Book review: How I took back my power

How I took back my power

Nompumelelo Runji


Review: Chantel Erfort

How I took back my power is a deeply personal and intimate account of the emotional and mental abuse political analyst and academic Nompumelelo Runji experienced during her courtship and marriage to “Sheffield” − whose name, as well as those of others mentioned in the book, have been changed to protect their identities..

As is the case with many high-functioning victims of domestic abuse, Runji is the picture of success in her career, and she and her husband appear to be an exemplary couple in their church community.

Behind the scenes, however, Runji is being isolated, belittled, manipulated and deprived of physical affection by her manipulative and emotionally distant husband.

As readers, effectively the outsiders looking in, all the red flags are there from the start and we want to warn her to get out while she still can, to get it out of her head that there’s something she can do to be better or to make Sheffield treat her better.

Of course, the last person a victim listens to is someone on the outside. That’s the nature of abuse.

And in many cases one of the devices an abuser will use to gain control over his or her victim is to strategically isolate them from their friends and family, and make them believe that the abuser is the only one who can be trusted.

Ultimately, it is only when Runji’s mental torment and emotional trauma start manifesting physically, that she starts pursuing the help she needs to leave her toxic marriage.

It’s heart-breaking to read a tale of such systematic abuse, but it’s also an interesting case study of how societal pressure, church communities, family and a history of abuse and trauma can contribute to ongoing abuse – and prevent the victim from leaving an abusive situation.

And while I sometimes felt like the story was being bogged down by minutia and that Runji should have instead called the book “How I lost my power” because that is the part of her story that dominates the book, that, in fact, turned out to be the power of how she has told her story.

By feeding us all the seemingly “little” details, she draws us into her life, into her home, and illustrates how these so-called little things pile up, and how the actions of abusers become incrementally destructive over time.