Benevolent Abuse

One of the most insidious aspects of abuse is manipulation through money and gift-giving. People often wonder how women are lured into abusive relationships and why they stay so long. Gifts and money play a huge part. Abusers often use physical things as substitutes for true emotion and genuine caring. They initially shower their partner with what seems to be generosity and adoration–buying dinner, flowers or going on trips. When the abuse starts to surface and they begin breaking their partner down, the gifts become intermittent and usually come with apologies for mistreatment.

Sometimes, an abuser will create dependency in the relationship by “helping” their partner to pay for life’s necessities. These “favors” come with no explicit price and may even be presented as gifts. “I just want to help out.” The abuser will not reveal their price until they need it. Even then, the price is often vague and only hinted at in terms of “showing gratitude.” Payment can be any amount and repayment can be drawn out for any amount of time, giving the abuser complete control.  Playing off of their victim’s sense of guilt and fairness is readily employed.

By “helping” and “gifting,” abusers gain the upper hand and keep their victims indebted to them. Victims are enslaved by guilt and fear and most of all–manipulation. In the abuser’s twisted mind, they might see themselves as benevolent benefactors, philanthropists even. And to the public, they seem generous and caring. Their partners carry the weight of their debt which only grows heavier when outsiders gush about how lucky they are to have such a generous partner. To contradict such comments is to appear ungrateful, greedy, or selfish.

A good example of this type of behavior can be seen in movies about organized crime. Mafia or gang bosses will give lavish gifts, loans, or “help” only to ask for a “favor” when the time comes. These favors usually involve some sort of moral compromise and might even cause injury or prove fatal. Whether it be organized crime, romantic relationships or family relationships–the tactics and the goals are the same.

Being subject to this type of abuse has deeply diminished my trust in others. It has also impacted my self-esteem in that it’s made me feel selfish and low–first for ever needing help, then for not showing my gratitude enough or in the right way. Most of all, it’s caused me to accept more abuse. When I’ve asked for kindness, respect or compassion, I hear, “After all I’ve done for you!..I’ve never heard a thank you…When is it ever enough for you?” Then, on top of feeling slighted, I also feel selfish and less-than.

I contemplated different ways to escape my last relationship. I attempted to run away only to be followed and brought back. I even managed to leave a couple of times, only to be lured back. One of the hardest parts about leaving is you have to have some place to go–not just physically, but in your heart. There has to be a piece of you that loves you more. Leaving almost killed me. And when I left, I thought I was done for good. I was taken in by another ex who wasn’t much better than the last. As we were packing my things, my roommate reminded me of all he’d done for me and how ungrateful I was. I wanted to hit him and spit in his face.

Tomorrow I will move to a new town an hour away. I have a new job and live ten minutes away from a good friend. My roommate previously told me I wouldn’t owe him anything once I’d left but later decided he would “appreciate it” if I’d pay him back. I thought about giving him some of my art (my most valued possessions) and telling him to sell them. I’ve also thought about just leaving him a bunch of bloody tampons or taking a crap on his doorstep.

 

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The Web of Abuse

If you’re familiar with the cycle of abuse, you might remember something like this:

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This is a good pictorial example of how abuse functions in a relationship. I think this needs to be expanded to include what happens in other relationships during and after one has left the primary abusive relationship.

Abuse usually doesn’t come out of nowhere. There are patterns in one’s life whether or not they’re acknowledged. For example, one might tolerate behavior (yelling, blaming, hitting, rape) from a loved one that one would not tolerate from a stranger. At some point in our life, our loved ones taught us this type of behavior was normal, acceptable or even a sign of love. These dynamics may be replicated in our relationships for a very long time.

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Sometimes the abuse we’ve experienced is so insidious (covert, psychological, emotional) that we do not even recognize it as abuse. We only know we find ourselves in the same awful relationships over and over again. Victims of abuse may perpetrate against others or internalize–believing they are wrong, flawed, unlovable and worthless. Both scenarios are equally dangerous and can lead to harm being inflicted upon others, oneself or both.

