This post has been pulled apart and made into parts of other posts and had a few different versions. If you know someone who may be in an abusive relationship, PLEASE get this tothat person.
I originally wrote it in 2007 a year before Michael got sick. There still may be some references to him and our relationship in there. I have talked a lot about abuse and being with personality disordered people on the Mean Lady Talking podcast. To see a list of episodes go HERE I rerun this post – originally written in 2007 and – once upon a time posted on Psychology Today before they decided to enable abusers. (For that tale of woe go to MLT Ep 13 HERE )
I’ve changed a few references to Michael that were in the present tense, but may have missed some, but the point is that you CAN leave abusive relationships and get happy and whole and find REAL love with a REAL person who will not abuse you and who will treat you wonderfully every single day. Michael was always in an annoyingly happy mood. When I asked him once why (as I was having a complete sh&t storm of a day and in a foul mood), he said that every day he woke up and I was in the world, was a good day.
He was absolutely serious about it as he treated me EXACTLY that way, as if I was an incredibly special person who made the world a better place. And it took me years to develop the attitude that I deserved to be treated that way and believe that a person like that existed…but he did…which is why–when he got sick–I turned myself inside out to provide as much comfort and joy and peace as he could possibly get while being terminally ill.) But I found REAL LOVE after abusive relationships…and you (or someone you love) can too. You can read my story in the introduction to GPYB and our story in the back of GBOT and our story on RopeBurns and my story on the GPYP YouTube Channel. (for links to any of those, go HERE.)
The Abusive Relationship
Copyright © Susan J. Elliott
Abuse can be physical, mental, emotional, verbal and sexual. It can be but doesn’t have to be all 5. Just because someone isn’t hitting you doesn’t mean they are not abusive. I hesitate to use the words “semi-abusive” because abuse is abuse is abuse is abuse, but sometimes the writing is on the wall and someone can’t see it because they shy away from labeling their relationship as abusive. One of the psychological tricks that a victims’s head plays is “It’s not that bad.” in the same way an alcoholic might instantly bristle at being called an alcoholic but might be able to wrap his or her head around “problem drinker.” So to avoid turning off the very people I try to help, I allow myself to call some relationships “semi-abusive” but it is like being semi-pregnant.
I was in abusive relationships from the time I was 13 until I was 30. That’s a long 17 years. I immediately gravitated, out of the box, to abusive boys then men (although I shudder to label an abusive male a “man” since he is nothing of the kind. Coward is more like it.) I have come to feel, over the years, that any man who hits a woman or threatens a woman or even pretends to threaten…is not a man. And the solution is to leave. START PUTTING A PLAN INTO PLACE.
From a reader who works in DV. Please heed this advice!: The most lethal time for an abused person is when she/he is trying to leave the abuser. Have a plan and get back up! The news is full (seemingly) nice people whose partner was trying to leave and ended up dead. When in a domestically abusive situation, I say use universal precautions and assume anyone has the propensity for violence. See it everyday.
This is the national hotline and can refer people to help in their area.
http://www.thehotline.org/ They can help them with safety planning too.
Most of my relationships were physically abusive but all of them had a verbal component and all of them had criticism and control as a backstory.
The number one culprit was my lack of self-esteem. This is not a blame-the-victim mentality. Everyone is responsible for his or her own actions. Meaning, abusers are responsible for their abuse. However, without a willing victim, their abuse has nowhere to go. Later on I would learn “remove the victim” but for years I did not know to do this, that I could do this or how to do this.
I didn’t know that I didn’t know. I wasn’t willing in the sense that I had good sense and used my free will to choose to be in abusive relationships. It means I was willing because I DID NOT KNOW I could be treated any better and I wasn’t sure that I wasn’t causing the abuse by not doing things right. I also did not know that putting your hands on someone else was wrong. WRONG. WRONG.
I did not know because I thought everything was my fault. I had been raised in an abusive environment and was told that I basically made my mother crazy. Even when I was in therapy in my 30s I attempted to confront her about it and her answer was “You were not the easiest kid to raise.”
Oh really? Let me introduce you to 3 not the easiest kids to raise: my three sons. Not easy kids to raise yet not abused by me and not juvenile delinquents. You can raise difficult kids with rules and limits and without abusing them. And they grow up to be wonderful, non-abusing men. IMAGINE THAT!
But I didn’t know that back then. I blamed my abuse on myself. I obviously made everyone do everything. When I got into therapy, my therapist said, “Wow. You’re so powerful! How come you can’t make them stop doing things?” Uh…hmmm…dunno.
