Finding strength in abusive relationships

Pent-up sadness and frustration can play havoc with your physical and mental wellbeing. (Jojo Struys pic)

When I hosted a weekly local talk show called “Pillow Talk”, I interviewed celebrities in their pyjamas on various topics revolving around relationships.

It occurred to me that no matter how beautiful, talented or popular you were, if you have relationship issues, it’s more than a thorn in your side.

It can affect your entire wellbeing, from your appetite, to the quality of your sleep and your general sense of self-worth.

What became painfully clear to me was the fact that so many of our relationship issues date way back to where we came from and how we were brought up.

According to Vancouver doctor and author Gabor Maté, exposure to childhood trauma, as early as age four, can lead to higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the body and the brain, and these results can show up on brain scans 14 years later.

Hence, children growing up in these abusive environments may also get into stressful situations or relationships without recognising them because they’re so accustomed to it.

Whilst doing some research, I was reading about how abuse was a vicious cycle.

Many years ago, some of you might remember how the world saw Rihanna, the pop singer returning to her abusive R&B singer boyfriend, Chris Brown after he brutally battered her face.

Rihanna and Brown both came from abusive families, where destructive, soul-destroying patterns were learned behaviours. We have all too often seen history repeating itself.

It is tragic to think that Brown became the very epitome of his horrific father he was so repulsed by, in his childhood. Reportedly, Brown used to live in so much fear and hatred of his stepfather because he used to watch him bashing his mother up in front of him as a little boy, until she bled.

In fact, in an interview with Giant Magazine, Brown told his mother once, “I’m gonna take a baseball bat one day while you’re at work, and I’m gonna kill him.”

Verbal abuse is an active form of abuse and can erode a person’s self-worth over time. (Rawpixel pic)

Closer to home, there was an actress I met on my travels who used to play very strong character roles and she was so convincing on screen, that you would almost assume she possessed the same strength off screen but she was one of the most fragile women I knew.

She grew up with a tyrannical, abusive father who had impossibly high standards. Despite the fact he never hit her, verbal abuse is still an active form of abuse and he eroded his daughter’s self-esteem over time.

No matter how hard she tried to gain his approval, it was embedded long ago, that she was simply not good enough.

She also lived such a strict, regimented life, that she hardly had any time for play. Any kid should have dedicated time to just be a kid and have creative, imaginative playtime because it’s so crucial for their cognitive, social and emotional development.

In fact, in a pilot study where psychiatrist Dr Stuart Brown interviewed 26 convicted Texas murderers, he discovered that most of them shared two things in common: they were from abusive families, and they did not spend time playing as kids. (Source:

Fortunately, my friend did not grow up with any violent tendencies but she was drawn to men who treated her badly and consistently put her down.

She dated a string of possessive and controlling partners. It was fairly obvious when you started drawing the parallels, that she was attracted to men who reminded her of her father. Somehow, she was always falling short of their expectations and chasing their approval.

Abuse can be very subtle and prolonged such that you may not even realise it’s a form of abuse.

For instance, one of her partners was always quick to point out her flaws and compare her to other actresses, affecting her sense of self-worth.

She also had a partner who used to keep track of all her movements and even selfishly got her to turn down roles that would require her to shoot overseas.

While he was firmly trying to establish himself as the centre of her universe, she started losing friends and acting roles because of the choices and sacrifices she made for him.

In all her relationships, she was always on the receiving end of abuse or control.

The only person who can bring about positive change and break the cycle of abuse is you, and you alone. (Jojo Struys pic)

Recurring patterns don’t get “fixed” by changing partners. It is “you” and your perception about yourself that must change first.

When she was finally single for a stretch, surrounded by supportive friends, and able to really focus on her own career, she started to heal.

Many abused partners feel isolated and alone because they are afraid to speak up about what they are going through.

It is so important if you personally know someone in an abusive relationship, to reassure them that they do not need to face everything alone.

Encourage them to open up, seek professional help or start learning how to practise more self-love and respect because being abused can really demolish one’s self-esteem.

When they feel safe enough to truly speak up, it may finally give them the strength to end the abuse.

At my own healing centre at OhanaJo, we realise the power of simply holding space for those who need to express how they really feel. Without self-awareness, it’s hard to let go of self-destructive patterns.

In some of our classes we even provide blank pieces of paper so that people can journal their emotions or observations right after their guided meditations.

Breathwork is a powerful outlet for pent-up sadness, anger and frustration. (Jojo Struys pic)

Breathwork is also another powerful outlet and people need to simply explore different modalities to find what works best for them.

It personally amazes me how much sadness or stuck emotions a person might be carrying because people often come up to me at the end of a sound bath wondering why they cried.

I say it’s definitely a good thing because it’s a form of release. It can really lighten the load because they have accessed a deeper layer of their inner landscape.

So, always keep your eyes open to those who may need you in their darkest hours. I thought I would mention that the doors of my humble healing space are always open to those who need to take shelter from the many storms in their life.

Never be afraid to look for help when you really need it. You might be surprised to discover that help will come forward in many forms and guises, reminding you that you are not alone in this world.

Jojo Struys is a Wellness Author, TEDx Speaker and Founder of OhanaJo, home to holistic meditation, yoga and sound healing classes and workshops to help people deal with their everyday stresses and anxieties. Visit to experience their uniquely therapeutic on-ground or daily online sessions.