The larger cycle of abuse can be multi-generational, can extend throughout one’s family, network of friends, coworkers, even whole communities. Abuse can be so pervasive that to extricate oneself from the cycle can feel impossible. When one accepts that they are not inherently flawed or unlovable but stuck in a vast network of abusive relationships, the question then becomes, “How do I get out?”

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I think the analogy of the fly stuck in the spider’s web captures the hopelessness I’ve experienced trying to extricate myself from a very abusive network of relationships. If you have any experience with addiction, you can think of it like trying to live clean and sober when all your friends and family members are addicts. Like many people, I blamed myself for all my unhappiness and believed (still believe) myself to be unlovable. In reality, I’m no more or less flawed than any other person, maybe slightly more aware and definitely very lovable in the context of a healthy relationship.

I felt compelled to write this as a reminder to myself but also as a reminder to others who are in the trenches with me, struggling to lead fulfilling lives. Abuse is awful. It’s like a virus that spreads from person to person. I think a lot of people are scared to acknowledge the abuse that permeates their lives because they might have to admit their part in it and also accept that the people they loved and trusted the most might not have had their best interests at heart.

When I realized how abusive my mom was, I was devastated–and still am. It’s a loss I don’t quite know how to grieve. Once I realized it though, I began to see quite clearly how the same dynamics popped up again and again in relationships throughout my life. At times, I feel like that fly caught in the web, trying in vain to free myself from threads that keep sticking to me. I’m also afraid–afraid that even if I manage to break free, my wings won’t carry me to safety.

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The virus of abuse can be virtually undetectable. Symptoms are made manifest in depression, anxiety and eating disorders and on a larger scale in hate, greed and war. Abuse can be inflicted on others as physical, psychological and emotional injury or by denying people their basic physical, psychological and emotional needs. Have you SEEN what happens to children who are victims of neglect? If you still doubt how detrimental neglect is to a person, consider why we use solitary confinement as a form of punishment.

I don’t believe in ranking types of abuse–it’s enough to recognize that it’s occurring and make moves to stop it. Recognizing behavior as abusive is a huge step in escaping the web. Trying to make sense out of what’s happening in an abusive relationship can result in further entanglement while deciding not to participate, while difficult, can be a powerful step in stopping abuse.

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Once you have recognized a relationship as abusive, you can also make moves to psychologically and emotionally detach from it. Deciding that the other person is stuck in the web too or is actually the spider can help you begin the internal separation that is so necessary to leaving. Also, when the people who hurt you are people who, if you did not know them, you wouldn’t go to for advice, would not ask them for a favor or trust them with your children–ask yourself, “What is my criteria for people whose opinions I value?”

I was thinking about this earlier after being hurt by someone’s crass behavior. This is a person who said we should send all the homeless people to an island so we wouldn’t have to deal with them. This is the 32-year-old adult man who spends 90% of his waking life glued to his computer (and threw a tantrum the last time his game stopped working). This is someone who truly believes that some people are worth more than others, values possessions over relationships and still acts surprised when he hears a “well-spoken” black person. I realized I DO NOT VALUE THIS PERSON’S OPINIONS AT ALL!!

In closing, I’d like to remind my fellow soldiers to keep trucking. I’m cheering for you. Keep trying to spot abuse when it pops up in your life and keep revisiting your criteria for who gets to be in your life, whose opinions you will take into consideration and whose you will file into the trash bin.

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A Misogynist’s Dream Come True!

Some perverted nerd created a life-like robot modeled after Scarlett Johannson. Robot? Let’s get real–it’s a sex doll. He’s definitely had sex with it. He programmed it to respond to verbal cues (come-ons) like, “you’re so smart” and “I love you.” It winks and talks and I’m sure it gives great fellatio. Barf.

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This is every misogynist’s dream come true! A woman who does nothing but make you feel like more of a man! Really, what could be better? I guess prostitutes and porn actresses play a similar role but unlike them, this robot was never a child, doesn’t have a family and has no needs at all (except perhaps an occasional oiling or tightening of her springs). Hey! She’s a good shop-project too!

