That was one of the last things I told Dan, and the more I read up on what was going on in my relationship with him, the more I realize that — even just barely out of the fog of that relationship — I was right.
Why does it matter now?
Does being right about this matter? To a previous target of abuse it does. I believe it matters because targets of abuse were blamed constantly for their abuser’s behavior, and for the consequences of it. So things like this help validate for us that we were not to blame for the abuser’s behavior. It also matters because targets of abuse rarely get closure from their abusers when the relationships ends. They do not get apologies, or any acknowledgment of what was done to them – from anyone, particularly the abuser. They only get more blame. I’m still getting it, no doubt! So, besides validation, we get some sense of closure from having some idea of what was going on there.
Maybe we we need to approach this differently in order to resolve it within ourselves and to be at peace with it. When an abusive relationship ends, we are an emotional piece of battered raw meat with the flies and vultures buzzing ’round. I’ll leave it to the therapists to help us figure out how to heal those wounds and become emotionally whole again. I will say this: It takes TIME. The recovery process from emotional abuse is much more lengthy than people realize – even the targets of abuse themselves.
Dan liked to tell me what an angry person I was
Certainly I became angry with Dan. After (and during) 3.5 – 4 years of being humiliated, constantly criticized, belittled, put down, openly joked about in cruel derogatory ways, called hurtful names, and never forgiven for the tiniest of transgressions (even if I apologized and never committed the “sin” again), you bet I was angry. Anger is a valid response (even if not ultimately constructive) to being repeatedly intentionally HURT by someone. Regarding those transgressions, among them were things like: taking too long to pick out coffee at the market or a seat at a restaurant or something “huge” like that. Being constantly berated and publicly humiliated shreds a person’s self-esteem. The man had a hair-trigger temper and when the verbal bullets came flying, it was as if everything else I was as a person was irrelevant except for my imperfection for not living up to his minutiae of expectations. And he never let up – EVEN if I changed my behavior – it wasn’t good enough. The verbal ‘jabs’ just kept coming. It was all a cache of ammo to him in the war he was waging. Ultimately, I was emotionally battered and walking on eggshells trying to avoid the landmines in his field of control and the endless rounds from his verbal machine gun. And he knew he was doing this to me.
Thrust into the shadow of his anger
Dan was fully aware of his behavior. To a lesser degree he was also aware of his own anger – which is what was behind his behavior. That is to say that while he externally denied his abusive behavior with me, he internally denied the anger behind it even more deeply and is therefore less aware of it. When he blamed me for his abuse, it was through that mechanism that he projected his anger onto me because he couldn’t face it himself. A counselor tried zeroing in what may have been behind this anger – but he was absolutely NOT going there. She used the term “residual anger” in describing what she saw in his behavior towards me. He accused her of “twisting things around”, but she was actually untwisting them.
Dan despised “drama” (anger = “drama”). He was contemptuous of any imperfection or lack of control of himself or others, and could not STAND being “wrong” or any suggestion that he’d ever make any kind of mistake in a relationship himself. What was truely behind his contempt, criticism, oppression, and brutally controlling behavior were likely things that happened to Dan long before I ever came into his life. It had nothing to do with me. Because he so vehemently denied all this, it “came out sideways“, as an admired therapist would say.
As time went on, his verbal battering escalated to occurring on more than a daily basis, and I’d try to cope with it but when I couldn’t take any more I became angry about it all via email or otherwise – blasting him about several incidences of it at once. To him, that made ME a “time-bomb”, “over-sensitive”, and “crazy”, or “PMS”ing. It always made ME something. But in his version of things, it never made HIM anything but innocent. Nevermind the verbal and emotional battering he’d pummeled me with for days or weeks prior. Interestingly, he always left OUT that part of his own “story”.
It was easier for him to believe that he was an innocent bystander and had naught to do with it while I was the monster – than to walk into the shadow of his own unresolved anger. It’s easier to just push someone else into it and make them deal with it. That way he didn’t have to take the responsibility.
In the end, I stopped accepting the blame. And I knew from what I’d read that as soon as I confronted him with his behavior and named it (abuse), and as soon as I stopped accepting the responsibility for his behavior, it would be over.
Below is another good rundown of how verbal and emotional abusers conduct their “crazymaking” wartime psyops (consciously or unconsciously) against their targets, from DailyStrength.com – a self-help website:
One of the most difficult things about identifying and leaving someone who is a psychological and emotional abuser, is the ‘crazy making’ aspects of emotional abuse. REALLY successful abusers hide their abuse incredibly well. They know how to twist and manipulate language, situations and people. They most often present an exterior of calm, rational self-control to others, when in reality, they may be severely emotionally abusive to you behind closed doors, where they try to control others, and drive others to LOSE control.
