Thought Catalog
June 19, 2017

16 Men And Women Share How They Learned To Change Their Abusive Behaviors And Their Lives

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Aleks Dahlberg

1. Obsessive Compulsion That Was Destructive

My girlfriend of 3.5 years confronted me, almost broke up with me, and then decided to give me a second chance.

She told me that I was quick to anger and basically gaslighted her sometimes when things weren’t going my way. We would have these blowout fights that, now that she was making me think about it, I realized I always instigated. And I often instigated fights for irrational reasons. Ex. I was upset that things hadn’t worked out as I had planned and I took it out on her

I had been to therapy for and diagnosed with OCD, and I figured this must have to do with that in some way. So I went back to therapy, learned some coping mechanisms for anger/being okay with not being in control.

We took some time away from each other.

Then we talked. A lot. She told me how it made her feel. I listened a lot. I empathized actually because I was doing to her what my mother did to me– I realized this upon serious retrospection (I kept a journal for several weeks and must’ve written 50 or so pages on myself, my anxiety, my mother, and what I’ve done). We still talk about what I did, how she feels, and are trying to cope with the effects of what I’ve done.

The major effect is: My girlfriend often assumes I will be angry with her because of how often I got angry before we confronted my abusive tendencies. So we try to combat that by me being extra sensitive, clearly communicating, and NEVER getting irrationally angry at her like I did before. She also tries her best to clearly communicate to me as well, if she’s worried about what my reaction to something will be– she tells me.

And if I’m upset and can feel myself slipping into my bad habits (wanting to instigate a fight, wanting to make everyone feel bad because things are not going according to plan), I first take a break. I leave the conversation (saying something politely like “I need a breather. I’ll be back in a few minutes”). Then I remember that I need to communicate how I’m feeling calmly, without blaming my girlfriend. And then I might come back and say “hey I’m getting frustrated right now because of xyz. But I think to fix this I’ll do abc.” Or I might just drop the whole issue altogether because it wasn’t really anything.

My girlfriend says things have greatly improved, she’s happier now and trusts me more. We haven’t had a single blowout fight since she confronted me. I’m going to keep working on myself though because I can always improve. I will always work to be the person she deserves and the person I know I am.


2. The night he got sober

My wife was trying to climb out of a 2nd story bathroom window to escape me. I was sitting in the hallway, watching and laughing at her.

Out of nowhere, I ‘saw’ the fear in her eyes. It was precisely the way my mother used to look at my asshole stepfather. I realized I was becoming him.

And that was the night I got sober.

I’d never been abusive in any past relationships, after all. The only thing that had changed with that relationship was the introduction of alcohol. Common denominator found.

Checked myself into rehab the next morning, as soon as they opened the doors. Stayed for 9 months, while working and trying to repair the relationship.


3. A Manipulative Woman Sees The Light

I overreacted once and slapped my (then) boyfriend In public. I would cry to get my way. I threatened to cut myself during an argument and actually did. There’s probably other things, but seeing the massive amount of blood and the large scar that’s still there today made me realize how inexcusable and disgusting my behavior was. Coming up with any excuse takes away me owning up to it. I was awful to him. He broke up with me and started dating another girl. I was heartbroken, but none of it compares to how he must’ve felt with me. I grew up. Went to therapy. Really looked at myself in the mirror and saw nothing but ugliness. This was years ago. I wish I could apologize to him, but staying out of his life is probably best. He was an amazing and beautiful person. I, unfortunately, was not.


4. An Abusive Childhood Poisons Adulthood

I wasn’t physically abusive and I never would/could be. But growing up with drunks and crazy people taught me a lot about the art of manipulation, and I pulled it daily on my wife without ever realizing what I was doing.

