While I was with my abuser, he had a few (false!) lessons for me to learn. He successfully taught me some of them, and others he failed to teach me before I left him:
- I’m not valuable or important.
- I have nothing to say that is of interest or worth to others.
- I cannot take care of myself without him.
- I am not lovable.
Many of these things I am still working to unlearn. Part of the difficulty, for me, is that many of these are core messages I learned growing up in an abusive home. Lessons I thought I had overcome until my marital partner reinforced them, subtly re-teaching them. An adult/adult relationship is abusive in a different, and often more covert, way than a child/adult relationship.
1. I was continually taught that my value was insignificant. Every time he chose to spend time on his computer instead of with me, every time he broke his promises, every time he was late, every time he made a “joke” about things he didn’t like about me, he showed me how much I did (or didn’t) matter to him. I was less important than pretty much anything or anyone else in our lives. I was the only one he was not kind or considerate to. The world got his “mask of respectability”, I got reality.
2. Every time I began a conversation when he was nearby, he took it over. I remember frequently standing with the ladies at church, in conversation, and he would leave his conversation with the gentlemen, walk across the church, join my conversation and take it over, changing the entire direction of the conversation in many situations. If I offered advice, he would disregard it and offer completely opposite advice. He spoke in such a manner that if you did not take his advice, he would act offended. If he gave advice to me, I was expected to follow it without question. If I chose my own path, he punished me with a silent treatment, withdrawal of intimacy, or insults cloaked in criticism… and if my way was not effective, it was held against me as evidence that he was right and I was wrong. He silenced me. I’m taking back my voice!
3. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t accomplish anything. It is his support that helps me maintain a good job. It is his resourcefulness that helps us find a good place to live, or a good deal on a vehicle. It is his intelligence that keeps the relationship together. When I got sick, needed surgery or had a child, he was actually really amazing in his support. He was there to hold my head, or my hand… as long as it didn’t interfere with his needs. In private, he would complain and ignore me. He knew that, in moments of extreme need, people would be watching to see how well he took care of me and he stepped up to the plate. He was only available when others expected him to be… and they were watching. After we separated, he called Child and Family Services on me a number of times to complain that my home was too dirty…. They investigated his reports three times until finally he was asked in court what his goal was and he stopped reporting me. Ironically, he has not been allowed in my home for 7 years, so his reports were based on assumption and lies. His goal was to get me to return to him, to show me I couldn’t take care of the home without him.
When our youngest child was 8 months old, we had to move for his new employment. I was contending with a 3 year old and a nursing infant, he was unemployed. While I cared for children, prepared meals, cleaned the house, and packed, he played on his computer, slept, visited with friends and watched TV. I wasn’t able to keep up with the tasks and fell behind. The night before the move, I did as much as I could, including taking apart beds. I told him I was taking the children to my parents for the night and he could finish packing. He had slept in late and played all day, so I left him to pack all night. When I returned the next morning, his parents had arrived and he was busily filling boxes. I heard them asking him why we weren’t finished packing already as I walked up to the door and saw the look they gave me when he answered that I was at my parents. He hadn’t packed anything while I had been gone. Just as much work remained as when I left the night before. It was a recurring story, I’d beg for his help in cleaning before company came over and he’d only start when the company started to arrive, so he would look like the amazing hero husband, doing the dishes or vacuuming. He only helped when someone was looking, and even then blamed me because it wasn’t done properly or on time.
4. How can I be lovable if the people who are supposed to love me, or the people who have pledged to love me …. don’t? This has become a recurring message in my life. I am lovable only if I meet their needs. I am only lovable if I have something to offer them. As soon as I become difficult, as soon as I express myself, as soon as I am no longer needed, the love stops. He didn’t have to do much to reinforce that I was unlovable, he only had to treat me in an unloving manner, which he did well. We went through the 5 Love Languages and learned how each of us interpreted love, he stopped “speaking” my love language while demanding that I speak his. (again showing low unimportant I was to him). We attended another (amazing!) program, and again he used the knowledge gained there about who I am to harm me. We attended marital counseling and in one hour, the counselor summarized our relationship as each of us being resentful toward to the other, yet in years to follow my ex only ever remembered that I was resentful of him.
His love was given conditionally. If I didn’t meet his conditions, he punished me by withdrawing affection, time and money. When that stopped working, he started punishing me by accusing me of cheating on him, and finally by hurting the children.
An abusers emotional abuse is very specific. They research their victims diligently and use every morsel of information against them. They do not blindly use a “one size fits all” method, but target the areas where the victim is already weak. They seek out areas we are trying to improve and chip away at the foundation we are building, causing it to collapse underneath us, often without our noticing because they are replacing it with themselves… until they withdraw themselves and we find we are dependent upon the very person destroying us.
I’m learning that my value is not dependent on anyone else. My value comes from God, from within.
I’m learning that sometimes I have great ideas. My friends appreciate my feedback and often seek my input. I’m listened to and my suggestions are considered. I’m still working on speaking with confidence. I have a wisdom to share and pray that my words help others.
I have learned that I can live far better without him that I did with him. It was a house of smoke and mirrors we lived in. What looked real was false. I am fully capable of caring for myself, my children and my home without his input — and reality has shown that I can do it better.
I’m learning that I am loved and lovable because I am a daughter of God, because my friends continue to stick around (because, let’s face it, we often need God with skin on), because I am now able to take inventory of myself, to see that, while I make mistakes, I’m a pretty decent person overall. I’m not perfect. I still mess up, I still try to sabotage some relationships, to test whether I’ll be loved unconditionally.
I can see the lies in his lessons.
I am learning new lessons based on truth.