler. Her Twitter name is @EstherWarrior. Esther Adler, author, speaker, trainer helps you turn the most devastating events in your life into your biggest opportunities. She focuses on letting go of grief, trauma and pain, through unique movement processes, helping you gain true freedom and ultimate peace.
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