To a point, I basically pulled out all the stops when it came to getting my way. I would make baseless (again, non-physical) threats about things, react in calculated ways to behaviors I didn’t like, and so on. 99% of the time I didn’t realize/think of what I was doing as abusive or manipulative. It was just how I’d always seen people act. A lot of the time I assumed my wife was doing the same thing or similar stuff when she wasn’t, all because I thought that was what people got/expressed what they wanted. It becomes like a second/hidden language over time – you teach the other person what you mean with conflicting words and actions, but it gives you a fallback when shit doesn’t go your way. “I didn’t say that.”

I stopped when I realized what it was doing to my wife and our relationship. I won’t go into detail on that except to say I wish I could’ve stopped, caught myself by the collar and beat my own ass before the damage was done. Every day – and I mean literally every single day – I remember some shit I pulled, some of which my wife probably didn’t even notice at the time.

This is not me saying I wasn’t responsible for my actions. I was, and I continue to feel horrible for it. Like most abusive people, I was just able to rationalize the behavior I did recognize and completely look over the rest. I hate myself for the way I acted all those years and wish to fuck I could go back and fix it. Our relationship is thriving today, and it’s thanks to my wife being one of the most forgiving, stable people I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing.

I am thankful every day for our family and for all the “second” chances she’s given me. They give me something to live for and look forward to. As hokey as that sounds, it’s the absolute truth.

I was the most selfish person around, and it turns out living for other people is what I needed to be content.

Let me add something for people who read this and saw themselves in some way or another: If you don’t stop there’s a very good chance things will come to a head with your SO, and it will hurt you and them in ways you cannot imagine. There are certainly relationships in which both sides pull the same shit on each other – if, on the other hand, you are manipulating someone who cares about you and treats you fairly, sack up and cut the bullshit before you do more damage than you’re able to fix.


5. A Bully Brother Changes His Ways

I used to treat my two younger brothers like absolute trash. I’d hit them for no reason and make them cry and then lie through my teeth to my parents that they were making it up. I have no fucking idea why I did that, my childhood was pretty dope besides the fact I was an evil little shit to two sweet kids.

My moment of realization in regards to the damage I had done came in the midst of puberty after my abusive nature has fizzled out. One day I went to give my youngest brother a high five and he flinched like I swung a battle axe at him. It all came back to me in the moment, every little thing I’d done to them, and that night when I went to bed I vowed to make up for everything I’d done.

I just started being warmer, giving hugs and being supportive. I didn’t try and be super nice in a fake way, I still joked with them and clowned around, I just made sure it never got aggressive or abusive in any way.

It’s been awhile since I vowed to change and my brothers are both in their mid teens now. My brothers always talk about how their friends tell them how they and their siblings fight and bicker, and they tell me that they’re glad we all get along so well. We spend a lot of time together and have a secret handshake. I’ve molded them into pretty clever little smart asses and we all have the same sense of humor. And they no longer flinch when I make sudden movements (unless it’s in anticipation of a crab pinch).

I was an absolute shit head and still kind of am, but not to my brothers. They’re my best friends.


6. Fear Of Becoming His Father

I wasn’t there, but I was well on my way.

My father was physically abusive to everyone, my mom, my siblings, me as well. I was the oldest boy, and depression + anger management issues really didn’t mix well into the situation. I eventually snapped one day and knocked the glasses off my dad’s face, but ever since then, I’ve realized that I had to stop. That was it, that was my one-time outlet. I’d finally let out all that pent-up rage into that punch, but if I ever went back into that mindset, I’d end up just like him or worse.

I focused on controlling my anger issues after that, putting them down more and more. I still get frustrated easily and I’m still stubborn as a bull, but I’ve never let my anger get so far as to make me lash out at anyone since.


7. Changed When He Met Someone Like Himself

I didn’t really understand what ’emotionally abusive’ was when I got into my first relationship at 19. We dated until a few months before my 23rd birthday and never really did anything but fight. The whole relationship was toxic and should’ve ended before it even began, but I didn’t really know that. It wasn’t until I was I was about 26/27 and began dating somebody who would say and do things to me that I used to say and do to my ex. At this point, I’d grown up a little, done some therapy, been on anti-depressants, gotten physically healthier and learned a lot more about healthy relationships. When I recognized this new person’s behaviors towards me as things I’d done when I was younger I realized how bad things had actually been.


