There’s an old saying; “trick me once, shame on you, trick me twice, shame on me. It is sage wisdom that holds up to the test of time. To be tricked, is to not know what is being perpetrated upon you, so it’s not your fault. Ah, but to let it happen again, that’s on you. When someone show’s you their true intentions, or lack of integrity, take notice! With verbal and emotional abuse, you need to be even more diligent because it’s not always so apparent. If a partner is abusive once, there should be no opportunity for him* to abuse you again. NONE. Because he will, and you will either make excuses, or it will become an insidious type of abuse that you don’t even really realize is happening, until you have either wasted so much time or have become trapped, or worse.
I write of what I know. I did not have many male role models in my life and the lacking somehow caused me to put men up on a pedestal. If only my father had lived to see my fourth birthday, I knew my life would have been so different. Not that my life was bad, but I had a deep aching for a male figure and the sort of love that only a father can give. As a young girl, my favorite Uncle would visit from South America. Each time he left, I was bereft down to the core. I would cry and cry. In the 1960’s, it was not common place to send a child to counseling, but I clearly needed it; just to sort out my confused ideas as well as properly grieve my father’s death, which was never really explained to me. He collapsed from a stroke and then I just never saw him again.
Upon becoming a young woman, the desire for a father figure morphed into the desire for a husband figure. I was 14 and my first boyfriend was five years my senior. We dated for 3 years and not until he was faced with the idea of losing me did he ever treat me with the kindness and respect that every young woman deserves. It’s important to know that the pattern of accepting abuse begins somewhere, so you need to stop it before it starts. For me, the worst incident was during a verbal argument in his car, he drove to a scarey state mental institution. He took me to the gates, told me that’s where I belonged and forced me out of the car. It was terrifying. There were no cell phones, it was too far to walk and it was pitch black out for God’s sake! I never told anyone about this, because I felt ashamed, like I somehow deserved it. This was the behavior of a manipulative bully. He made me feel like I had no control and left me in an unsafe position. I suppose he came back to pick me up, I don’t remember, but I do remember I continued to go out with him.
I was clearly in an inferior position; I was younger, naïve, and cared more about the relationship than he did….until I didn’t. And THAT is when I regained my power. Suddenly, I was treated like a princess, taken out and showered with gifts. This is fairly typical behavior of an abuser. When I finally cut the cord, he “escalated” humiliating me and physically attacking me. Not so bad that anyone took notice; and I will admit I hid it. He ripped my bathing suit top off of me in my front yard, as my mother lie in a hospital bed in the back room of our house. He ripped it so hard that he gave me a “rug burn.” Driving off in his hot shot car, he left me in shame to gather the strips of fabric and run inside before any of my neighbors saw what had transpired. I quietly opened that back door, slipped past my gravely ill mother and went upstairs to get dressed and wash the tears from my face.
Later standing outside my house with my best friend, he came back and threw a $20 bill at my feet. “Buy yourself a new suit,” he said, without an ounce of remorse, as if that fixed it. He drove away staring at me with venomously. As soon as he drove away, I took the bill and ripped it to shreds so he could see. He reversed the car, got out, and twisted my arm till I was on my knees, forcing me to pick up the tattered bits of currency. Once he was gone, I made a joke of it to my friend; found every last piece, taped it together, swung it in the air, and triumphantly said “Grateful Dead tickets, on me!” I never wanted my pain to be seen or appear weak. So humor was my armour.
The next boyfriend didn’t come for a year or so. He was no charm either. He was a controlling, cheater, who was “OK” as long as I played by his rules; if I didn’t, he was cruel and vengeful. (Thankfully it didn’t last long because I truly fell in love and that relationship got me away from him.) I don’t blame myself, but I accept responsibility for my part in it. That is important to me in order to heal.
This pattern would continue despite my best efforts to halt it. Some of these men went on to be, to the best of my knowledge, good husbands and fathers. Maybe it was me? So when it came time to choose a permanent life mate, I picked someone totally different. Guess what? He was the worst of all, and genuinely was a danger to women.
So, what does this have to do with you? There are many reasons people tolerate bad behavior; mine were very low self esteem as well as a lack of any healthy “couple” role models. We don’t even realize we are accepting abuse because we don’t have a healthy frame of reference. We make excuses, put other people’s feelings ahead of our own, or just start a bad pattern at a young age and never know how to fix it. I tried to fix mine, and I made it worse!!
I’ve gone to many Billy Joel concerts in my life and he ALWAYS closes the show by saying “and remember, don’t take any shit from anybody.” He has told millions of people that countless times. It’s such simple advice. If you are not treated with the respect you deserve, that is NOT love. You will just end up feeling worse and worse about yourself , till you end up with a full fledged batterer, mental abuser, or emotional terrorist. That charismatic, handsome, person who stole your heart is not going to suddenly become thoughtful, considerate, and kind if he did not start out that way. Most abusers are in fact usually quite charming and adept at gaining trust. With time, however, they subtley change and we grow to accept behavior that would make us cringe if we were to witness someone else as the recipient.
No matter what age you are, think about this. Abuse can be blatant or subtle. Learn the signs!
- Teasing or putting you down in front of others
- Caring so much about you that you feel smothered
- Controlling what you wear or your hairstyle
- Undermining your hopes and dreams (belittling you)
- Cutting you off from any friends or family (isolation)
- Making you think YOU are the one with the problem (this is called gas lighting in extreme cases)
- Trying to make you doubt your own perceptions (crazy making)
- Extreme jealousy (controlling)
Now this might all sound very obvious or benign, but it’s not. Most abusers who do not seek help, do not suddenly get better. Remember my first story? He showered me with attention and did a total 180 degrees, however, when his efforts didn’t work, he got violent. Was I fearful for my life? No, but we live in different times. Bad behavior in general has become more accepted. Domestic violence is an incredible and growing problem that is, in my opinion, not being addressed seriously enough. One in three women murdered were killed by an intimate partner. It is for this reason that we need to talk to our young girls about relationships before they start dating. Teaching them boundaries and self respect will help them to pick suitable mates as well as friends in general. Point out unacceptable behavior when the opportunities arise. Encouraging young women to seek other outlets that are as equally fulfilling as a relationship will give them much needed balance in there life, such as career, hobbies, friends, etc.
Abuse me once – you showed your hand. That’s it! – Easy for me to say, because I only see this in retrospect, with a lot of counseling, and more than “a little help from my friends.” In my golden years, I remain alone by choice and am taking the time to discover my true passions. There is no one like you! YOU deserve a happy life that includes neither pain nor abuse. Choose wisely, and when necessary walk away quickly. Trust me! It will be awful, but honestly, there is a happier ending waiting for you down the road. And it might not even involve a man. YOU get to choose the life you want. And honestly, don’t take any shit from anybody!
- Authors note: This article was written for a site for women, but men are abused in relationships as well. If you are a victim of abuse – please reach out to a professional or a local support agency.
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