Updated: Jul 19
In order to be able to control you, abusers need to keep you slightly off balance and have you think your just imagining things. Or making too much out of nothing.
I think if I were to sum up the emotion I have felt most in my life its confusion. Everything looks fine, so what's the problem? Why aren't I happy?
In cases of emotional abuse, a lot of the abuse is covert and subtle. Even recently, looking back on my marriage, I didn't quite know when the trouble started. But I knew I was not happy as early as 2 years into living together. But by this time I already had a kid, and pretty quick there was another one. He actually was a pretty decent dad.
I also felt like had an image to maintain. My ego wouldn't allow me to admit things were not well in my home. I knew my role well to play the happy wife. Education has taught me that one of the ways abusers control you is by using a process called triangulation. They pit people against each other, stir up jealous and discontent. And of course they are going to tell you they hate drama but quietly they are stirring it.
Looking back, my former husband started this really really early, within the first couple months of meeting him. Remember that crazy girlfriend he had, (and for the record, I am not so sure that she was actually crazy, I think in fact she was looking after her son). He was telling me how she wouldn't leave him alone, she harassed him non-stop and was obsessed. But he also told me about how he had had "more wild sex than I could ever imagine" the purpose of this was to get me jealous and keep me insecure. Kind of interesting, how could he know what I can imagine. During that time he stirred up sympathy for his situation. I felt so bad for him, He had been so mistreated by this horrible crazy woman. At that time we were in the "honeymoon" period, so he had elevated me onto a pedestal. I felt like a queen. It didn't seem possible that this man was anything other than a wonderful loving human being. If only this awful woman would leave us alone we could be happy.
The funny thing, on the day of our divorce becoming final, he showed up at the house to pick up the kids for a visit, and of course he brought his brand new girlfriend. The first time they met her was in my driveway. Through the window I could see her feet on the dashboard. He probably hoped I would be upset, but actually I laughed. It suddenly became crystal clear to me, while this man always said he hated drama. He obviously loved it, he quietly sets the conditions up and then sits back and waits for the explosion. He told me before we split " I am so tired of the SHIT that follows Carolynne around!"
I could see even in that couple of seconds, he had started the process on his next victim, and she was buying into it completely. I know that feeling exactly. I was there, I made that exact same mistake. On that day, he didn't succeed in making me jealous at all. He just revealed his game. He was not above it all as he always claimed, he was the instigator.
The advice is, you cannot warn the new victim, they won't believe you. I can completely understand that, I probably wouldn't have believed the girl before me. How could this amazing wonderful man that treats me like gold (for now) be anything but a god given gift. At that point it had seemed I found the most caring loving understanding man on the planet. It seemed so good, I willingly gave up my own aspirations to help him achieve his. Travel the world, nope, live in different cities nope, engage in interesting activities nope.
Focusing on the outside, and other people who threaten the relationship makes it easy to ignore what's happening inside. It creates an us against them mentality. The safety is in your partner, that person is the one you can count on. You can't trust anyone but me. (that's what he told me) I am the one that has your back. We are special. But inside the marriage by that time were the slight shifts, that slowly change the dynamics from a mutual beneficial partnering to a cage. It was so subtle, you barely noticed it. Just gradually the noose tightened. At first it was still mostly great, with little jabs thrown in, then over time the great diminished to be replaced by the anger, contempt and hate. The great would reappear every once in a while, enough to keep you hooked. I was like that trained rat, banging on the level for food even though that level only delivered everyone once in a while.
If you were to ask my ex-husband, he would tell you I was controlling. I was demanding, never satisfied. I remember him screaming at me "WARDEN! WARDEN!" his finger pointing at me menacingly as he stormed up the stairs. Examples of my being "controlling" were trying to stick to a budget, asking him how much he wanted to set aside for gas next week, and to be honest I am not sure what else. Was I perfect? Blameless? Of course not, who ever is, but that didn't mean I deserved that treatment. But he would tell me either it wasn't happening, or he only acted that way because I was so terrible I left him no choice. I pushed him into acting like a tyrant. If I could be a good person and start acting right he wouldn't have to treat me like that.
Through the healing process, I have become aware of why I was unhappy at the time. I had been questioning myself, was it my fault, did I turn him into that monster that he ended up being at the end. How could that sweet wonderful man I originally met be threatening to knock my teeth out. When did he turn into a boiling cauldron of rage, was it me?
Well yes, in part it was me. I had stopped being compliant. There was a specific event that lead to this, and I will talk about that at some point.
I do believe there was another factor that contributed to the problems in the marriage. Marriage is a game of 2, so I definitely had a role in the demise. One of my coping mechanisms, well developed was when I was upset I completely go silent. I also withdraw. I used to do this a lot. I spoke to my therapist about that, because I thought maybe that's what turned him into an abuser. I remember doing this, I remember doing it often. But I don't remember why.