8. Borderline Personality Disorder Diagnosis

My victim admitted his suicidal tendencies and ideation didn’t show up until after he met me.

It was then that I realized I’d turned into a real fucking monster and something was very wrong.

And then I found out all about Borderline Personality Disorder and it all clicked…


9. An Emotional Abuser Realizes She’s The Source Of Trouble

Not physical, but an emotional abuser. I don’t like to talk about how I was because I’m still embarrassed.

He said, “I wasted the best years of my life on you.” Then he cheated on me. Then he broke up with me. Of course, I thought I was the victim. Then, my parents started saying similar things. They didn’t know having grown kids was going to be like this. They loved me but didn’t like me. I got myself into therapy and realized I was the problem.

I think once you realize you’re the problem, it is easier to change. “Abuser” was not a personality trait for me, it was a pattern of behavior. Once I was aware that I was doing it, it was easy for me to turn it around.

Soon after all that I started dating my now-husband. I made myself a promise that I would make him smile every day, I would never hurt him intentionally, and I would always give him the benefit of the doubt. I still surprise myself. We’ve never had a fight in 5 years of being together and 3 years of living together. I actually have made him smile every day (I’ve counted). I’ve never made him cry. I even surprise myself sometimes when he does something bad by accident (he crashed a rental car a few weeks ago!) and I don’t blow up at him. I think “how would I want him to act if the tables were turned?”

You know, normal stuff you’re supposed to do for the people you love? Yeah. I had to consciously do it for a long time. I’m not like…a psychopath. I was just very self-centered and insecure. I am capable of a great deal of empathy, but for a long time I just played the victim in order to put myself first.

After all this, I never contacted that ex again and I moved across the country from my parents. I don’t call them and they don’t call me. I figure once you’re free from your abuser, you don’t want them calling you all the time even if they say they’ve changed.


10. Never Wants To Make Another Man Cry

This is an incredibly complicated question to answer, for a multitude of reasons. I am not even sure if I was abusive, or of my ex-partner was, or perhaps we both were.

I used to blame my ex for the way I behaved, thinking “well, if you were different, then I would not have to be so controlling,” or “you are turning me into a crazy person.”

The truth is, we both probably met a lot of the criteria for what an “abusive partner” is, and we are probably both assholes to some extent. He was more of a liar/manipulator, and I was more of a mouthy/physical one (especially when alcohol was involved).

As to what I am doing to change: Well, I am certainly going to make an effort not to make mistakes I did in the past. I am going to be a lot more stringent in my choosing of my next parter. I am working hard to better myself, and hope that one day I can be very good for someone.

I never want to make another man cry again. To see fear in his eyes. To know there is going to be a big argument because one of us is in a bad mood. I am done with all of that.

I have had to do a lot of deep thinking and reconciliation recently. When any relationship ends, I imagine there is a lot of blame, and self-blame, and anger, and anger self-directed. But I don’t think that is healthy. I have decided: you know what, we both fucked up. We both fucked up big. We both acted childishly. We both treated one-another like absolute shit. We were arguably both abusive. There is no whose fault. This was a collective fault in multiple senses of the word.

I’m not one to regret, though. The whole experience was, however bad, very informative. I was younger and stupider (still am young and stupid). I would apologize, but the wound is still so fresh that there is still this lingering resentment. Being on the other side of this relationship is incredibly odd. I feel like I’ve just escaped a cult.

I’m sorry if this is incoherent and everything. I just would also like to add this very important bit: things are not so black and white. When you do do something abusive/manipulative, you probably won’t even realize that what you are doing is unjust, and that is an incredibly scary truth.

