Abuse survivor gives advice, hope

FAITH Speaker at Memorial Union talks self-esteem


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I wasn’t sure what to expect when I walked into the lecture bowl Monday evening. Would I need the small pack of tissues hidden in my purse? How emotional will this talk really get? To my shock and awe, Teri Jendusa -Nicolai was one of the most positive and optimistic people I have ever had the pleasure of hearing speak.

During the speech, I had questions running through my mind. Teri was obviously a veteran at the whole public speaking thing, because she answered all of them without even knowing it. I wondered how she can be okay with talking publicly about such a personal trauma. She told us, “How could I not?”

She knew she had an important message, and she was called to spread it. I also wondered why a victim would ever go back to being with a perpetrator like her ex-husband, David Larson. Her response put it into perspective for me.

“There are too many hurdles,” Jendusa-Nicolai said. “Victims feel it is just easier to stay. The thought of starting over is scary and can be too much to handle. The perpetrator has infested every aspect of their lives and cut them off from what they once had.”

The last big question that was gnawing at me was this: how could she possibly be such a happy person? Even on my lowest day, her best day with Larson was far worse. How can she be so optimistic with all that’s happened to her? Her response jerked tears from my eyes and warmed my heart.

“I still have my arms to hold my girls. I have my girls. I’m alive, and he’s where he belongs,” she said. And isn’t that what we all should truly be thankful for?

I have to admit I felt slightly guilty sitting there after hearing this. I have a completely normal life, a great family and all ten of my toes. When I have a bad day, the world better watch out. But what right do I have to ever feel pessimistic about life when Teri never is? My guilt fell away when she shared her most important message with us.

“Build up your self-esteem,” Jendusa-Nicolai said. When you have self-confidence, it is almost impossible for anything to beat you down. What kind of people will you attract if you live life blaming yourself and making excuses for others?

This piece of advice really hit home for me as well.

It doesn’t matter whether the relationship involves abuse or not. I can definitely learn from Jendusa-Nicoli’s advice. If you ever need to make excuses for someone in a relationship, it’s probably not a good relationship to be in.

At this point, I looked around the room and saw others having the same reaction as me. We fidgeted a little in our seats because we all had thought of that relationship where we made those excuses. We had that gut feeling to get out and run the opposite direction, but for God knows what reason, we stayed. And we did it over and over — we made those excuses. To me, this meant a lot, because you don’t have to be a victim of domestic abuse to learn a thing or two from a victim’s testimony.

It left me with the same disbelief and horror as I had when I learned of the sexual assault of two UND women in the early hours of Sept. 30. There’s no excuse for actions like these, and it breaks my heart to know they can happen to anyone. But as I was taught in Communication 110, an excellent public speaker will leave their audience with a challenge or task to ponder. Teri nailed this one.

As a person who is refocusing on self-worth, faith and personal happiness, I jumped at the opportunity to heed Teri’s suggestion because it offered a kind of solution. She told all of us to write down five good things about ourselves. Whether it’s each day or whenever we hit a low point. It may seem lame or trivial, but she said this way we have proof of our self-worth the next time someone tries to tell us we aren’t good enough. Even if we ourselves are that someone.

My friend Taylor Sorensen, a sophomore and criminal justice major here at UND, was moved by Teri’s strength and faith in God. She was inspired by her courage and hopes to help those struggling with similar issues someday.

“She has inspired me to keep continuing on in my criminal justice career to help keep victims safe and free from abusers,” Taylor said.

As I watched her pace in front of me during the speech, I realized something important. It had nothing to do with the method of identifying an abusive relationship or how to become more self-confident. Sure, I learned about those things, but it’s not what I took to be the most important lesson from Teri’s testimony. I saw the reason how Teri could still be so happy and peaceful.

She had discovered what many people who walk this earth die without realizing: the true meaning of what it is to live. You see, it’s not about fame or power or material things. It’s about being near the ones you love, trusting your life to God and just living each day being thankful for what you have.

Teri went through hell to realize this, but once she did, she knew she had to spread the message to others, too. I want to thank Teri for helping me realize that. Though she probably won’t ever read this article, she should know that she’s made an impact on many by letting us in on the secret of life, love and what it truly means to be happy.

Mary Ochs is a staff writer for The Dakota Student. She can be reached at [email protected]

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