Then I started to tell her about some of the things that were going on over the course of the marriage. Things that don't seem like a big deal, but really, they kind of are.
Early in our marriage we were always completely broke, like not able to buy gas and groceries broke. I borrowed money from my parents pretty regularly so I could feed the kids. Both my former husband and I are very physical people, we both love the gym. At one point we decided to get a gym membership. We could only afford for one. He told me, it was more important that he had one, because he was the real fitness one in the family, the one that had the discipline and the drive. (notice the messaging very similar to my parents, we accept the familiar) . I, of course completely accepted this, we bought him the membership, and he went once, and never went back. In later years, when we both could afford memberships it became obvious that I am very disciplined and consistent about going to the gym. It was just an example of how he put his needs before mine. By saying it was more important for him to have it, and then for him to waste it, also was a demonstration of how little he respected my needs. It's another emotional sting to bear.
Another example, I had a baby at home, I was going to school full time, and he was working in northern Ontario one week on, one week off. We had two cars at the time, a Toyota Corolla and a Ford Ranger. Every week he insisted on driving that Ford Ranger the 8 hours to his worksite, and pay 120 dollars for gas. At the time my corolla would use 60 dollars. I begged him to take the corolla to save money. (I think this is one of those controlling things I did). He would get angry with me and say with contempt, I am taking my truck! The truck was a status symbol to him, it was part of his image of being a big man. So off he would drive, burning an extra 60 dollars in gas so he could look good. Meanwhile, he left me with 10 dollars for groceries for the week while he was gone for me and our baby. That 10 dollars also covered what ever other expenses I might have. It was all I was left with, for a week with a small 10 month old baby. I wish I was making this up, but the two of us lived on blueberry muffins and bananas for that week. This was something that went on for quite a while, I a stash of blueberries from the summer that I had picked up at my grandpas cottage. I would buy a dozen eggs, milk and bananas with my 10 dollars. My son ended up having crumbling molars, he had to get special caps on his teeth to protect them from falling apart. I am pretty sure it was due to the poor nutrition during this period when they would have been forming. The priority for my ex-husband, was not his wife and child, it was his image. To him it was more important that he have that image than we had proper food to eat.
The reason I bring this up, is not to just revisit old grudges. When I told this to my therapist, she pointed out a possible explanation for why I had those unhappy feelings, why I might have felt discontent. My needs were not important, they were being ignored. And I clearly was not the priority. There are many other stories like this, like him coming home from his week at work, I would ask him to watch the kids and he told me "no I am on my days off". I could go on and on. But the underlying pattern was, I was not able to get my needs met in that marriage. It was not a two way street. And while I may not been able to articulate what was going on inside me emotionally, I was being affected by it. Like a boat being tossed around on an ocean.
Anyone looking from the outside, would have looked at me and thought, look at her, how does he put up with such a miserable woman. From the outside it looked like I had a loving charming caring husband. In public he was all smiles, thoughtful, kind and generous. It reinforced that whole hall of mirrors life I was living at the time. On one hand your the princess, he told me I was special. He said he loved me. He told me I was the only woman for him, and even if he split up he would never get married again or have another partner. We were soul mates, supposedly. But at the same time his behaviors and actions were sending a different message. Your needs don't matter. Don't ask me for anything. Don't talk to me about your feelings, they are invalid. Actually I have a recording of him actually saying that. "You can't say your feelings unless they are right" "Your feelings make you say this and your feelings make you say that.....and you are wrong". I was one massive mindfuck. Being out of that relationship and away from him has finally given me the space to get some clarity about what was really going on there
So in closing, again. This blog is meant to be a survival guide. That's how it started. It' really about healing, and in order to heal myself, and to help others I have to tell the story of what happened.
If your reading this, and your in a relationship that has you feeling confused. Your upset and you dont know why. The reality is, there probably is a really good reason you feel that way. Your not imagining anything. You will be told your too sensitive. Maybe your a drama queen, there will be a hundred ways your experience will be discounted. People on the outside may not be able to see what's happening, He won't show that to them. They always see the good side. This is deliberate. I remember him freaking out that I might have told certain people about what he was doing. One time he went to the doctor and she didn't give him what ever it was that he was looking for. He came home and started screaming at me "DID YOU TELL HER ANYTHING, she didn't want to help me". Protecting that image is very important to these guys. They dont want anyone to know. To the rest of the world, and even to you, they are the good guys. If only you weren't so difficult then they wouldn't have to treat you that way.
It's not you, you are not imagining it. Your feelings are real and they are valid. Like Kevin said. "you can't do and assessment in a running fire fight." In order to be able to see the situation clearly you need time and space away from it. Its coming up on two years since our initial separation, and I am only now getting some clarity. It takes time, patience and some self love. Be gentle and kind with yourself, it takes time.