Lindsey . . .
“I take you out for your birthday and this is how you act!”
I sat across from my boyfriend, tears in my eyes, a held-back sob painfully sticking in my throat. Only moments before I had disappointed him with my inability to attract the attention of the host frantically running around the restaurant, seating other customers. He expressed this disappointment by telling me how worthless I was in front of a long line of patiently waiting strangers. At the table, he whined how I was an ungrateful bitch. Angry and humiliated, I sat there and listened to him complain, trying to swallow my shrimp dumpling around the ever growing lump in my throat. I hated him at that moment, but I hated myself even more.
The scary part to that story is not his behavior in public, but rather the inner turmoil it created in me.
I didn’t realize I was in an abusive relationship . . . abusers are master manipulators and master charmers.
I began to wonder if I really was an ungrateful bitch, if I actually deserved that type of degrading treatment. How could someone who claimed to love me be so cruel? Maybe I deserved his resentment. Maybe I picked that squeaky shopping cart just to annoy him. Maybe I should have cooked more for him. Maybe I was lazy and worthless. Maybe I burned that toast just to piss him off.
Most people ask, “Why stay with someone who treats you like that?” I must have asked myself that a million times while we were dating. The problem lied in the fact that I didn’t realize I was in an abusive relationship. It’s the least talked about form of abuse and quite possibly the most prevalent. And everyone thinks they would never allow themselves to be in an abusive relationship. I certainly thought I was smarter than that. But abusers are master manipulators and master charmers. They know how to expertly play with your emotions to get their desired results. He never hit me. I had no outward scars or bruises. It was subtle and manipulative. The moments that he lashed out were unpredictable. I worried constantly about displeasing him, in fear of instigating another outburst. My low self-esteem and insecurities kept pulling me back to him. Maybe I could try to be a better girlfriend. Maybe he wouldn’t yell at me if I cooked dinner right. Maybe if I just achieved perfection he would love me the way I deserved to be loved.
Christa . . .
“I’m telling you, if you leave this house right now to go out with your sister, I’m taking the kids to my mom’s and telling everyone that you went out to get drunk.”
This may seem like a harmless and empty threat, but to me it would have been devastating to my world. I was raised Apostolic Pentecostal and drinking one glass of anything alcoholic is considered a sin. My husband’s family were all devout Pentecostals, and I would have been severely judged had I even walked into a bar. I wasn’t planning on getting drunk, but that would not have been the story told to my in-laws.
My sister called me earlier that day, upset over something that took place between her and her boyfriend. She needed someone to talk to and so we arranged a sister date to have a couple glasses of wine together. What unfolded later that evening was just one of the many times that my husband used manipulation to control anything and everything that I did.
“Hey Lindsey, I’m really sorry but I can’t go out with you tonight,” I ashamedly said into the phone.
“Why on earth not?! We’re not going to be out late, I just really need someone to talk to right now. I just pulled into the drive, I’m coming in,” she replied.
Over the next several minutes she pleaded with my husband to allow me to go with her to Molly’s, a wine bar downtown. I stood there silently as my sister’s voice began to grow louder and louder, while my husband patronizingly held his hands over our daughter’s ears. He kept saying he was being the responsible parent and husband. He wouldn’t allow me to go out because he knew I had class the next day. He was unrelenting and I was too afraid to contradict him for fear of being portrayed as an irresponsible mother and drunkard. Lindsey fled the house, shaking and sobbing, even more upset than before. I remained, feeling a prisoner in my own home.
I justified all of the emotional abuse by telling myself “it could be worse.”
Abuse occurs in so many different forms. It can dip and rise as violently as a roller coaster. Luckily, I came to a point in my life that I decided it was enough. I couldn’t take any more emotional abuse and I made the toughest decision I’ve ever had to make. Leaving isn’t easy. Divorce, when you’ve spent half of your life with one person, isn’t easy. And divorce when you have three children isn’t easy. My husband used the prejudice of those around me to make leaving him as difficult as possible. He turned his entire family against me. He manipulated our entire community into believing I was taking the easy way out of our marriage.
The brutal reality of my experience is that far too many have found themselves in similar situations. Emotional, verbal, and physical abuse may start in subtle ways, such that the victim doesn’t recognize the behavior as abuse. I justified all of the emotional abuse by telling myself “it could be worse.” I consider myself lucky for the fact that the torment I was put through made me who I am today; a strong and independent woman.
We were both lucky. However, not all victims are that fortunate. Some abuse ends in death, or serious psychiatric issues and PTSD. If we can bring more awareness to the world, more education and guidance on knowing the signs of abuse, then maybe we can prevent someone from becoming a victim.
Learning to love ourselves is only the first step . . .