At the age of 19, I decided I was ready to get married. I had always been in a rush to grow up, so this seemed like the next logical step. I had some "red flag" moments during our dating time, but I chose to ignore the signs. I am not one to fail, and I like a good project, so I took the leap. After the wedding, I headed into what I consider the most educational 14 months of my adult life.
In order to properly set the stage, you should know that I was raised in a healthy home by parents that provided love and security. My parents and grandparents modeled respectful, loving relationships that lasted. I grew up on a cattle ranch where the values of hard work and quality time were instilled. Therefore, at 19, I believed my marriage would absolutely succeed.
Not very far into the relationship, I started to uncover some underlying concerns that I was not sure how to handle. What started with me finding pornography sites open on the computer quickly led to a whole new world of secrets, lies, and addiction. I had no idea how to handle what I was being exposed to and what was being asked of me, and I have always prided myself on being independent and stubborn, so I did not seek help for several months.
I remember feeling so confused. Did women really have to agree to crossing boundaries in order to satisfy their husbands? Maybe everyone just keeps this part of marriage a secret? Shouldn't my husband respond to my emotional and physical pain? Am I really that unattractive? Am I crazy? I must be crazy because my husband has convinced friends that I am. I keep losing control and lashing out like I never have before, so I must be crazy.
At one point, my ex-husband presented me a list of my good and bad qualities. My only redeeming quality was my ability to get "good grades." I started to feel like a failure physically, sexually, emotionally, and socially, but at least I could claim my A's! I felt completely isolated for a series of months. Luckily for me, I cannot keep secrets for long. I started opening up to my family, and soon realized that I was not dealing with a healthy person. He could not handle our secrets getting out, so he ended up asking for a divorce -- a crossroads that I could not be more thankful for 18 years later.
As I write this, my husband and I will be celebrating 16 years of marriage next week. In contrast to my first marriage, I have been able to experience a healthy marriage. We aren't perfect, but living with someone who values a respectful partnership feels entirely different.
Because I have experienced very different relationships, I often reflect on the impact of psychological abuse on the mind, body, and spirit. Now, I have the opportunity to work with clients in my practice. I have seen several individuals who have been the victims of psychological abuse. When your significant other starts to manipulate you into questioning your own sanity, this is gaslighting. It happens little by little over time: comments that cause you to believe you are constantly misinterpreting or overreacting, comments that devalue any emotions or needs that you have, isolating you through control or manipulation. The scary part is the victim truly feels as if they are truly crazy. Gaslighting can happen to both men and women, and I have seen the most brilliant minds be caught in its trap.
If you or someone you know is experiencing this type of psychological abuse, please reach out. It is so important to find an anchor to reality. There are moments in my own experience when I was not sure which way was up, and I certainly lost myself for a while. I am an advocate for privacy in relationships, but in some cases it can be extremely dangerous. Sometimes, you need an outside perspective to help you orient and find strength. I am forever grateful for my family who helped me find my way back out.
This is why I am so passionate about helping couples thrive in their relationship. For more information on the services offered visit: www.shannonkayjohnson.com/thethrivingrelationship