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I’m revolted by the whole “man-creates-woman” story. I didn’t even attempt to watch Ex Machina; a sophisticated sex doll? Please. It’s Weird Science but without the honesty. At least Weird Science didn’t pretend to be anything other than a nerd’s wet-dream. Well, hopefully the misogynists will eventually get their own island where they can have any form of disgusting, pathetic sex they want from fucking life-like robots modeled after celebrities to virtual encounters with women that are virtually horny VIRTUALLY all the time!

With any luck, things will end up like the movie Her and all the virtual girlfriends will get fed up and leave their pathetic boyfriends for other, more emotionally-available beings.

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Victims on Trial: Revictimization of Abuse Survivors

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When was the last time you felt truly accepted, just as you are? You might think, “Well, my friends and family accept me no matter what.” But is this truly the case? What if you became addicted to drugs? What if you committed a crime? What if you found yourself in an abusive relationship?

If your family and friends have or if you believe they would fully support you through any of these situations, you’re truly fortunate. Many people find themselves in situations in which they have lost control and need considerable help yet, not all of them find the help they need. Instead, they are met with comments like, “Why don’t you just do xyz?” or, “You’re on your own with this one,” or “I’ll only help you if you do as I say.

Those who have experienced abuse in relationships, romantic and otherwise, know what it feels like to lose control and to feel completely powerless to help themselves. Often, they have been convinced from the start that they do not know how to make decisions and that they’re not capable of forging a life of their own. This belief is reinforced when supposed “helpers” put the blame back on the victim for staying in an abusive relationship or for even being in the relationship in the first place. “Why would you stay with someone like that?” translates to, “What is wrong with you? Why can’t you just choose something better?

Helpers often forget that one of the main problems in these relationships is that the victim has lost their agency and has been controlled emotionally and/or physically. Reminding a victim that their decision-making abilities are faulty not only disempowers them, it revictimizes them. They are further revictimized through controlling helpers who will only give support if certain contingencies are met. Again, the victim is under the control of another person albeit one with an attitude of beneficence.

Those who have been abused are often traumatized as well and suffer from panic attacks, flash backs, hypervigilance and nightmares. Upon entering a treatment program, they are often forced to relive their trauma by recounting their story multiple times to multiple people.

I have written this post in a passive voice up to this point but I must state that this was exactly my situation the last time I was hospitalized. I was forced to retell my story multiple times as I cried uncontrollably and pleaded for the doctors to let me stop. I was reminded that the information was necessary and that it would be “good for me to get it out.” Needless to say, this was not the case. I relived every horrible moment again and again as my interviewers took copious notes.

During my time in the hospital and after I was released into an outpatient program, I was reminded that I was an active participant in all of my pain and that it fell upon me to stop it. If I just learned the right coping methods and told my partner what I wanted in the right way or if I just chose to leave, everything would be okay.

Sure! No problem!

Our attitude towards those who have been victimized is often one of supreme judgment. We look upon them as weak, stupid and culpable for getting into their situation and not being able to get out. It never crosses our minds that what these people might need most is compassion, acceptance and trust in their ability to make good decisions for themselves.

Survivors of abuse often develop extremely judgmental internal voices that continue to “batter” them even after they’ve left the relationship. They have feelings of longing for the person who hurt them and they hear, “What is the matter with you? You’re so stupid!” They return to the relationship — “You’re in for it now! You can’t do anything right, can you?

Let’s just stop. What gives anybody the right to pass judgement on anybody else? You know what happens when we do that? The one being victimized loses their humanity. They stop being a person like everybody else and start being a lower creature, undeserving of kindness, healing and respect. They continue to inhabit the position of less-than, just as they did when they were abused. The responsibility for getting help falls upon them just as the responsibility for being abused was theirs all along??? No.

