Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Telling My Story: Power, Control, and Crazy Making

The first part of my story is here.

A note on pronouns:  I’m using female pronouns when I speak of victims and male pronouns when I speak of abusers because this is true in the vast majority of reported abuse cases, but I want to note that the gender roles can be interchanged.

Abusers thrive on power and control, isolating their victims from any support network they may have. The fewer resources a victim has, the greater control the abuser can exert.

My three most precious relationships were with God, my parents, and my best friend. He quickly went to work separating me from all three. It took time. He was patient. Eventually, I was all his.

By the time I became miserable and frightened, I felt completely alone. I thought I had no one to talk to, no one who would help me. So I stayed, because I didn’t know what else to do. I thought I was trapped. I thought I had no choice.

I had also fallen prey to brainwashing and
traumatic bonding. Healthy relationships are formed on bonds of love, trust, and mutual care and respect. A traumatic bond occurs when one partner dominates and intermittently abuses the other. The victim is isolated, dependent, and worn down from navigating the abuser’s moods and simply trying to survive. With few to no outside resources, she turns to the person closest to her: the abuser. The abuser reinforces this bond during honeymoon periods, where he is kind and caring and makes her think maybe there is hope after all.

I was relieved to learn of this common dynamic because I did turn to my abuser for comfort and didn’t understand why. When I was frightened and miserable, he held me. When he asked why my heart was racing, I lied about anxiety over work or school. I craved protection and solace and sought it in his arms. I took this as further proof that there was something wrong with me, and I had plenty of that because my abuser particularly excelled at a technique known as “crazy making” (something else I was relieved to learn about later).

Crazy making is just what it sounds like: the abuser deliberately engages in behaviors that make you think you are the crazy one. He was good at it. He enjoyed manipulating and messing with me. Verbal Abuse Journals has many good examples. These particularly struck a chord with me:

Crazy makers give you plenty of reasons to be upset, stressed out and angry, but tell you that you imagine drama where there is none and have no excuse to feel angry.

Crazy makers flip their mood on a whim. One second they’re sweet and kind, the next second they’re in a boiling rage. They blame you for their ugliness and credit themselves for their good behavior.

Crazy makers will rape you and then pretend they didn’t. Because of your intimate sexual relationship, you question your perception and think that maybe you misinterpreted the event.

Crazy makers twist your words, dart from topic to topic during arguments, and use your confusion to wear you down during arguments.

The more off-balance I was, the greater his power and control over me. After attempting to reason and fight it for a while, I simply capitulated. It was exhausting and I needed every precious bit of energy that remained to simply survive.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Telling My Story: An Introduction

I need to tell my story. 

I don’t necessarily want to tell my story. It’s painful to relive. It’s been 10 years since I left, but I’m still processing, still healing, still learning what it means to be a survivor and how best to curate my story. I will be doing that for the rest of my life.

It’s important to define my purpose in writing this. It isn’t simply to share lurid details. There are plenty of those, and I may share a few, but not for the sake of shock. Despite recent increased discussion about domestic violence, the voice of the survivor seems silent. The predominant question remains: “Why does she stay?”

We need to reframe the conversation. Each abusive relationship is unique. Perhaps by sharing my experience, one less person will ask, “Why did she stay” and one more person will ask, “How can I help?”

This is how I got trapped, why I stayed, and how I left and began to heal.

This is what domestic violence looked like for me.

The Beginning

I met my abuser in July 2002. I was a temp. He came into the office where I was working. His friend was supposed to run the errand that day, but had flaked, leaving it to him. It seemed like fate at the time.

He was charming and interested in me. I was naïve, insecure, and depressed. He saw that and knew how to use it against me.

We saw a movie and went out for ice cream. He was a perfect gentleman. I was giddy.

I want to emphasize this: our relationship started like any other. Chance meeting, flirting, goofy grins, butterflies. As my counselor later told me, it’s not like he was wearing a shirt emblazoned with, “I am an abuser.” I just thought I had met a great guy. I didn’t know.

I had some misgivings early on, particularly when I found out he didn’t share my faith. I nearly called it off, but decided to give him a chance because I doubted myself and thought “he could still be a good guy.”

He kept up the “good guy” façade long enough to reel me in.