Without that mentality on the part of the victim, abuse has nowhere to go.
And abusers keep that mentality going by blaming you for everything. The MoAB blamed me for things he said I was thinking when I was thinking nothing of the sort. I was defending thoughts I didn’t have. How crazy is that?
Once I tried to show him I was a “good wife” and I waxed the floors. When he came home he said I purposely left streaks on them so he would never again ask me to do it. I begged him to SEE that I was trying and I had no intention of leaving streaks on the floor (I couldn’t even SEE the streaks until he pointed one or two small ones out and I had waxed the floors in FIVE large rooms and he found one or two pale streaks). But I stood there, like a dope, begging him to give me SOME CREDIT for the floor and begging him to BELIEVE that I did it out of the goodness of my heart.
I never REACHED, “Wait a minute. You’re such an ahole to even bring up those streaks and for telling me what my intentions are.” I had been in “on the defensive” mode my whole life. I had no idea how to switch gears and question this behavior on HIS part. It never occurred to me that perhaps this was unacceptable.
The thing is that you become so CONSUMED with trying to convince the abuser that you are not whatever way, you overlook the fact that he or she is a psycho. That’s part of the dance.
It’s very very exhausting. You become driven to prove to this person that you are a good and gentle and loving person who would never think or do anything of the sort. Your life becomes one on the defense so you never get to jump over to the offense and wonder what the hell he or she is doing. It’s all about you and how IF ONLY you were less or more or taller or shorter or older or younger or cleaner or neater or thrifty or friendly or not shy or want so much or expect so much or look in the direction of others or not do this or more do more or that or born on a Tuesday or cranky when it’s raining or moody or perturbed or WHATEVER excuse explains why you are abused or criticized or not cared about.
It makes as much sense as saying, “How can I care about someone who wears yellow on Tuesdays? I’m sorry but I can’t.”
But those are the messages and the CRAZINESS of the messages that we receive. I’m sorry oh-unworthy-one, but it’s your fault I act like a complete and utter crazy person. It’s not me, it was that wearing-yellow-on-Tuesday thing you do…I mean who can live with that? If you just straightened up and wore the appropriate colors, I would not be such an insane person.
And we buy it. We run around and eradicate all the yellow from our lives. And next Tuesday we wear pink but that’s wrong too and then black and purple and blue and orange and they’re all wrong too and then the day comes when the abuser says, “You’re so stupid you don’t even wear yellow on Tuesdays.” WHAT? Wait, I thought yellow on Tuesdays was bad. It’s not? Oh let me run right out and get some yellow. There must be something wrong with my hearing or something wrong with my head. So you put the yellow back. And of course it’s “I TOLD YOU that yellow on Tuesdays is NEVER appropriate!!! You just do this to make me miserable!!!” I talked on a radio show about “gaslighting” and this is part of that.
And so it goes….
You cannot win. You will not win. The goal is for you never to win. And you can just FORGET that any of your reasonings or any of your “yes, but you said…….” or “I was only………” or “I thought…………” is going anywhere.
Not only ISN’T it going anywhere, but the GOAL is for it not to go anywhere. The only rule is that the rules constantly change. The only constant is that you can’t win. The only goal is to keep you off your pins and trying hard to please someone who cannot be pleased. The GOAL is to keep you twisted up in knots and everything is your fault. So there.
Every narcissitic control freak needs their scapegoat. There is always a Something upsetting/frustrating happened and we need someone to blame. You’re it.” and
you’re always it.
And you get into the same mindset.
Something happened and someone has to be blamed.
No one can deal with the fact that sometimes shit happens.
I was always blamed for things I had nothing to do with and TO THIS DAY I have an excuse at the ready if something goes wrong somewhere. But over the past 15 years I’ve stopped sharing those thoughts with anyone. I no longer have a knee jerk defensive reaction to things going wrong. And I don’t make excuses when it is my fault things went wrong. It’s more like an explanation if it needs one. Most times it doesn’t. It took a long time because I was the scapegoat in my adoptive family. A role I continued to play because I didn’t know what other role to play.
He said things that made no sense and blamed me for not understanding the nonsense or he would act like I was a nut for questioning anything or not understanding why this thing that made no sense should happen now (this is a technique known as gaslighting).