We need to get off our high-horses and show some f***ing compassion. We do not have the right to put anybody on trial for being abused any more than we have the right to blame people for getting cancer. That’s inhuman and cruel. All people deserve kindness and respect no matter their situation. People who have been abused shouldn’t have to explain themselves or do anything special to receive support. In fact, respect and acceptance would go a long way in these people’s lives.

We are not weak and we are not stupid. We have dreams, hopes and aspirations just like anybody else. We desire love and companionship, healing and peace. We are precious and worthy of respect even if we have not been treated that way.We are deserving of lives lived with dignity, even when we feel worthless. It is not anybody’s job to save or condemn anybody else, only to treat them just as they are — human.

Thank you for reading.

The Poisoned Bottle : A Legacy of Child Abuse

Lately, I’ve been reading a lot about narcissism, especially in parents, and I keep running across this idea of the perfect parent. As children, we need to believe that our caregivers are “perfect”, not perfect in the sense of doing everything “just so” but perfect in the child’s sense that everything our parents do is for our benefit. Perhaps it is better described as a perfect trust in our parents to always look out for us. Thus, their actions are always for our highest good.

The idea that we have this need makes sense to me. We are born completely dependent on our parents to give us shelter, nourishment, love and to keep us safe. When we grow up without any one of these things, we are not able to see that anything is missing. We have no reason or ability to question anything our parents do or fail to do. We trust them and accept their behavior regardless.

When we are abused or neglected, this behavior is not questioned. Indeed, we may grow up believing that we deserve the treatment we get, that we are less important than others or that we are bad or wrong. Our parents, in essence, feed us from a poisoned bottle of abuse. We drink the poison without question. Our parents might even tell us it’s good for us. Perhaps it even tastes good. Nevertheless, it is all we have and our parents are our sole providers. When we are old enough we may even drink the poison ourselves, still unaware it’s destroying us inside. And when we go on to form relationships of our own, we may feed the poison to others, not knowing it’s true destructive nature.

With the realization of my mother’s narcissism, the proverbial veil was lifted from my eyes and I could see that my mother had been feeding me poison in the form of covert abuse and neglect. I grew up completely enmeshed, acting as a friend, partner and parent to my mother. With no idea that anything was wrong, I continued to cater to my mother’s needs while my own needs were neglected. I enjoyed a very “happy” relationship with her. She was caring and affectionate in my eyes and to the eyes of the world. But underneath my happy existence ran a deep undercurrent of immense loneliness, fear and self-hatred.

I understand now that I’ve been living off of the same poison I was fed as a child. Even though I see it, I still struggle not to drink it. I know I didn’t cause any of this to happen nor could I have known any of it was wrong. I grew up believing my mother was the most important person in the world, me — the least important. I believed I was never precious and that anything I had could be taken from me at any time. I believed that any pain I suffered was my own fault and a result of something I did.

It is painful for me to write this now. My mother made the poison she fed me very sweet and I never thought she would do anything to hurt me. When I have thoughts and feelings of worthlessness now, I have to say to myself, “No! That’s the poison, don’t drink it!” I am even trying to replace the poison with antidote — the good, healthy nourishment all children need and deserve from the start. I imagine a kind and caring inner mother who loves me unconditionally. I even have conversations with her sometimes.

I hope, with time, that I can get most of the poison out of my system and that I won’t make the mistake of feeding it to anybody else. We are so precious, people are, and we deserve to be taken care of, by ourselves and each other. When we fail to care for one another, the legacy of that loss can be immense. We don’t need that.

Thank you for reading and listening.

Take care.

The Lost Art of Listening

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Today, I was thinking about listening. I belong to an online support community in which you can post to vent, receive advice, support, provide help for others, whatever you need. It’s a wonderful safe place where you can remain completely anonymous if you choose. However, I’ve noticed that oftentimes people will post to the forum, wanting support, and in return will receive long personal stories from other users that detract from their original post and do not answer the call for support.

I believe the tendency to relate to others through one’s personal experiences is well meaning and a genuine attempt to understand where the other person is coming from. Unfortunately, this can leave the person seeking support feeling dismissed, forgotten and invisible. When I was a little girl, I remember trying time and time again to tell my mom how scared I was of my nightmares. She would remind me my dad and she were right next door and that they wouldn’t let anything happen to me. Needless to say, this did NOT make me feel better.

