Abuse starts quietly. Hidden. So subtle you miss it.
A couple years ago, one of my best friends started dating a man who she thought was amazing. She was a few years out of her abusive marriage and this new man courted her diligently… except… he badmouthed her family, unfortunately for some legitimate reasons. Instead of viewing her families actions in a situational manner, he got very offended and convinced her they were treating her very badly all the time. I was able to travel to visit her a few months after they started dating and he made little to no attempt to get to know me. In fact, he made her chose between spending time with me and spending time with him, despite that we saw each other only a couple weeks out of the year. He convinced her that I didn’t like him. The few occasions we spent time together, he would snub me from conversations and act as if he’d rather be anywhere else.
When a conversation falters, when you are snubbed from conversation often enough, it’s difficult to engage. It is even more difficult for observers to recognize who is the cause of the faltering conversation.
I didn’t like how he spoke to her, how he frequently treated her with disdain, how he spoke of her children. He treated her in a very similar manner to how my ex-husband treated me in the early years. In convincing her that I didn’t like him, he discredited my concerns when she shared about their relationship, which solidified his accusations towards me.
Abuse is a hidden epidemic and it’s hiding in plain sight. Abusers cannot hide their every abuse. Part of the problem is that new love can be blind. We don’t want to believe people are abusive. We want to believe that our instincts are better than that, that we would clearly recognize people who treat us badly. It’s not easy to see the pattern. For those who have escaped and survived abusive relationships previously, it’s challenging to balance seeing abuse behind every action and our hope for a better relationship. We are afraid we are “over-reacting” — just like we are frequently accused (that’s a part of the victim blaming) — and we try to compensate.
We have to be aware of our healing journey, just as we need to be aware of the red flags of abuse. AND, if that abuse looks differently than what we experienced before, it can make it even harder to recognize. We must surround ourselves with a community, allow ourselves to be held accountable in our relationships and trust our own instincts.
My friend? She finally saw through his facade. She broke up with him. He went on to marry someone else and his abuse escalated to life threatening assaults against his new wife.
We must not continue to tell victims they are over-reacting to situations. We must give ourselves grace and mercy as we explore in new relationships.