Take a step back. Calm down. Take a deep breath. Never let your emotions control you.


11. Stopped Letting Her Insecurities Rule Her

A few weeks ago when I realized my relationship had started to turn sour and I was losing someone I deeply love, I started frantically researching the psychology of relationships. I went into that thinking I could figure out how he was feeling. What I actually discovered was that I had created the situation by allowing my insecurities to rule me, using emotionally manipulative tactics in order to obtain the connection and commitment I wanted from him.

It was not intentional, I do not consciously want him to feel guilty or ashamed or wrong. Those behaviors are instinctual and reactionary. Not a reaction to him or his behavior, but to my own fear, pain, and discomfort. I learned in childhood that I had to create chaos in order to get affection and attention. And This toxic nature was reinforced by a 6 yr relationship I entered at age 16.

I am 25 years old and I have suffered from chronic depression and anxiety my entire life. I have always been an introspective person so, I have always used mental health research as a means of understanding myself. I feel truly disgusted with myself right now. I cannot believe I could have rationalized so much for so long even with so much information pointing to the contrary….

Even though today I officially lost that person I loved so much, I am now aware and committed. I need to recognize the emotions I feel, examine them, determine their validity and importance and accept them before I project them onto others. I have a lot of internal work to do. I am devastatingly sad, the loneliness I currently feel is excruciating, I am filled with regret and I miss him. However, I am so grateful to have experienced a love lost so profound that it led me to this path. I will never hurt someone else or myself in this way again. I will get better.


12. Facing Her Problems Stemming From PTSD

I had a severe mental breakdown a few years ago, that culminated in me lashing out at my husband and step-kids, shooting my mouth off at work, and generally being insufferable. My job was in jeopardy, I felt like shit all the time, the suicidal thoughts were creeping up again. I finally got the courage to get my ass into therapy, was diagnosed with complex PTSD from an abusive childhood and started EMDR therapy and Wellbutrin. Those two things changed my life infinitely for the better.

I got help, I apologized to everyone I hurt and put every single ounce of energy into getting myself better. The terrible person I was during my breakdown was not the real me, I knew that, and I did everything I could to get better.

I guess it was too late, though, because as I found out later when I was having my breakdown, my husband started screwing a woman from his work. He subsequently left me for her (twice). Yeah, I took him back once, but he never really stopped seeing her, even when I was doing all the hard ass work in therapy to heal from my traumas. I did everything I could to get help, get better and prove to him that the person I was during my breakdown was not the real me, but he didn’t believe it. I don’t want us to be apart, but I don’t have a choice because he’s still with her. All I can do is keep on working on myself and getting better, I guess. Don’t really have a choice either way.


13. A Bad Man Saved By Love

I was not a nice man when my wife first met me.

I had gone to jail when I was 18 and when I got out a few months later, my parents had packed all of my things. I’d gone inside for a no-show violation on a traffic ticket, a relatively small offense. My parents treated it as if I’d gone away for a horrible crime. I was told to collect my things and leave.

So I did. I went and stayed with a friend near his college campus. Poor and not wanting to ask my friend for money, I made a call to a guy I’d met inside. He said that he’d put me to work if I wanted and I agreed. He sold drugs and sharked a little at the shittier dives of the county. I started collecting debts and basically hurting people for money. It was a college town and most all of my friends partied. Suddenly I had immense free time, lots of cash, and too many reasons to hate myself and others. I started to drink, a lot. I started getting into more fights for no reason. I closed off. I hated people. I felt like I’d been tossed out of a good life for something outside of my control. I hated myself for everything I’d been doing, for all the people I’d been hurting. After 3 years, I managed to move away from the situation. I moved closer to my family and started a real job, bussing tables at a small restaurant. I still drank heavily and occasionally committed a few crimes. I would still get into fights with people I didn’t like or I felt looked at me wrong.