If an abuser can cause YOU to lose control, it proves how healthy HE is, and how much control he has. Also so he can say, explicitly, or implicitly ‘there you go again, losing it, crying and yelling. I’m not the one who needs therapy, ‘you are!’ Unfortunately, if an outsider sees the abuse at all, often all they see is your hurt often expressed in what they might think is an unreasonable outburst from you, and NOT see the abuse that triggered it. It may make you feel as if you have had all your lifelines withdrawn, as if you are going crazy, because often nobody could believe that this charming, ‘nice’, helpful, and apparently calm man, could be so incredibly psychologically cruel and deliberately hurtful.
Why the anger, control, and abuse said more about HIM than me
Steven Stosny describes what I suspect Dan could not / would not acknowledge or access within himself that caused his constant contempt towards me. This very much describes his behavior, including the namecalling Dan liked to do. He had a collection of names and insults he’d continually slap me around with verbally. The below is from a blog entry on Verbal Abuse at Psychology Today:
Even when it avoids direct negative labeling and seems to focus on behavior, criticism is destructive when filled with blame, when it doesn’t focus on improvement, when it implies that there is only one “right way” to do things, or when it’s belittling.
Critical people tend to be highly self-critical. As hard as they might be on others, they are usually harder on themselves. They were often criticized as children, at least implicitly – the message was clear that, in important ways, they weren’t quite good enough. Self-critical patterns tend to form in early childhood and by late adolescence mutate into chronic criticism of others.
Negative labels in the form of nouns, adjectives, or criticism, like all forms of abuse, are more autobiographical than descriptive – they tell you more about the people who use them than those they are meant to describe.
The difference is responsibility
Now, Dan is as imperfect a human being as any of us. Like everyone, he has his own issues. And he will continue to have them because he won’t even acknowledge that they exist or that he is anything less than perfect. This is typical of abusers. And, it’s why I always contend that their targets have a better chance of recovery or change than abusers do.
It comes down to one big difference between abusers and targets of abuse in regards to their behavior: Responsibility. Abusers tend to take little or no responsibility for their behavior. In sharp contrast, targets of abuse tend to take too much responsibility for the abuser’s behavior (to the extent of changing their own in hopes of changing the abuser’s). Thus, once “out” and in a place where they can begin the process of digging around in their own psychological backyard, targets of abuse will be much more willing to take responsibility for at least trying to change their own behavior in the future than an abuser ever will. With abusers, only their partners change. Their behavior rarely does.
Here’s more from that very complete description of emotional abusers from DailyStrength.com:
Emotional abusers expect to be forgiven for their ‘mistakes’ (otherwise known as abuse) but are unable to forgive their partners for legitimate and often minor mistakes – and will continue to ‘punish’ their partners for those mistakes, long after real apologies and restitution have been made.
Emotional abusers expect their partners to change for them. Unfortunately, the changes the partner makes will never be enough – the abuser will always want more.
...the emotional abuser may do legitimately helpful ‘favors’ for his partner, but again, ones that the partner never asked for. The problem is that the abuser never gives freely or unconditionally. He expects some kind of recompense in return, often without stating what that expectation is. This then gives him another opportunity to feel justified in punishing his partner when she doesn’t live up to his unstated expectations of gratitude and reciprocation. When his partner stands up for herself, you may hear him using phrases like, ‘everything I did, I did for her’, and ‘after all I did for her, THIS is how she treats me!’. Abusers will often complain (especially to others outside the relationship) about how unappreciated they are/were, and how they gave and gave and gave, and got so little in return.
It’s hard to let go of the dream
And here’s another important bit for those of you still holding onto that dream:
Even once we have acknowledged to ourselves, and possibly others, that there is a very serious problem, we may still hold out hope that things will change, that we can somehow ‘work this out’.
It is VERY difficult ‘letting go‘ of the dream of one day being a ‘happy couple’ or family, or to accept that abusers VERY rarely change. But that they refuse to acknowledge or admit that they are causing you or have caused you any serious pain, and refuse to get help for their abusive behaviour or their serious anger outbursts.
In our efforts to maintain HOPE, we can cling to memories of some “good times” together, especially from the beginning of the relationship, when the abuser was on their best behaviour, roping the women into their control, or we may concentrate on the usually brief honeymoon phases, which can take place in between episodes of abuse, lulling you into thinking change has finally come, and hoping it will last. That he has, or will somehow wake up, and truly change. Unfortunately, statistics show that classic emotional abusers, are incapable of change.