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Did being in an abusive relationship change your attitude to your femininity or is it just me?

(8 Posts)
AstrantiaMallow Wed 05-Aug-15 09:27:15

I'm 8 months out of a sexually and emotionally abusive 10 year relationship with someone who'd constantly grab my ass/breasts like he owned me, coerced me into sex and shared details of our sex life with his friends. If we went out he wanted to vet my outfits. He was controlling, quite unpredictable and constantly wrong-footed me. He got a great kick out of thinking he had a sexy thing with him but at same time accused me of drawing too many (imaginary) looks from other guys or dressing provocatively for others. Or he would say I looked frigid in the outfits I had chosen. He'd also make comments on make up and nail varnish (too slutty, too tame) or lack of. All of these were also excuses to abuse me when we were home. He didn't want me to work or me going out with people he didn't know.

Despite all this I thought I'd kept a fairly confident self-image and even when he said I looked frumpy or frigid, I changed clothes to keep the peace (to avoid the abuse, in vain) but I didn't really believe him when he said I looked awful. I submitted but in my head I had this little voice that thought 'you twat you don't know what you're talking about'. I'm quite into style and styling, I enjoy sewing and making clothes as a hobby and generally looking feminine and I just think I know what looks right on me.

With it being summer it should be really liberating being able to walk around with normal summer clothes without him constantly treating it as an invitation to paw me. And it is.

I was thinking recently though how much it's affected me and how little I've worn lovely dresses or tops I own or had made outside the house and that without realising it I remember his comments and that when I go out I feel really aware of the male gaze and I've stuck with blouses and jeans and bland stuff that cover up, as if showing my cleavage and a bit of leg is going to be an invitation to ... God know what actually... It's a tiny thing actually in the grand scheme of things but it makes me inexplicably sad... It's a bit like I'm now associating anything slightly feminine and sexy with him still. Actually when I was with him I never worried that much about what others (men in particular) would think of my clothes but now he's not around to abuse me it's something I think about. The stupid thing is that I could have worn a potato sack it would have made no difference to his behaviour so what I'm doing makes no sense. I know the abuse has affected my attitude towards men. I feel really awkward around them. But the more I think about it the more it feels it's affected my relationship with myself.

I should say I have become much more anxious since initiating divorce so maybe this is just more anxiety?
Has anyone else felt a bit
like this? I hope I don't sound too precious about this. I have lots of other much bigger worries in my life at the moment but it's something that's bugging me. It's like this bit of me has died but I hate it and want it back.

ARV1981 Wed 05-Aug-15 09:44:16

Your experience sounds remarkably similar to mine.

I left my abusive ex 5 years ago.

It took me around 2 years to be able to wear a skirt above knee level after I left him (and I have great legs!!) Because I was so worried about looking like a slut or like I was asking for it (which were some of the things he'd say to me).

I can say it gets better. You just have to give yourself time. I don't really know what clicked with me to make me think "what the hell, I'll wear wtf I like" but it did happen!

I never think of my ex, apart from to mourn the 9 years I spent with him (met him at the tender age of 19, completely wasted my youth on him).

I did get together with my dh pretty quickly after breaking up with my ex, but my dh is someone I've known since I was 17, was one of my best friends (only reason ex 'tolerated' dh was because he mistakenly though dh was gay and I did nothing to change his mind about that while dating ex!) So was a completely safe relationship to enter. Only reason I'm bringing this up is because maybe my dh helped me to gain confidence to wear what I like.

I knew he was the one for me as we are such good friends, but what clinched it was when I visited him in shorts one day and another guy was apparently 'checking me out' and dh didn't blame me - he said it made him feel proud!

But, you shouldn't need a guy to help you feel better about yourself! Perhaps some counselling to help you with self esteem would be good? It's the self esteem that's the issue, I think... it was for me anyway.

AstrantiaMallow Wed 05-Aug-15 14:50:45

ARV1981 Yep, your situation sounds pretty similar, I was also young and in my case pretty clueless for a 21 year old...
I totally agree I shouldn't need a man to make me feel better ... I can imagine how much it must have helped trust wise to have a close male friend looking out for you though... I don't sadly have any of that. I'm pretty much having to start from scratch with everything, friends, work... and feel very wary of males who've shown an interest in me since.
I'm having counselling but it's not really cropped up before and to be fair is probably no top of the priorities in terms of current worries so I haven't discussed it. That's partly why I posted.

