Today, CARISMA continues to honour strong women and share their messages with the world through senior staff nurse, Michela Mallia. Michela sat with us to talk about the emotional and mental turmoil she went through in a previous relationship and the lessons she learnt.
“We were friendly for a long time before we began going out,” Michela starts. “In a sense, that was part of what lulled me into a false sense of security. That, and the fact that he love bombed me at the beginning of the relationship. I felt so cherished: he made me feel like I was the centre of the universe. I also felt like I was finally getting back the love that I had always given so unconditionally. So, when things started going wrong, I wasn’t able to identify what was going on straight away because the changes were subtle at first and incongruent with the messages that he had given me before.”
Emphasising the importance of having both positive and negative boundaries, Michela believes that it was the fact that she loved so unconditionally which kept her from seeing things as they were: “It’s important to love and give as much as you can in a relationship but not to a point where it hurts you. You need to set standards for yourself from before meeting someone about what you’re willing to put up with. After the first blissful few months, he started to police my entire life and tried to change and control aspects of it to suit him rather than empower me. I was hurt and confused, but in the end, it was just him offloading his own issues because it turned out that he had been cheating on me from the beginning.”
Many might ask what it was that kept her trying to make things work through the fighting and the controlling behaviour and her answer to this is simple: “My fear of being abandoned took over. I didn’t want to end up alone or admit to having a failed relationship. Society constantly portrays being alone as something negative and he had been so wonderful at the beginning that I genuinely thought that I had found my person. I’m not saying that I didn’t make my own mistakes in the relationship because it wasn’t the first time that I would get angry and raise my voice, but it had gotten to the point where the only way we wouldn’t fight is if I just gave in and did what he wanted or walked on eggshells all the time. I didn’t want a life where I had to take care of everything by myself and feel like I was a slave or an unpaid servant and so I started to stand my ground and set boundaries. This wasn’t met well by him.”
Michela found herself constantly questioning herself and feeling guilty for asking for the bare minimum of respect one would expect from a live-in partner: “I always used to think that maybe I shouldn’t confront him but if you can’t be yourself in a relationship then what’s the point? I would have never stood for his behaviour under normal circumstances but the fact that I was worried about being discarded made me stay. I wouldn’t go as far as saying that every person who makes you feel bad has narcissistic tendencies but if you don’t value yourself enough then you will not only stand for abusive behaviour but over time, you will start to believe that you deserve it.”
So, what advice would she give someone going through a similar situation? “You need to identify your shortcomings and what you’re willing to put up with. Knowledge is power and the more knowledgeable you are, the more you can heal. I did not value myself enough to realise that I deserved better than the constant control and feeling of self-doubt and as a result, the relationship made me feel like I was drowning and unable to come up for air. It was only when it was over that I finally felt like I could breathe. Today, I am indifferent to the experience, but it was important to me to tell my story in the hopes of maybe helping others to understand that they don’t need to stay in spaces which make them feel unhappy and suffocated. I don’t have all the answers, but I do know that when you make active decisions about what you will allow into your life and stick to them, you will come out stronger.”