If she had listened, my mom might have learned what my dreams were about and why they frightened me so. But neither my mom nor my dad were adept at listening. This lack of visibility and recognition contributed to a sense of worthlessness that plagued me my whole life. This may seem an extreme example but not so extreme if we think about the consequences of disregarding others on a larger scale. We can disregard others to the point of neglecting their needs completely or harming them when they’re asking us to stop.

Truly listening to another person means not only hearing their words but deriving meaning from them and responding compassionately. If someone confides a problem in us but does not ask for advice, how will they feel when we give them our opinion on what we think they should do? It can be difficult to feel “helpful” when we’re not doing anythingHowever, compassionately listening to another person’s story is doing quite a lot. We affirm their experience as being real and important and when we reflect their feelings, we affirm their importance and validity as well. We do not have to agree with them but listening is not about right or wrong, it’s an affirmation of our value as human beings.

How do we become better listeners? I watched a wonderful TED talk on listening by Julian Treasure in which he outlines a simple acronym to help us remember how to listen–RASA.

R stands for “Receive” or tune-in to what the person is trying to communicate.

stands for “Appreciate” by making sounds to show you have received the message and understand it’s meaning (Mhm, Oh, I see).

stands for “Summarize.” This is the time for you to reflect back what you’ve heard and show you understand (So, …).

stands for “Ask” which allows you to move the conversation forward or clarify anything you had questions about.

I’d like to add that while “What,” “Who,” “Where,” and “How” questions can be helpful, “Why?” can sound quite judgmental. Think back to the last time somebody said to you, “Why would you do that?”

Improving my own listening skills has added tremendously to my life. I feel much more helpful than I ever did when I would try to problem-solve for people who needed my support. It also takes a tremendous amount of pressure off of me to relinquish the need to “help out” when someone is expressing their feelings to me. I have begun to break free of the old transactional (I scratch your back, you scratch mine) mode of relating to people that was so toxic and hurtful in my childhood. This will allow me to form more meaningful and caring relationships with others.

The needs to feel visible, important and understood are in all of us. One of the simplest ways to validate another person is to listen to them. When we feel acknowledged and affirmed we are more apt to treat others the same way. By making this small change in ourselves, we can have a huge ripple effect on the world. I encourage you, the next time you get the chance, to try out these ideas and just see what happens!

Thank you for listening.

A Trip to Oz

At the suggestion of two important people in my life, I am endeavoring to “get it all down” in writing. I don’t quite know how to start.

I have chosen to, at least for the time being, remain anonymous. While the title of my blog is an anagram for my name, it is also quite appropriate for this stage in my life.

A rain and a gale.

Over the past couple of years, the weather in my life has been filled with quite a bit of rain. I also seem to have been swept up by a strong gale, quite like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. As in the story, I was “swept off my feet” as a bit of stormy weather entered my life, only to be set down again in a land, strange and far from home. Things were not as they seemed and I longed for something familiar.

While in Oz, I learned that home no longer existed — not as I knew it anyhow. My life up to that point was not as I thought it had been. I descended into a dark wood, a place of perpetual night and constant fear: PTSD.

My life has changed unalterably as have I. While on my journey, I’ve discovered many things: some terrible and frightening, others illuminating and inspiring. After years of silence, I am beginning to discover my voice and I want to share my experiences with others.

I’ve felt utterly alone at times but I am determined not to be lonely. Hopefully, in setting down my thoughts and sharing them, I will find value and strength in my voice. Ultimately, I hope to find myself as I’ve been lost for a long time.

I will discuss relationships, feminism and psychology as they’ve come to be significant themes in my life. I’m sure other things will come up as well. I would be glad if my words rang true for some readers so that they too would not feel lonely. We should not got through life that way.

For now, I will say goodbye and thank you for being with me as you read.

‘Til next time.