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Survivor Story: Nancy Virden

'We don’t have to be defined by our history.'

  • December 04, 2015
  • By domesticshelters.org
Survivor Story: Nancy Virden

As a child, Nancy Virden witnessed constant physical and emotional abuse that her father inflicted upon her mother.

“I was probably three when the fighting between my parents escalated to violence,” she says. After one incident, her mother fled upstairs, crying.

“I remember wanting to go upstairs after her, but my dad said ‘Sit still, she’s just a crybaby,’” Virden remembers. “I learned that day that it was not OK to cry, and that no one will come for you if you do.”

Virden says that, between the fights, there were prolonged periods of silence and icy hostility. “I never witnessed affection between my parents. One day, as my dad was leaving for a business trip, my mom told him to kiss her goodbye, which he refused. She begged then hollered, and he finally kissed her on the cheek. If a kiss on the cheek can be violent, this one was. All I could think was, ‘Wow. My parents just kissed.’”

Virden says the abuse she witnessed growing up left lasting effects on her self-esteem.

“I grew up believing that my mother, females in general and especially me, were of little value and deserve to be mistreated,” she says. At the age of 20, she married a man who turned out to be much like her father.

“I think it’s fair to say that abuse was there from the beginning, although I didn’t recognize it then,” she says. “Emotional neglect, a form of abuse, permeated our relationship.”

Abuse was familiar to Virden.

“I saw my parents have no relationship other than fighting. I didn’t know what it was like to have a healthy relationship with proper communication and neither did my husband. He would spend days, weeks, months at a time not talking to me.”

Virden endured her husband’s abuse for 32 years. It wasn’t until a series of depressive episodes and a suicide attempt that Virden got help.

“I was so wrapped up in the desperation of wanting my husband to love me that I got to the point where I believed if he didn’t love me, I was worth nothing,” she says. “That love wasn’t coming my way, and I got to a point where I tried to kill myself.”

Fortunately, the experience brought Virden quality therapy and a team of doctors and counselors who were able to help.

“I realized through therapy that I had not only the ability but the right to leave a marriage that was harmful. Slowly I learned I have value, and am becoming an independent woman in my 50s” Virden says.

Virden and her husband have been separated for two years. The first year, they continued to share a house.

“That was one of the most stressful years I’ve ever had. It was a rough walk to be in the same place with someone who doesn’t really acknowledge you exist,” she says. “When he left, I felt free. This is the first time in my life I’ve lived without an abuser in my home.”

What she wishes she’d known: Virden now realizes her self-worth and wishes others hadn’t been able to define hers for so many years. “We’re not defined by our history and the messages others send us,” she says. “It’s important to consider the source of the messages that you are worthless or you deserve abuse. Is that person a liar, a narcissist? When you realize they’re wrong, that changes everything, doesn’t it?”