I believed him when he said the abuse and serial cheating was my fault. If only I had done x, y and z…he wouldn’t do that. BALONEY. Everyone is responsible for their own actions. I actually whined to my therapist that I had created a monster and she said, “You cannot create a monster who doesn’t want to be created.” It was a DUH moment if I ever had one.
In healthy relationships blame and castigation have no place. People automatically take responsibility for their own stuff and everyone recognizes that stuff happens. In abusive relationships, whenever something goes wrong, someone is to blame and there will be hell to pay. Whether you’re actually responsible or not.
The abused sees the abuser as two different people: the one who swept her off her feet (the real him) and the one who is an abusive bastard (not the real him).
BOTH personalities are him. You cannot pick and choose. You simply cannot. It is difficult and sometimes IMPOSSIBLE to understand how this person who did such sweet and wonderful things and seemed to truly and sincerely love you has turned into this abusive jerk.
BUT they will never change. They will try to woe you back or keep you from leaving by trying to give you the classic “Abuser’s Remorse” spiel where they (sometimes) cry and promise to change and they REALIZE things will be horrible if you are not there.
And it’s what you want to hear so you sop it up…until next time when it’s your fault again. Why YES the abuser WANTED to change, but you wrecked the whole thing by being whatever way caused the abuse to surface again. REPEAT AFTER ME: IT WILL NOT CHANGE. NOT NOW AND NOT EVER.
Stop trying to understand it. Just accept it. He IS an abusive jerk and that sweet person, whether it was real or to rope you in is gone forever. When he gets abuser’s remorse, the old him is not coming back…it’s just a ploy to keep you in his control.
I beat my head against that wall forever…thinking of my ex…when we were going out and the sweet and wonderful things he did. Were they real? Who knows? Who cares? They matter not when he is swinging wildly between abusing, cheating, and abuser’s remorse to rope me back in.
After a while I had to see that the romanticized fantasy I had of him was just that: a fantasy. Even if it had been real at one time, it was no longer and it was NEVER coming back.
Stop splitting. Stop being in denial when he is “normal”. The abuse will be back.
My ex called me every name in the book including ones (yes plural) that I would never repeat. He called me names in front of my children and not only didn’t I like it because it was degrading but he was their role model. I didn’t want to have sons who would grow up and use these disgusting phrases.
But after we broke up I banned the word bitch from my house. It was not to be used ever by anyone at any time. I have a list of “don’t ever say these words if you want to live” and of course the n word and the c word and a few other choice ones (mostly racist, homophobic and sexist garbage words) are on there. When I put the word bitch on there it was a personal standard-raising thing..
I told every man I dated, you call me a name ONCE and I’m gone. From the day I left my first husband until this one, no man called me a name. No man said F you and every one of them was respectful even in a heated argument.
These standards became ROCK SOLID and they are after years of withering verbal abuse. I simply have no tolerance for it. I don’t explain it and I don’t let people tell me why it’s unreasonable. Standards. Again. Gotta have em.\
And I don’t care if you don’t like them or think they’re ridiculous or whatever. It is what it is. Get used to it or get out.
Don’t put your standards up to a vote. No one gets to tell you that your standards are too high.
Words do hurt and they do degrade and they do humiliate and to think that someone who is supposed to love you could ever call you a name let alone a horrible name, is unthinkable.
Someone asked if a relationship was abusive does that mean there was no love. Well, you tell me. You might “feel” something but I would bet dollars to donuts, it’s addictive dysfunction and not real love. Abusive relationships tend to be lived in the highest high (esp makeup sex) and lowest low (non-stop abuse). Is that love? Not really.
Love is an action but it is also what you don’t do. Michael never called me a name. He’s not called me stupid or an idiot or incompetent or anything that is a negative label. It doesn’t fly with me. The first word would be the last one.
For years I listened to name calling and malicious teasing. When I was obviously hurt it was “oh you know I don’t mean it” or “I was just angry” or “I was just joking…” or “I was just…” Well I was just leaving. Good bye.
Verbal abuse or verbal put downs have NO PLACE in a loving relationship. None.
JEALOUSY, CONTROL, THREATS
There is a lot of jealousy, a lot of false accusations and a lot of control by way of those accusations. Again, proving that you’re not doing what you’re not doing. Threats of reprisals. Threats against coworkers or friends because they “know” he’s looking at you.
Trying to control someone’s anger who is completely out of control is impossible.
The Dance That Partners Do In Abusive Relationships
Drama is the name of the game in abusive relationships. Keeping everything swirling on the outside so that two inadequate people with major issues and problems in their backgrounds DO NOT have to look inside. Again, is this LOVE? I don’t think so.
