Confusion Corner: You deserve more than a Nicolas Cage Movie

I am captive in a relationship that is more toxic than the water in Flint, Michigan. We experience more ups and downs than a Kanye West fan — my commitment to my major is more stable. It doesn’t help that we have been dating since I was very, very young. I do not really know what an independent adult life looks like without my partner. It is hard to imagine a reality where I am free. My partner verbally abuses me, emotionally manipulates me, degrades my self-esteem, limits my activities and socially isolates me. Yet, no matter how bad it gets, I cannot get myself to leave. But it is not because I have not tried, or because I really think this time will be different (although it really will be this time). I honestly cannot get away. My abuser is me.

I realized all of this the other day when I was listening to a particularly inspiring TED talk by Tracy McMillan about self-love. I started conceptualizing the relationship I have with myself as an actual dating relationship with another person. This quickly became a much more dismal and upsetting mental task than my typical musingsIt’s that bad. It was unnerving to realize that if I were dating myself, we would be the couple that brought the wine and the uncomfortable silence to every party.

If anyone else besides myself compared my thighs to gelatin, then they would only be able to eat Jell-O for months, out of a straw.

I embarked on the grim task of cataloging my abuser’s behaviors. For one, my self-talk was sickening. If anyone else besides myself compared my thighs to gelatin, then they would only be able to eat Jell-O for months, out of a straw. Sadly, much like the movie “Ghost Rider,” there is also a sequel to this abuse. I am emotionally manipulative too. I make frequent promises of reform that I never fulfill. My New Year’s resolution was to have better self-care, just like it was the year before, and the year before that. I come up with convenient excuses and strained logic to prevent myself from engaging in enjoyable opportunities. I am always too busy to take the art class that I have been dying to try, too poor to go out to a good restaurant, too tired to see my friends and too behind on my studies to be worthy of happiness. When it comes time to do it, my self-worth is never high enough. And I believe every word of it because I am trapped in the cycle of self-abuse.

The most disturbing thing about self-hate is its surprising popularity, much like the movie “National Treasure.” An unsettling amount of people that I have talked to seem to identify with the description I have for my own relationship. I frantically want to tell all of them to get out of the relationship, just like any domestic violence case. Unfortunately, there is no safe haven from our abusers. There is only hope for slow change and a hard-fought negotiation of the terms of these relationships.

But there is hope, especially once you identify the problem. One thing about McMillan’s talk that resonated for me is that I am not committed to myself. My abuser is always threatening to leave and is always looking around for something better. But I am not a Nicolas Cage movie; I deserve so much more. Well, I have a new promise to myself. I want to stick with myself and I want to do it right. It is time for me to step up. Let’s face it; I need a man and my heart is set on me.

Emily Gardner is a Confusion Corner columnist who treats herself better than the internet treats Nicolas Cage.


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