Being embarrassed, feeling trapped, and allowing confusion to run rampant are all feelings I had. Although these three are very different, to someone in an abusive relationship they are all connected to one major problem; the inability to get out.
Embarrassment is huge and plays into the silence. What is almost worse than being in a situation where you are treated badly? Letting the world know about it. I was embarrassed that he acted the way he did and that I didn’t stop it. I was embarrassed that I had no control over my life or how I was treated. How could I tell someone what I was going through? They would think I was weak or stupid. They would tell me I had to leave, but I couldn’t bring myself to do that. And when I didn’t leave, they would question me as a person. It was better that no one knew. That way, I had time to fix it. It was nobody’s business anyway. So, I stayed quiet. I even lied. Sometimes no matter how hard you try to hide the fact that you are hurting, there are those that will figure it out. So I told them I was fine, I made excuses for missed events, my temper, and my unwillingness to do anything or support anyone. I was embarrassed, so I stuffed the situation away, where no one would know about it.
Entrapment is something the abuser does. While you are busy feeling embarrassed about your situation, the abuser is busy making you believe that you have nowhere to go. This behavior starts slow and is, actually, quite methodical. They will tell you how worthless you are, how unattractive you are, and how you will never amount to anything. My husband would start with things like putting down my cooking, or how clean the house was. Then it would escalate to personal attacks. “Look at you, no guy would want you.” “You should get your teeth fixed.” “You need to lose weight.” “You can’t have kids, you’ll just get fat.” “Why don’t you fix your hair?” And then, he would start to blame me for everything that went wrong. If the grocery store didn’t have something he wanted, I didn’t look hard enough. If he couldn’t find something, I moved it. If the house wasn’t clean enough, I was lazy. If he hit me, I made him do it. All of these things add up. Pretty soon, I felt unlovable, ugly, and incompetent. How would I survive without him? Would I ever meet someone who loved me? Would I be ok on my own? How could I leave?
Entrapment can also come in the form of threats. Not every abuser is the same or has the same “strategy.” Some use more than one method to keep the abused individual in line. Threats may be physical, emotional, financial, or related to your children. In my case, he threatened to leave me without alimony (which I needed to get on my feet). He would quit his job and not work if he had to. If he wasn’t working, there would be no money to give. Then, he told me he would destroy the car that was in my name. He would tell everyone “the truth about me,” claiming that I cheated on him. Finally, he threatened to find me and “take care of me.” Thankfully, in my situation, his words were just words. But, to many abused individuals, the threats are quite real and you really have no way of knowing. You must be strong and take whatever legal action you can to protect yourself (shelters, restraining orders, staying with someone you can trust, etc.).
Confusion is almost like a disease, in my opinion. It devours every part of you. Confusion stems from the uncertainty that is a part of your life. The insecurities, the threats, the kind words meant to hook you, the doubts…they all culminate into confusion. Even though I routinely tell people that an abusive relationship is not healthy, I remember vividly my heart being ripped in two by my own doubts that it was not really happening. I wanted the man I thought I had married so badly I could taste it. My focus would be on the times he made me laugh, made me a card for my birthday, sang Christmas carols, and made me happy. No matter how few and far between those times were, I wanted them, I needed them. I had married him and I was going to make it work! Then he would blow up on me and I would find myself cowering in a corning wondering who he was and why he was acting this way. It never got better. I never really knew I was making the right decision until weeks after I actually walked out. It just got unbearable. There was a moment where I realized, life really couldn’t be worse. I knew I needed something, but I still held onto a thread of hope that if I walked out the door, he would change. He didn’t. For me, it took months of having to choose to not answer the phone, making a calculated decision to block his number and email, and to allow myself to believe that it was for the best. It escalated and then he finally gave up.
Embarrassment, entrapment, and confusion can control you or you can control them. Dig deep inside and find the strength you once had and hold on to it tight. Look at each feeling you have and determine why you feel that way. Be honest. Seeing it for what it is, is hard. But if you really search, you can find yourself and start living the life you are meant to have.