The abused is just as addicted as the abuser (sometimes more). Get help.
Abusive relationships are codependent relationships. By virtue of the lack of boundaries and the inability of people to understand that YOUR RIGHT TO SWING YOUR ARM ENDS AT THE TIP OF MY NOSE.
Boundaries are MISSING in abusive relationships whether its verbal, emotional or physical abuse. MISSING.
No one knows “You begin and end somewhere and I begin and end somewhere else.” No one knows this.
If you are in an abusive relationship, you are a raging codependent. Get help.
CHAOS ADDICTION DRAMA ADDICTION LOVE ADDICTION
Even if there is no substance abuse or alcohol abuse there is addiction present. The dance of anger comes from chaos addiction, drama addiction and love addiction. Being addicted to the low of the abuse and the high of makeup sex. Keeping everything swirling on the outside to avoid the emptiness on the inside.
And both people suffer from it.
The abused has sympathy for the abuser. WHAT? Yes, the abused doesn’t want to hurt him, thinks of herself as a nice person a good person a loving person and he will see that one day.
Guess what? No he will not. He is a narcissistic JERK who is self-centered and his only interest in you is control and sex. That’s it. Move along. Nothing to see here.
He’s never going to get it. He’s never going to COME TO HIS SENSES. It doesn’t matter how much you FEEL SORRY FOR HIM. Stop it and put your emotional energy into you and your children. RUN AWAY FROM THIS LOSER.
The ENEMY of Abusive Relationships:
Leaving: I always suggest leaving. yes I know it’s hard, but it’s the thing to do. I’ve heard every excuse in the book and as someone who left with 3 kids and no job…I don’t exactly buy any of them. GET OUT.
Again: an urgent reminder from a DV specialist: Have a safety plan in place first. The most lethal time for an abused person is when she/he is trying to leave the abuser. Have a plan and get back up! The news is full (seemingly) nice people whose partner was trying to leave and ended up dead. When in a domestically abusive situation, I say use universal precautions and assume anyone has the propensity for violence. See it everyday. Call the NATIONAL ABUSE HOTLINE. In the US it is 800-799-SAFE please memorize this number. In the UK it is 0808 2000 247 They will help you develop a safety plan to leave.
I know I was so angry the night I left I could have killed my ex. But in other situations he could have killed me. He was screaming that I was not taking his children. I think he got out of my way because I almost ran him over with the car.
I also had an ex boyfriend who tried to kill me on 3 separate occasions after I left him. One night he laid in wait for me and as I headed up my street he ran in front of my car. The next thing I knew he was in my car telling me to drive. When we got on the highway he tried to take the wheel and crash us, saying, “If I can’t have you, no one can.”
These people are psychos. STAY SAFE.
Then these are the enemies of the abusive relationship:
Self-esteem: people who have it won’t tolerate abuse. Get some.
Boundaries: people who have them won’t be abused. Get some.
OBSERVATION: GPYB is BIG on Observation. Do not rush to judgment on first dates or even the first few dates. Listen to the MLT podcast about holding back judgment and about questioning people who are new in your life. If you don’t rush to judgment, observe carefully (OFF THE PHONE!) and take your time, you will be able to figure out exactly who a person is. But the BEST defense is a good OFFENSE: healthy, know how to be alone, know how to be discerning, and good self-esteem will keep these disordered people AWAY!
Therapy: people who are in it can get to the reasons why they’re in abusive relationships. Get some.
12 step programs: if you have issues like codependency, substance or alcohol abuse (yours or someone elses), love addiction, sex addiction etc etc etc get to the 12 step program that you need. Get names, get numbers, get a sponsor. Get help.
Women Who Love Too Much by Robin Norwood: READ IT.
Codependent No More by Melody Beattie: READ IT.
Men Who Hate Women and the Women Who Love Them: Susan Forward: READ IT.
I am living proof that there is life, a good life, a GREAT life, after abusive relationships.
I was happily married to a man who loves me…but only because I loved myself first. (To hear “My Story” from abuse victim to finding the most loving husband in the world HERE
Get out, work on yourself, love yourself and watch life happen.
YOU CAN DO THIS.
PLEASE KNOW YOU CAN DO THIS!!
Copyright © Susan J. Elliott, J.D., M.Ed.
All Rights Reserved No Duplication is Allowed Without Explicit Permission of the Author
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