She was lying in their bed with her hands and feet bound together behind her back, she was afraid to scream for help because he threatened to hurt her if she did. Tears painfully poured from her reddened eyes. He then grabbed a pillow to forcefully suffocate her, in an attempt to kill her. She was losing the strength to fight back and suddenly felt her breath become more shallow as if her body was giving up.
“If he had held the pillow for 60 seconds longer,” she said. “I know I would have died.”
Her chilling story didn’t begin here it started two years earlier.
“Power and control were no stranger to this relationship,” Kristen Faith, the founder of Break the Silence against Domestic Violence, said.
Power and control come in many forms, not just physical. The relationship was filled with control, jealousy, manipulation and constant intimidation. “Your family is brainwashing you” and “You need to pay for this or else” were some of the most used phrases Kristen’s ex-boyfriend said to control her psychologically and financially.
Relationships are often considered to be a commitment of love and respect for one another and when that trust is broken, victims are devastated.
In many cases, victims do not know what unhealthy and abusive traits in relationships look like. Some victims may have witnessed abuse in their childhood and to their understanding – “abuse” was normal. Others may have fallen into a cycle of abuse with multiple partners and breaking this dreadful sequence feels nearly impossible.
“If I can fall into abuse, I can fall right out,” Kristen said. “My biggest fear was continuing the cycle of violence which for me, started well before my ex-boyfriend.”
So how does someone learn to break the cycle?
Here are three steps you can take:
- The first step is acceptance. Victims need to accept what happened to them and come to terms that they are not at fault, they are not to blame and abuse does not define them. Acceptance is a difficult but crucial step in progressing after domestic violence.
“I’m not a victim anymore. I refuse to wallow in my sorrows because of everything I’ve endured my entire life,” Kristen said. “If I did, I’d still be at square one.”
- The second is educate. Kristen used education as a gateway to become more empowered and aware of domestic violence. This means learning the warning signs, identifying red flags and being open to learning and growth.
“Victims are afraid of change because of the fear of the unknown. Survivors are open to growth, healing and are accepting of any and all support that will ultimately empower them to reach their full potential,” Kristen said. “Educating yourself about unfamiliar topics will always help you in every facet of life.”
- The third and last step is forgiveness. Ultimate healing requires it. This doesn’t mean forgetting the trauma, it means forgiving yourself and letting go of the shame and guilt. Everyone forgives at different parts of their journey and only the survivor will be able to reach that point.
“Forgiveness came after I realized I broke the cycle and I have the power to choose my path. Abuse doesn’t define me, it just happened to me. The weight that was lifted off of my soul felt like I could fly with the angels, and I am grateful everyday that I made it this far,” Kristen joyfully remarked. “Survivors shouldn’t have to carry the burden of abuse on their shoulders for the rest of their life. They deserve peace and only peace will come if you forgive.
How will I know I have forgiven my abuser?
“When you can openly talk about your abuser without being emotionally attached to it. Sometimes I even laugh about it,” she said. “If I saw my abuser tomorrow, I’m confident I’d be fine. It took me years to get to this point, but again, I am grateful that I have made it this far. I wish this type of freedom for every survivor.”
The final piece to this complex puzzle is implementation. It is important to take action on steps one through three and continue them throughout your life. Growth takes constant effort and challenges us in order to continue moving forward. Power and control are dangerous traits to have in any relationship, no matter if the union is same-sex, teen or in seasoned marriages. It’s important all individuals recognize unhealthy patterns and take the appropriate steps in removing yourself from any toxic relationship.
“My limbs were tied behind my back [then],” Kristen said. “Now I control the almighty power of my passion and commitment to save others.”
If you are in an unhealthy relationship, please contact Break the Silence against Domestic Violence at 855-BTS-1777 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-SAFE.
Visit us next week to learn more about the devastations of strangulation.
Disclaimer: Advice is given from survivors who have taken these steps in their healing process. This account is given by Kristen Paruginog, who took these steps in her journey to break the cycle. This advice may not be suitable for all survivors.