I just watch the TEDx talk by Leslie Morgan Steiner. She talks about the abuse she endured at the hands of her first husband and more importantly discusses why women and men end up trapped in these relationships. Her final point is one I’ve posted about many times, and that is that abuse only exists when it is hidden. Exposing and talking about it ends it. Abuse thrives on secrets, lies and ignorance. Often when people suspect abuse they are, for some reason, afraid to intervene in any way. We easily tell people our unasked for opinion on a myriad of subjects and yet when it comes to abuse we feel embarrassed? What are we embarrassed about? That we might be wrong? So what?! If you’re wrong, you asked because you care and not because you are making a judgement. If you’re right, you could be the first step in getting someone out of a very dangerous situation.
And that is the other issue, this idea of there being a certain kind of person who abuses. I admit I have made this mistake before. Just the other day I was sent a police update on an arrest of a pedophile and when I saw the pictures I was surprised by the image. He was young, slightly nerdy but handsome enough, he just didn’t “look like the type of person who would abuse children”. I expected some older greasy haired sleaze – WHY? Because we want the person doing something as ugly as abuse to look as ugly and guilty as their crime.
So let us talk about abuse. Let’s have this conversation out in the open and frequently. Let us make everyone around us aware that we do not condone abuse, that we will ask if we suspect abuse, that we are vigilant, and that we will intervene to assist anyone who is being abused and needs our help. We will shine light into every dark corner.
With that being said, I am going to share my story of abuse. I have not really told anyone all of these details before, but I think it would be hypocritical to say we need to be open about violence without being perfectly truthful about my own history even if it was many years ago now.
I met a lovely soft-spoken young man named John in one of my college classes. He was on the shorter side, lean, and had a handsome angular face. I sat next to him one day and struck up a conversation.
We went on a few dates and got on well. He very quickly and often told me he loved me. I thought I was in love also. He told me about his troubled youth, of being abused by a stranger in a park washroom, then of being abused by an uncle. He was damaged emotionally and seemed to suffer, not surprisingly. from psychological trauma from these events. And so when he “acted out” I thought, it was because of his past.
He hated me spending any time with my male friends, and would have all out tantrums. He’d call me repeatedly whenever I was out with a male friend and then leave me hateful messages if I did not answer the phone. If I didn’t bow to his wishes he’s threaten to commit suicide. If he knew where I was he would come to the bar and make a huge embarrassing scene in front of everyone.
My friends did not understand nor know what to do. I am a strong person who does not put up with a lot of BS and I think they were utterly confused as to why I didn’t toss this man aside and tell him to “go f*#k himself”. I lost a lot of friends, or was made to lose a lot of friends by him, either way some of those relationships have not been repaired to this day.
Behind the scenes things were worse, he would be unbelievably loving and needing of my attention and then next he would be angry and accusing me of cheating on him. Some moments I remember: he was mad at me and while lying in bed he punched the bed right next to my face, he dragged me up half a flight of stairs by my backpack, he called me awful/disrespectful names, ha made me cry many, many times. He sought help and then quit and gave excuses as to why “that wouldn’t work for him” and, anyways, my support was more helpful than doctors.
Reading this, you may be thinking that this is not the worst case of abuse you’ve ever read, but that is part of why I stayed even as long as I did. We have to make sure every person who is being abused knows that any level of abuse is NOT ACCEPTABLE.
What were the other reason’s I stayed in this ridiculous situation? He used his past as an excuse for his current behaviour and I allowed him to do so. He made me think that my love and support would help him change, and I went along with that also. He threatened to kill himself if I left him and I could not handle the responsibility of someone else’s blood on my hands. I also accepted his excuses for why he didn’t continue to get help, and I should not have wavered on this.
The biggest reason I stayed though – SHAME. I felt I could not tell anyone about everything that was going on, and so nobody could look me in the eye and say that enough was enough. Nobody could hold my hand and help lead me away from this. I am so happy that I eventually left on my own. I am so grateful that something, I don’t know what, “clicked” and I decided I deserved better. So many women/men/children do not have that moment and they stay 😦
Years later after I had extricated myself from his grasp (and yes, even after I stood up for myself and told him it was OVER, it still took years to fully get him out of my life) I looked back and truly realized that what I had gone through was an abusive relationship. It took years to admit that truth to myself. And it took a long time to face the following:
* Any level of mental or physical abuse is still abuse and is not okay.
* Being a survivor of abuse does not give you a free pass to be an abuser. Abuse, unlike kindness, should not be “paid forward.”
* Love does not fix mental illness or emotional instability. Counselling or some other kind of psychiatric services does.
* You are not responsible for your partner’s life. You can help them connect with services to talk about self-harm thoughts, molestation, anger management, but you cannot take on their problems as yours.
* Support is not infinite. You need to set a timeline for your self and them – and stick to it! I should have committed to cutting off communication with him until he had started counselling and could prove he was attending. And also that if he quit the process of getting help before their counselor/psychiatrist had told me it was recommended that that would also not be acceptable. All forms of abuse your approach should be to extricate yourself from the situation first and have them prove they are ready to get the help they need. Do not stay there trying to cajole them into fixing THEIR problems!
* Don’t trust them. If you are in an abuse situation then the trust has been broken. It needs to be earned back slowly over time. Do not take their word about seeking help, always ask for a third unrelated party to confirm it. If they say that their psychiatrist won’t talk to you or AA is anonymous and therefore nobody can speak with you – do not accept that. Sadly, your beloved partner and abuser is also a well-trained LIAR. They would like life to continue on as it always has. Change is hard, we all hate it and staying the same is so very easy… for them. Not for you, because every day is either hell or potentially going to become a living hell.
* And lastly, I’m going to say this again and again, abuse thrives on secrets and shame. Do you know who should be ashamed in an abuse situation? Ya, the ABUSER. You are not stupid or a dupe because you have been abused. Abusers are master manipulators and they use the most successful angle of all – LOVE. They absolutely use love as a weapon against you. Why should you feel ashamed that you stayed in a relationship because you loved someone and were trying to help them? The person who should be ashamed is the one who hurts the people they love over and over again without trying to stop. I personally feel that every person who is abused, raped, molested, or harmed in other ways should, when they are ready, stand up loud and proud and announce who they are and who hurt them and tell their whole story. Abusers do not want to be exposed and they love when the people they hurt hid in the shadows with them.
Let’s shine a light into every dark corner and let these secrets out. What is your story of abuse?