“If he’s that nasty, why did you start a relationship with him in the first place? Surely that’s your fault?”
I have had that said to me on many occasions when I crack and tell people that my life is a total lie and I am, in fact, miserably married to an emotional abuser.
What people don’t understand is that no one gets into a relationship with, or even marries a full on abuser. If my husband had acted like he does now when I first met him, I would have run a mile.
Emotional abuse, or any abuse, starts small. People with the tendency to become abusive (that’s a nice way of saying abusers) know that they have problems with control or with anger, and at the start of a relationship, they are good at hiding and trying to act ‘normal’.
There are little red flags that pop up from the beginning of the relationship, but you tend to put them down to ‘normal’ behaviors at first. It’s only later on when things start to escalate that you think back and realise that you should have taken more notice of those red flags at the beginning.
The sudden bursts of anger.
The bouts of silent treatment.
The dismissing of your feelings.
The annoyance instead of compassion when you are upset.
These are all things that are easy to shrug off at the beginning. You tell yourself that maybe they are having a bad day and you begin the never ending cycle of making excuses for them.
Slowly, they begin to get worse as their mask slips. It’s usually during pregnancy when the abuse reaches it’s peak, because now, they have you trapped.
You’d think that’s when you’d leave them, right?
Sadly, that’s usually never the case. By that point, they will have done a complete number on you. You will probably be at the point where you think that it’s you who has a problem and not them.
They will have gaslighted you (manipulated you by psychological means into doubting your own sanity) so successfully that you are probably saying sorry to them all the time.
Months and years of emotional abuse wears you down to the point where you don’t know who you are anymore.
You are told how to act, what and what not to say and do to the point where you try to change everything about yourself. All your idiosyncrasies that seemingly annoy the other person have to be changed. They tell you that they don’t like a certain phrase you use, a facial expression you make or the way you laugh. They tell you that you look or sound stupid and get angry with you. So you make a conscious effort not to do those things anymore, killing off little bits of yourself as you go in the hope that it will make them nicer to you.
It’s like, as my husband once said to me, training a dog. Yes, those were the exact words he used – “I am training you like a dog”.
My reaction to that should have been to tell him to fuck off, but by that point, I had learned that telling him to shut up would leave me in a worse situation, one where he would get incredibly angry at me or one where he would sulk, going into a silence and have me panicking about when his temper would blow and what he would do.
With emotional abusers, everything is always your fault.
They are masters of turning situations round to make themselves look like the victim. If they are shouting at you and you dare to shout back, they will immediately go calm and quiet while you shout and cry and then they will say, “look at you! Shouting and crying, I told you, you are mental!” They will then deny that they were ever angry. They might even call you abusive.
It drives you insane.
So you decide to become cold and detached, because by that point, you don’t love them. You don’t even like them, but most of the time you are trapped by circumstances (money, housing, children) that mean you can’t leave.
Not that they would let you leave anyway, because that would make them look bad.
So you try and live your own life and not think about them. This is when they realise that something is up and that they are losing their hold on you; this is usually when the love bombing starts. They tell you how much they love you all the time, they might even start doing things around the house or looking after the children for the first time in their lives.
The first time they do that, you believe them. You think that they have realised how horrible they have been and that they have changed for the better. You kid yourself that they feel bad for the way they have treated you and that this is how life will be from now on. And then one day, they switch back. The baby cries for too long, or you annoy them in some miniscule way and the switch is flipped again and the act is over and the real, angry, manipulative them is back.
So you go back to walking on eggshells all the time, behaving exactly as they want so they don’t lose their temper with you.
Life is easier when you keep your head down and get on with everything, and when they find something to pick you up on, as they always do, you make yet more adjustments to yourself to try and make your life easier.
The thing with emotional abusers is that you think no one will believe you when you try to tell them how bad it is. Firstly, they have put it into your head that you are crazy (you will probably be on anti-depressants by this point just to cope with life with them, so you might believe them), that you are a bad parent, that you couldn’t cope on your own, that no one likes you or that you are lucky to have them because they are an amazing person who loves you and is only hard on you because they care so much.
The maddening thing is that they are usually very popular.
They will have work colleagues, friends and family who think they are wonderful and who will tell you how lucky you are to have them, which makes you second guess yourself even more. You don’t leave because you know you will be made out to be the mad one (you are on anti-depressants, after all), the bad parent, the bad wife, the lazy stay at home Mum who has the unbelievable cheek to ask for help after a day sat on her arse when her husband works so hard to pay the bills.
You think no one will believe you, or help you and life is very lonely.
It can take years to recognise that their behaviour isn’t normal and it’s them who has the problem, not you, but even then, it’s hard to leave. They won’t let you go and the abuse ramps up.
When you finally snap and have enough and tell them that their behavior isn’t normal and you want to leave, they will twist your words and turn everything around on you. They wouldn’t be so angry if you weren’t so infuriatingly stupid, they wouldn’t be so controlling if only you would just listen to them and realise they are right all the time.
I don’t have any answers I’m afraid. But really, it isn’t you who has mental or emotional problems, what ever they tell you. It’s them who is the ill one.