Pebbles in your pack - Effects of Emotional Abuse
Updated: May 15
I will admit, I am shamelessly stealing this title. I saw it on Youtube yesterday and I have been thinking about it ever since. One of the questions I have been struggling with has been have I over reacted to the events that took place in my marriage. Am I complaining about nothing? Is something wrong with me that I didn't get over this in a respectable time frame? I have heard that it usually takes someone about one month per year of marriage to recover from a divorce. (those calculations would make it two years for me). We are going on four year now for me, and I would say a good 3 years of that has been recovering. Why has it taken so long.
It wasn't due to the ending of the marriage I needed to heal from, it was the marriage itself. The ending of the marriage was a long awaited victory that I spent years praying for. So when it finally was realized, it was freedom and a celebration. However, I still felt burdened. Who was I when that marriage was over. I was emotionally completely decimated. I had no sense of myself at all, and I really did not have a way of understanding what had happened to me. On the surface, looking back, large chunks of my marriage did not seem all that bad. Yet, I was always unhappy. I would describe my marriage as years of quiet desperation. As time went on I was more and more bogged down in that unhappiness.
In the Youtube video the psychologist described it like this. Every time you are wounded and there is no repair for that wounding, you are adding another pebble to the pack. They can be small wounds, a harsh word, being spoken over, dismissed or larger being screamed at and threatened. One pebble by itself does not cause much of a burden, its small and light. But it as it gets added slowly that pack fills with thousands of other pebbles and it becomes crushingly heavy. You will struggle under the weight as you move about living your life.
Healing means unpacking these pebbles. You need to go back through the years and heal the wounds on your own. One of the complicating factors is that you cannot get validation or an apology from your former abuser, they will never admit what happened. (though mine has admitted it and did extend a half assed apology) You are on your own for this. I asked my abuser recently how he would feel if someone treated his daughter the way he treated me. He told me he would be very unhappy if someone did that, and he would not want to see that. But he would not answer the question why it was ok to him that he treated me that way. I do believe my abuser feels guilt for his behaviour, and he did tell me he was sorry. But that does not repair the damage. It takes so much more to heal from that type of long term emotional abuse.
The first step I believe is you have to recognize and understand what happened to you. This really is no small feat. I am so grateful for all the resources and people who supported me through this phase. Initially I was blind to it. I knew I was hurting, but I could not put my finger on why. One of my friends said to me at the time "Wait until you realize what he has done to you, look out, there is going to be a flood of anger" She was right, and I was clueless. It took me awhile to learn about what emotional abuse actually is, and to recognize that it was predominate in my marriage. The abuse was so pervasive that I viewed it as normal. I was used to going through the day getting insulted and demeaned. Of course, during this time he was also telling me how much he loved me, that he loved me more than anyone else in the world possibly could. It was so confusing. It took time to realize that people that love you would NEVER do things like that.
Once I realized that this behaviour was in no way normal, the anger kicked in. I started to realize the effect on me and my emotional health. I began to recognize the effect of having endured years of denigration both subtle and overt. Suddenly I realized the pain I was feeling was valid and real. I was not imagining anything these things truly happened, and it was much worse than I had thought. The weight of those pebbles was tangible. I began to understand that those pebbles did not really belong to me, and had nothing to do with who I was as a human being. I realized that I had been invalidating myself, and had not taken care of myself in a way that would protect my core from these assaults. I allowed myself to become defined by him and his description of me. ( I KNOW YOU BETTER THAN YOU DO CAROLYNNE) Somehow I accepted this. I minimized and made excuses. (its not that heavy really I told myself) I feverishly clung to the lovebombing. I believe that this was the best I was going to get. The pack kept getting heavier and heavier. My sense of self and self care was so destroyed, that I believe if I ventured out, nothing but pure hell awaited me.
I believed all men were like this, and the rest of them were worse. I believed he was caring and the one I could trust. Another wave of anger hit when I realized this too was a lie. As I have gotten to know other men, I have come to realize how extreme the behaviour of my ex-husband had become. (more pebbles to unpack). Ironically, the kindness of these other men, has helped so much in healing the original wounds. Little incidents that in the past would have led to recrimination, are met with a supportive hand. Spilling something or saying the wrong thing (according to him) were not met with a barrage of insults or recrimination. I was not being harshly evaluated by a partner, with that derogatory report card and correction when I got home. To hear my ex-husband tell it, I was a bull in the china shop offending everyone in my proximity. Unable to function appropriately in civil society.
Coming to terms with that particular aspect of our relationship has relieved me of a lot of the burden I carried. As time went on, and I reconnected with friends I began to feel comfortable with people again. I can joke with them, work out issues, and you know what? It's all fine. His corrections and lessons on etiquette served no use at all. It was a pile of bullshit designed to control. Every one of these "lessons" was another pebble. Being able to toss those have lightened my load tremendously. I remember him specifically going on about how I was unable to maintain friendships. I had no friends I was at my core such a horrible person. According to him that was my nature. I now know that was absolutely false. I had friends and I have no problem keeping and making them. I didn't realize until after my split that I was not alone in the world with him. More pebbles unloaded. It became easier to function in the world. The world gets brighter with each unburdening.
Slowly and surely this has been the process. At first it was a few little stones at a time. But as time has gone on, pulling out the pebbles is easier and faster. I think the message I am trying to convey here, is your hurt is real. The damage is real. There is a reason if it takes longer than you expect. Those little pebbles do not seem like much by themselves but adding them all up you are dealing with a boulder. When we talk about emotionally abuse we tend to look at the individual events. By themselves, they seem small, but each incident leaves a scar, and you end up bleeding heavily by the end of it. At the end of the relationship, there is a lot to unpack.
I can offer hope though. Even though progress is slow, healing feels better than I ever would have imagined. You get used to carrying that pack of pebbles on your back. You don't know life with out them. When they get lifted off you, a sense of freedom and happiness emerges that you didn't even know was possible. I hope that by putting this out there, others struggling in the same situation will find hope, and self forgiveness. I feel sadness I did not get out earlier, and that I subjected myself and my children to that behaviour for so long. But when you are struggling to survive under that type of burden, your view narrows. Its very hard to see the escape and relief that is just beyond the horizon. I hope you are out now, and that you too will feel the relief and the healing. If you are not, just know, it gets better. You do not have to live that way.