Sunday, February 8, 2015

A Man Who Beat Me With His Words, Not Fists

"What on Earth is Happening To Me?" 

During my marriage, I did not know what was going on.  I did not have words or context for my situation.  I didn't know what was happening.  Why was life so hard?   Why was I so miserable?  What was wrong with me?

On the nursery school playground, I would listen to the complaints and stories that other mothers had about their husbands.  I would compare my complaints and stories with theirs.  Maybe the bad parts are intentionally left out, you know, for polite conversation?   Maybe my situation isn't so strange?  Maybe if I knew these women better, then I would get down to the truth of their marriage? 

During my marriage, I would minimize the bad stuff that happened.  I would forget.

Part of this was survival tactic.   Part of it was hopeful, wishful thinking.

Maybe, I wished and hoped, we could work out our "communication problems".
Maybe, I wished and hoped, the stress would subside and we would have some peace.

We had everything in place to have a wonderful, beautiful and enviable life.
We had healthy, lovely children.  We lived in a wonderful town.  We had plenty of money.
On paper, our lives looked great.  There was no reason to not live a lovely life.
I kept waiting for things to "calm down".

Things never calmed down.

Identifying Abuse

Lots of us have no experience with the kinds of overt physical abuse that we were carefully taught to avoid.  You know, the kind of abuse where the man punches you in the face.  He wears a 'wife-beater' tank top, and drunkenly comes after you.  The next day, he brings you flowers and weeps for forgiveness.  He promises to do better.   The image that comes to mind in Marlon Brando in "A Streetcar Named Desire".

I totally know how to avoid THAT guy and THAT abuse.  (or so I think)

Movie versions of overt or covert abuse are really really tricky.  Even now, they do not help or educate me.

The abuses of my marriage were more like "Sleeping With The Enemy."  Maybe if They made a movie of my story, it would play that dramatically.  Unfortunately, watching "Sleeping With The Enemy" in my youth taught me nothing about avoiding my marital abuser.   I was never ever educated to avoid the Jekyll-Hyde-Narcissistic-Psychopath that I married.  I had no idea what was happening to me.

There is a film that especially primed me for the abuse, however.  I loved the movie before I met my husband, and I watched it repeatedly.  I found it to be so appealing and compelling.  Tom Hanks is so honest and sincere, emotionally open.  Meg Ryan is so sweet and charming.  Even now, I still love it, but I watch it with a different eye.

A story about a man who deceives and charms a woman who is minding her own business.
She shares her heart with a complete stranger, via email.
The man DESTROYS her way of life (her business).
He is rude and aggressive towards her.
He IGNORES her direct requests that he GO AWAY.
He lies to her.  He charms her.  He insults her.
She allows this man into her life, and they become Friends.
He continues to lie to her, charm her, and insult her.
In the end, he confesses.  She loves him anyway.
And it is supposed to be romantic.

I will write a much more in depth analysis of this film, and how it relates to emotional abuse. 

Abuse?  Abuse. 

No one told me what to do when my husband spit on me, or dragged me across the floor, or screamed at me, raged at me, bullied/coerced me into financial situations, knocked down doors, shoved me into walls.   Oh, and sadly, there is much much more.   None of these abuses occurred until I gave birth.  

No one told me how to identify the signs of emotional abuse, the chipping away of my confidence, and my self-worth.  These abuses began BEFORE I gave birth, but I didn't notice because it was subtle and I had not been educated to know the signs.  

I still don't want to think about it.  I want the past to go away.  Just like, when I was married, I desperately wanted the truth to NOT be the truth.  I wanted everything to be all fixed and perfect and shiny, as it Could Have Been and Should Have Been.  I wanted my life to be the way it Would Have Been, had my husband NOT been a Psychopath.  I wanted my life to be NORMAL.

Shame and Secrets

To use words like “Abuse” and “Domestic Violence” makes me feel uncomfortable, and it makes most other people uncomfortable too.   After all, I don't want to think of myself as Abused, or A Victim.   I still have a desire to minimize the bad stuff.  Maybe this is what makes me resilient?

Focusing on the bad stuff brings me down.  If I think about it, or talk about it, it causes me distress.  Even now, as I write this, my breathing is quickened and I feel anxious and upset.  Cortisol is pumping.  I lived awash in cortisol for too many years.

I think a lot about the concept of Shame in the way that Brene Brown speaks about Shame.   

I find that my story is not a story that I can share with many people.  Lots of women don't want the added drama.  Lots of women simply can not relate.

I think some women can not tolerate hearing my story because they wrestle with an awful story of their own.  If they hear my story, then they have to face the truth of their own abusive marriage.  They would have to do something about it.  And right now, treading water is all they can possibly do.

I know.  I have been there.

And, it's okay.

Telling my story costs emotional energy that I don't want to spend.  I don't want to relive horrors, disappointments, regrets, and shame.  If my story was a wood carving, I don't want another chip or line pressed into it.  Let it be done.  I don't want my story to have any more weight in my life, for it is already too heavy.  If I could let my story fly away on the wings of a white dove, I would.   If I could close my eyes and forget, I would.

I have become very careful with whom I share.

I agree with this advice from Brene Brown about how to choose listeners.

The End Of The Road - Death Threats

I was able to minimize what was happening in my marriage until the death threats began.
Then, fear took over.

My husband began to threaten my life.  Not in the 'wife beater' obvious way "I'm gonna kill you, bitch!"  Nothing that overt.

I made him mad, and he began to describe how I was going to die.  Okay.  That sounds overt!
But, he did it in such a way that he could explain his way out of it (sort of) later.   Psychopathically.
I was rattled so deeply that the truth spilled out at dinner with a group of women friends.

Their reaction changed my life and possibly saved it.

I think of myself, back then, as a fish in a bowl of abusive water.  The abuse was such a normal part of my life, and "Look! Really!  It's not so bad!  I'm swimming in this water!  It must be okay here if I am able to survive!"

My amazing group of women friends rallied around me and said "NO!"

The look on their faces, the fear in their eyes, and the words they spoke told me: This Was Serious and I Was In Danger.

It was the first time I told the truth of my situation to anyone, and it was clear to me why:

To Speak The Truth Meant That My Marriage Was Over.  

Now that the truth was known, my marriage HAD to be OVER.  I was not the kind of person who could stay with an abuser once people knew the truth.   Before I told the truth, I could minimize it and fool myself into thinking that it was okay.  I wasn't trying to be a liar.  I was conditioned for abuse.   These women, who were outside the fishbowl, who had not been conditioned to withstand the abuse, told me that he treated me was NOT okay.  I knew they were right.  I couldn't possible stay with a man like that: a man who beat me with his words.

From now on, I propose that we call it by the correct name: Emotional Abuse is Domestic Violence.

by A.K.A. Rose Lee Mitchell

Great fish shot by Peter Baker on flicker. 
Title "Marie se Toet" 

Used under the Creative Commons License


  1. Thank you for this post! I feel like I could have written the same thing (with a few of the physical abuse details changed), but everything else pretty much described my experience with the most manipulative deceitful person I have ever known. Others think just because he has polished manners in public, that he is a "good man". Too often good manners are assumed to be synonymous with good character. I learned that lesson the hard way. Manners become a tool to increase the power of manipulation for a psychopath.

  2. It is amazing how similar our stories are. I too minimized the abuse until the death threats began, and the psychopath in my life also said them in a way that he could later try to deny or reshape what he meant. But I knew he meant what he said and I knew he was capable of it. In fact I think he's still capable of it if he could get away with it. Telling someone I trusted was my first step to freedom and escape as well. I think that's the most powerful thing you can do if you think you're being abused, tell someone.