Monday, April 18, 2011

How Did I Get Into This Mess?

One of the biggest questions I struggled with when I left my abuser was: How did I get into this mess? I continually berated myself for being so stupid that I ended up in an abusive relationship. I voiced this to a very wise friend. She replied, “Suppose he came to pick you up for your first date, and when you opened the door he punched you in the face. Would you have gone out with him?” My response was in the ballpark of “HELL, NO! I’d call the police and have him arrested.” The point is, If an abuser treated us at the beginning of the relationship like he did at the end there would have been no relationship. 
An abuser knows if he wants to snare you, he must act and sound like a decent man. He becomes the romantic, thoughtful, caring, funny, seemingly honest, warm guy you’d hoped to find. There is no reason for you to suspect that he’s not who he appears to be, after all, you’re being honest about who you are. Yet, he’s hidden behind a facade. You think he’s interested to hear about your life. While, you feel flattered, he’s collects data that he will later use to manipulate you. He learns about your vulnerabilities, hopes and dreams. Later he will attack you in these very tender places to destroy your self-esteem. He asks questions about your opinions. You feel, Wow, this guy actually cares what I think. But, he’s planning how to bend your will to his. While you thrill at the thought that he’s finds you so attractive he can’t keep his hands off of you, he’s pushing you into a sexual relationship to hook you emotionally.
It’s no surprise, that victims come out of the relationship with huge trust issues.
We spend a lot of time beating ourselves up over something we were not responsible for. We did the right thing. We went into the relationship with an open heart, fell in love and trusted him. Isn’t that what we should do? Trust is part of the foundation of a healthy relationship (love, respect and communication are others.) The fault in the failed relationship sits squarely on the shoulders of the one who broke that trust. He misrepresented himself. He lied.
So, how do you know if you have a good man or not? Here are my thoughts. An abuser:
  • Rushes the victim into a relationship.  He talks marriage, kids and starts planing the future too soon in the relationship. He may have his whole life mapped out, and the victim is, to him, the missing piece, expected to fit into HIS world. In Healthy relationships, partners take the needed time to get to know one another, and move at a comfortable pace for both people. There is no fear that if you don’t commit now the relationship is over.
  • Doesn’t take “no” for an answer. He pouts, coerces, cajoles, accusing you of not caring for him, guilting you into yielding to his wishes. You may hear, “If you loved me you would/wouldn’t (insert activity here).” He may threaten to leave you if he doesn’t get his way. In Healthy relationships, partners respect each other’s feelings and needs. No, means no.
  • Has a sense of entitlement. He may have a definite idea of gender roles in society, with the male role being superior to the female’s. He is often passionate about issues and has definite likes and dislikes. You may find yourself thinking, It’s more important to him than to me so I’ll just go along (or give in.) In Heathy relationships, partners do not require one party to always yield to the other’s wishes. Each partner has an equal say in decisions. Differences of opinion are negotiated and respected wether an agreement is reached or not.
  • Monopolizes the victim’s time. He insists on always being together and is offended if you want time alone, with your friends or family members. He criticizes your friends and family, often insisting you stop seeing them, or makes it difficult for you to see them, isolating you. In Healthy relationships, partners give each other time together, and time to pursue individual interests or spend with friends. Also, they spend time with each other’s friends and family. Each partner maintains their own life. Those lives overlap (nether is absorbed into the other) into a life together.
For more information on this topic, I recommend Lundy Bancoft’s book, Why Does He Do That? Inside the minds of angry and controlling men. It was an eye opener for me. 

Friday, April 8, 2011

Was It Really Abuse?

After leaving a violent relationship, I wanted to put it all behind me and move out into the world as if the abuse never happened. That’s a luxury victims of domestic violence aren’t allowed. We are left with too many scars and bruises that must heal before we can move on to a healthy relationship with ourself or others. 
Determined to avoid another violent relationship, I sought answers to the nagging questions  that colored my thinking. What was so awful about me that he couldn’t love me?  How did I get sucked into this relationship? Was this really abuse? Why do I feel I have to return to him? Will anyone ever love me? What does healthy thinking sound like?
This entry is the first of a series addressing those questions. 
Was It Really Abuse?
Until I went into therapy, I thought that hitting, punching, kicking, beating, and rape were the signs of abuse. I learned that abuse is more than physical attacks. It also includes verbal assaults, constant criticism, humiliation, mind games, control of finances, attacks on one’s faith, and more.
My partner started hitting me shortly after we were married. When he broke my eardrum with a blow to my head, I told him that if he continued to hit me, I would leave.  He accused me of not loving him. I felt terrible, but something inside me kept me from retracting my ultimatum. 
After that incident, the verbal abuse quickly escalated. His angry tirades scared me into compliance. He stopped hitting me but I was terrified that he would. When I’d hear about a women being battered by her partner, I’d think, “What I live with isn’t so bad. At least he stopped hitting me.” 
Through treatment I learned that what my partner did, was just as damaging as physical abuse. 
 To gain control, an abuser creates chaos to keep his victim’s attention on making him happy to assure peace in the home. He uses specific tools. Like making trivial demands.  Strict rules regarding everything from how to fold his clothing, stack canned goods in the cabinet, to insisting she wash the dishes only by hand, causing more work, less free time. She feels pressure to keep everything “perfect,” as defined by him. He makes rules that change at his whim. He expects the victim to know the rules have changed without being told. A controlling partner often limits the victim’s access to finances and provides less money to run the household then is needed, giving the abuser more excuses to berate the victim, claiming she is inept at handling money.
An abuser often makes it clear who is in control by refusing to help his victim. Teaching her that she cannot depend on him to watch her back. Even in an emergency, she cannot trust that he will be there for her. He may choose to let her struggle and suffer. 
An abuser plays mind games -- hiding his victim’s personal items. He tells her she did or said something she hadn’t, to make her think she’s going crazy. When she calls him on it, he twists her words and takes the discussion into a different direction, putting her on the defensive. He sets her up to fail. He teaches her that she cannot trust herself. 
He creates a world to ensure that he holds the power in the relationship and she feels helpless. Understanding this, I realized that my partner actions were not about who he claimed I was -- an inept, stupid, worthless woman -- but about who he was, an insecure man trying to feel important at my expense. Knowing this set me free from the labels he forced on me.