Just when I think I have a grip on my past, I learn something new. I came across two articles this week, both of which dealt with the mind games and brainwashing that occur in an emotionally abusive relationship. Now, it wasn’t that I didn’t know that he manipulated and slowly transformed me into giving up myself and my ideals on how life should be. There is a very clear transformation across the years I was with him. Each year, I gave up more and more, and strived to be the woman he wanted me to be. But, even as I have been working on my book, and reliving all of those moments, I could never understand why he would build me up at certain points.
He encouraged me to take the good job, he left the finances in my hands, he trusted me make large purchases such as our home and car, and he planted the seed and encouraged me to go to law school. When the man who continuously puts you down, slowly pulls you from your loved ones, and rarely has something nice to say, is also the one encouraging you to be your best, it can be very confusing. Each time he told me how successful I would be in an endeavor, or entrusted me with large financial decisions, he would make me question if he was really that mean to me.
In one of the articles, the author stated, “I wish this would come up on Google as often as the ‘If he checks your email and cuts you off from friends’ stuff does. Because it’s easy to tell yourself everything’s fine if you can’t find your exact situation. It’s easy to say you’re different.” I WAS IN AN ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIP AND DIDN’T EVEN KNOW IT
I have found, through my own experience, as well as conversations with other survivors, that many of us feel this way. In my situation, it started with emotional abuse and later escalated to physical abuse. No matter what happened though, I believed that my life wasn’t that of an abuse victim. After all, he never put me in the hospital or broke any bones. Other women had it much worse than me.
The second article really hit home. After reading this article, I was left wondering if there wasn’t a manual somewhere that teaches abusers exactly what to do in order to control their significant other. It was as if the author had taken words directly from my book and used them to write her blog post. As I was contemplating this, a message from my friend ensured I was not alone in my thought process. “What? Do they have a class in highschool teaching guys how to be abusive without getting caught?” She was frustrated and floored, as was I.
What hit even closer to home was the cycle of abuse that was described in this article. For the first time, in the seven years that I have been scouring the internet without fear of being caught, someone described my “exact situation” to perfection. Finally, I have a reference point that puts my final questions to rest. The article explains my relationship with my husband down to the letter. Why did he encourage me and build me up at certain points in our life? Well, this article lays it out down to the very words he used. It is worth the read as I can only address how it worked in my life.
My husband started by working to destroying my self-worth. Once I lacked the self-confidence that he once claimed to admire, he started blaming me for anything and everything. He blamed me for his behaviors and anything that happened that was not to his liking. Soon, I was apologizing for everything I did and, then, for everything that I was. Pretty soon I had no faith in myself, believing that I was innately a bad wife and person. When you doubt your own internal goodness, it is easy to start doubting your own mind. If he did something to hurt me, he acted as if nothing happened. If I believed something did happen, he told me I was the crazy one. Sooner or later, I was nervous all the time and constantly paranoid that I was not the person I needed to be; that he needed me to be. I believed I was going insane, living things in my mind that didn’t really happen.
But just when things seemed to be at their worst, he would build me back up in some small way. He would say the house looked nice, tell me my quesadillas could be served in a restaurant, tell me I was a good writer, or encourage me to go to school. The next paragraph is so on point, that only a quote will do it justice.
“The moment an abuser begins to feel the victim is “slipping from their control,” they will re-assault their identity. This will begin the process all over again. Victims continue to believe in the ideas of their abusers long after they have left the abusive environment. The new belief system has been so deeply rooted, it could take years to change.” 8 Steps that Explain “Why She Doesn’t Leave”
This idea hit close to home. It explained so much about what I didn’t understand. Even his perceived kindness was nothing more than another means of manipulation, and some of the ideas he planted even haunt me today. What is almost more difficult than hearing the truth, is accepting it fully. Even now, I want to believe that he was a misguided soul, someone who really didn’t intend to hurt me. But, as is the case in the healing process, some concepts have to be understood and developed as we are ready to deal with them.
It doesn’t matter if your story is the same as mine, or the same as someone else’s. You may not think that you are suffering to the same extent as another victim, or that you can check off the boxes on the “checklist of domestic abuse.” There is no checklist. Each story is different. There are guidelines and stories, meant to help steer you in the right direction. If you are concerned you are being abused, but you are not sure, reach out to someone who can direct you. Pick up the phone, write an email, or talk to someone you can trust. Silence keeps abuse in check. Start talking and you will find the truth and freedom.