Goodness, 2 years feels a long time though. I just hate how the way he talked and treated me has even managed to sully something I liked before I met him. I wasn't wearing the pretty dresses for his benefit really, just because I liked them and yet now I feel worried about continuing to wear them when he's not there in case it's interpreted as some sort of come on by other males... Stupid really.

ARV1981 Wed 05-Aug-15 19:17:55

Maybe start off slowly then - wear something you like (but are nervous of wearing) for a short trip to the shops or something (so long as it isn't a ball dress lol) and see how you feel. You can always leave and go home to change if you feel uncomfortable.

It might help you break the barriers and realise that most men don't even notice what we wear (they notice us, but not necessarily our clothes!) Most men are not like your ex, or mine. Most men are decent and would be shocked and horrified that some women feel this way, most men respect you in the way you deserve.

I would broach this with your counsellor though. What we wear and our personal style is a huge part of our identity and you're not able to embrace yours because of this Bastard. That's not fair, or right. Talk it through, understand why you still feel like this - I'm guessing it's part of the control over you that he inflicted on you for so many years. You have every right to embrace your femininity if you want to. I don't think this is a trivial thing at all, not worthy of the counsellor's time. I think it's really important.

flowerscakebrew xxx

Notasinglefuckwasgiven Wed 05-Aug-15 19:37:43

Totally correct op. I married at 17 to a man like that ( he was older ) and I was a looker back then. Shame I didn't think that at the time...but I digress. I bought my first dress in 12 years to wear with my wonderful respectful DP. And now own many. It's normal in my opinion to hide your femininity when it'd been used to attack you. But hang in there. You will recover and relish in it. I still have shaved hair ( and a traditional male job ) bit I'm so over that bastards will get there too.

Joysmum Wed 05-Aug-15 19:41:35

It did. I'm not comfortable being feminine or with makeup and prefer comfort and not to draw attention to myself/be anonymous.

AstrantiaMallow Wed 05-Aug-15 22:57:50

It's reassuring I'm not the only one but bloody awful at the same time. So sorry Joysmum. It's exactly it though for me too at the moment, I don't want to draw attention to myself and it feels like dresses or skirts do just that now whereas before I didn't give it too much thought. I worry how I'm going to be looked at. Notasinglefuck he vetted my hair too, but somehow I don't feel the same about it, perhaps because I can still hide in it.

My counsellor hears so much about my divorce there's no time or money for actual processing of the abuse so far, ARV1981. Appearance and the fact that I was pretty was a massive part of his justification for the abuse. He wasn't interested in the clothes themselves! I know they were just an excuse. I don't want to let him win though. I had a massive wardrobe declutter on Sunday which made me realise how much horrible underwear tat he'd bought me for his benefit. It's all gone now. But going through everything I realised how little I'd actually worn of the nice outfits l like since we're separated despite having the opportunity to do so in peace. BTW the dresses are not ball dresses smile, just standard tunic dresses, a few Liberty fabric dresses I made, above knee length/v neck all pretty bog standard shape, and lots of others different ones but nothing outrageous. Just pretty. I just look nice in them with heels but it feels a step too far at the moment, even to the shops. I mention the Liberty fabric ones because choosing the fabric and buttons and making these is as much the pleasure as wearing them! It really got me thinking I'd made them for myself but that because of the abuse I was now worried of wearing them. It makes me cross and sad at the same time.

Thanks for replying. I feel less alone with this now. I hope as things settle it will get better like it did for you.

ARV1981 Thu 06-Aug-15 06:37:00

I used to make dresses too (no time now with work and now a baby on the way - my career really took off after I ltb!) so I completely get what you're saying about choosing the fabric and buttons! That was my favourite part of making dresses if I'm honest. I could spend hours in a haberdashery. Sometimes I go to one near my work and just spend lunchtime looking at fabrics... I'm making a quilt for the baby grin

I hope you do get to wear them again after all the work you put into making them. I'm sure you will one day.

My ex used to buy me horrible 'sexy' underwear too. It made me feel like an object, which I suppose was part of the abuse.


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