But then I met my wife on OKCupid. I was very lonely and selfishly wanted someone, anyone. I didn’t even mean for it to happen. But her profile made me laugh. She was so full of life, she was funny! I told her so. We began to message back and forth. Soon she was coming over. One night, I told her everything. I told her what I’d done, where I’d been, how terrible I could be. I told her I was completely okay if she wanted to leave, I’d understand. She never did. She’d tuck me into bed on nights I drank too much, pouring the rest of the handle down the sink. She’d make me breakfast the next morning before heading out to work. She told me I was worth something, pulling me from the gutter and patting away all the dirt. She showed me that I wasn’t my mistakes, that I wasn’t this evil person I so constantly forced myself to be. That I could be better. So I did.

We’ve been together for close to 7 years now, with two beautiful children and one more on the way. With each passing year with her, I’ve felt the old me fade away to be replaced by who I am now. With the birth of my children, I feel like an entirely different man.

I shudder when I look back to when I was younger. I was so angry. I thank God every day that that woman came into my life. I’d be dead or worse right now if she hadn’t.


14. Abuse Is What You Give When It’s What You Know

I used to be emotionally abusive. It was my first real relationship, I came from a family of emotionally abusive, manipulative people. Because of said family, I had a lot of depression and anxiety issues (I still do), so I thought my feelings and the way I acted was justified. In short: I was romantically inexperienced, and abuse was what I knew. This nonetheless does not excuse anything.

What made me realise what I was doing was when SO flat out told me I made him feel absolutely worthless. He is not worthless.

I am…so fucking lucky. I really am. Ever since that conversation I have watched my moves. Anytime I feel myself going down that mental path to abuse, I hold back by either being honest about how I’m feeling or saying I need a moment to myself to compose. I won’t fucking go back down that road because God knows he has put up with so much, he doesn’t deserve more shit from me. I will not continue the same cycle my parents did. I don’t deserve my SO, but damn am I appreciative every day he stayed. I hope I will always make that decision worthwhile now.


15. A Bully Sees Himself Clearly

When I was young, about from when I was 7 or so until I was 13 my dad used to physically beat me, and even from before this I can recall him hitting my mother time to time(probably earliest memory was from when I was 4ish). It probably also didn’t help that I always watched hockey with my dad and would see fights every game nearly.

Anyways I always knew this behaviour was wrong and didn’t think I’d ever be anything like my dad, but when I was in elementary school I used to pick on this one kid a lot, no idea why, and at this point I honestly can’t remember anything I did to him, but I remember being sat down with my mother him and his mother to work things out. We are actually still good friends to this day 15+ year later and hang out regularly.

When I hit high school I started bullying another kid, but in my eyes, it was never really hurtful just a bunch of teasing/joking. Then I remember one day I actually physically hit him, and after seeing him on the ground crying I suddenly got flash backs to my father doing that to me and all the pain it caused me. From that point on I had stopped any kind of bullying.

I don’t blame my father for my actions, but in my eyes, it makes sense as to why I was a little shit from just growing up with that kind of behavior in my life and it being the “norm” for me.


16. A Bastard Changes His Ways

I was emotionally abusive to the only girlfriend I’ve had. She loved me, while I was completely neutral about her. She was a sweet little thing that would do quite a lot for me, and I fell into the same pattern behavior I had to use to survive in my household.

I enjoyed her attention and adoration, used her for sexual exploration, and the entire time I manipulated her and gaslighted her. And then broke up with her when she hit a speed bump in her life and didn’t spend enough energy on me. I wrecked her.

It took quite a few years for me to realize how much of a bastard I was. Only now am I slowly coming out of that pattern of behavior. I actively try to catch myself and apologize for lying, I put a foot in my mouth most of the time when I feel the need to spew some venomous words.

We reconnected a few years back when we started college. She’s been incredibly supportive of my efforts to improve, but I’m always hesitant around her because that’s when I have the highest urge to fall into the same habits.

Magic_Corn TC mark

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