In my service as an EMT, and doing rotations in the Emergency Department, I observed the results of Domestic Violence. I met women who had cuts, burns, bruises and broken bones. I admit that I had a judgmental perspective then. I was compassionate, but with a superior attitude that I’m ashamed of now. I thought that all victims of domestic violence were easily identified as “battered women” and that they all had low self-esteem, needed to be saved by an outside source, and were to be pitied: Untrue.
Some people still have those misconceptions. I learned more with time and publicly available educational material. I also sadly learned from personal experience. I hadn’t realized it when it was happening, although friends and family expressed concern. Recently I read material that outlined my 5-year relationship in frightening ways. It listed an abuser’s traits by their controlling behavior: Dominance; Humiliation; Isolation; Threats; Intimidation; Denial and Blame.
Each month of every year, the signs were more and more apparent, but I did not see them. The Dominant behavior: My boyfriend made decisions about where we would go, and when. If I expressed disagreement, I would pay for it later with constant complaints and whining, so gradually it was easier to just agree to whatever he chose. I admittedly liked the attention in the beginning of the relationship. He called me every day, several times a day, because he claimed he wanted to hear my voice. I thought it was sweet. Later it was annoying, and eventually like Pavlov’s dog, just hearing the ring tone would cause me great anxiety.
Then I experienced the ever-increasing Humiliation behavior: At first he was very complimentary about my looks, shortly followed by subtle suggestions of how to wear my hair, what I “needed” to look better, and eventually comparing me to other women, pointing out all of their finer qualities, while looking at me in disgust and saying nothing. Later, this escalated to fights that included classic phrases like “who else would put up with your ___ (insults too embarrassing and various to mention).” When I seemed to be overwhelmed by the insults, he could read my mood and would flatter me and give me gifts or do special things for me to put him back in my favor. It was a constant emotional rollercoaster I found very confusing and upsetting.
Isolation was the most recognizable abusive behavior. My friends didn’t like him (because they saw the poor way he treated me and knew he was bad for me). He turned that around to convince me that they were hurting HIS feelings by not accepting him and he didn’t like to be around them. Most of my friends went to my church. He promised to come to church with me, but when push came to shove, he always had a reason to not go. We lived about an hour apart and because he didn’t have a job and I did… It “worked out best” if I drove to his place to visit on the weekends. That kept me there over Sunday morning, missing church and eventually losing contact and involvement with all those people I cared for, including my family.
When my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer on one of our many breaks, my boyfriend and I got back together. We planned that I would quit my job so I could provide hospice care until she passed. At that time my daughter and I would move in with him and split costs. I arranged a part time job in advance so I could pay my half and then concentrated on taking care of my mother. He helped me move certain items ahead of time, like a washer/dryer, refrigerator, freezer, daybed, boxes of movies, etc. After my mother died he decided it was best if we wait a while before moving in together. He still has all my belongings. They are just things and I don’t have him in my life anymore. I win. I know he waited for me to call to get my things, but it was worth it to have him out of my life. No calls. I suspect that he waited to see if I’d get an inheritance and when I didn’t, he cut his losses, keeping what he could.
Threats and Intimidation were never far away. I worked up the courage to break up with him several times during the 5 years. The first time, he fainted. He literally, physically fainted. I wouldn’t leave him lying on his porch unconscious so I stayed and he manipulated me into staying further until he felt better, which lead to giving him until the next holiday, or waiting until his dog was over being sick… there was always an excuse.
Another time I tried to leave he stopped me at the door and physically blocked me. I finally got away, but returned later that week, and when he saw the bruises he made on my arms, he started to cry, promising to never hurt me again. It scared me and I said I forgave him. This escalated to an evening that we went out to a bar (whenever I wanted to talk, he wanted to drink…) and got into an argument. He drove and basically dumped me out of the car on a country gravel road at 1:00 a.m. in the cold. In fact, the door was still open and he peeled away so fast the door knocked me backward and I got scraped up on the road. He came back and insinuated that he “dropped me off” because our fight was a safety issue and he was afraid we would get into an accident. And he DID come back for me, like a knight in shining armor… Hence the Denial and Blame portion of the abuse. I was supposedly at fault in that instance for being a danger to the driver, and the horrible things I said to him must have been the alcohol talking and not me, or maybe the combination of alcohol and one Tylenol I’d taken that afternoon. I was told that my expectations were too high, that I was too needy and I was even lead to believe that I had somehow messed up his projections of what our future would be like because I had an adopted child. He made monthly mention of how that was not his choice and what a good guy he was for accepting me “even though” I had a child.
People consider me to be a smart person. But those who have been abused are not stupid, although they’ve probably been told that over and over again until part of them does believe it. They need reassurance, acceptance and understanding. It may take a long time, but the subject of abuse must forgive themselves, and accept the past while moving forward and away from the negativity. Giving them your patience and compassion will be a great help. Referring them to proper resources will also be helpful so they don’t feel alone. The isolation makes it difficult to interact with others, the humiliation produces embarrassment and an unwillingness to talk about the abuse, while the blame may be so ingrained that the abused individual has trouble getting to the place where they realize it wasn’t their fault. And it wasn’t. It isn’t.
The fear may linger.
A few weeks ago, I got pulled over by the police. I was rushing from school to work and hastily eating a burger while driving. Someone behind me called in to complain that I kept driving over the fog line on the road so I must be drunk. The cop that pulled me over actually had a good sense of humor about the whole thing, and I went on my way; no harm, no foul. It was almost 2 days later when I worked up the courage to tell Blue (who recently became my fiancé and is an RLSH that is serious about road safety). As I explained what had happened I started crying, uncontrollably, and wasn’t even sure why! I was very emotional, maybe at first because I knew he would disapprove of me eating and driving, then because I knew he wasn’t going to yell at me for it, and my fear became relief. Maybe I was overcome by the fact that I was in a REAL relationship and I didn’t have to walk on eggshells anymore.
If the situations I described hit home for you, and you feel trapped, depressed or stressed, maybe you would benefit from talking to someone who can help you evaluate whether or not your relationship is healthy and positive or if you may be abused OR an abuser. Man or woman, either can be the abuser in the relationship. Perhaps until seeing it in black and white, you hadn’t realized that your behavior could be hurtful or that you are being hurt. Though I didn’t have the cuts and contusions that I thought defined an abused person, I did, and do, bear the scars and the fear from being partnered with an abuser. I also have the fight to take back what I need to be happy. I know I’m not alone and neither are you. I, and others like me, will be here if you need to talk, anytime. You are worthy. And we can all find the happiness we deserve.