Posted by: Lea | April 28, 2008

What Abusive Relationships Taught Me

Before I learned otherwise, I thought abuse consisted of only physical attacks. I didn’t understand that abuse could be verbal as well. Since all abuse causes emotional and mental anguish, any and all abuse is emotional and mental abuse and verbal abuse can be more damaging than physical abuse in many cases because the effect lasts a lot longer.

My background consisted of growing up with a father who paid little attention to me and a mother who often used brutal physical discipline. She would grab anything available and aim for bare skin or slap the side of my head hard enough to make my ears ring, literally. And the names she would call me, and the things she would say to me, has been difficult for me to overcome in my life.

To avoid her aggression towards me as a child, I became quiet and withdrawn. I became so good at it that adults would say that they forgot I was sitting there with them while they talked. I had few friends and no social life. By the time I was an adult, I didn’t have any sense of self worth and had a deep craving to be loved and accepted. At the same time, I feared no one would ever be able to love me.

Though I couldn’t see where I was a bad person, I knew I had to be bad because of my parents treatment and later the treatment of my peers. My parents never defended me from injustice from others, nor did they give me any validation. As a result, I grew up socially inept due to extreme shyness and low self worth/esteem.

After escaping my abusive husband, I tried to understand why I attracted people who mistreat me into my life. Some of my behavior that left me open to people who behaved poorly towards me was my tendency to overlook poor behavior in others. i.e., I feared that to do otherwise would be judgmental of me. I also had a problem saying ‘no’ to people, even when I really felt I should. This was connected to things my mother said to me as a child and I was afraid that refusing whatever people asked of me would mean I wasn’t a good person. I also realized I needed to stop making excuses for bad behavior towards me from others. I now realize that I deserve love and respect. I have a problem with confrontations. I try to avoid them as much as possible, even at my own expense. I find it easier to defend someone else than to defend myself. I can be quite a formidable foe when defending someone else.

I’ve also learned that in order to attract people who are caring, nurturing and loving, I first must be caring, loving and nurturing to myself. If you are waiting for someone else to build that inside you, then you will never have the healthy relationship that you desire. It’s something you have to do yourself, for yourself.

My hope is that as more people become aware of what domestic abuse is and are able to identify abusive traits, the more domestic violence will diminish and eventually disappear completely. Impossible? I don’t think so, though it will take time for that to happen. All that is needed is for people to correct their thinking when it comes to words and actions directed toward each other, and towards ourselves. Letting someone get away with verbal or physical abuse will not help us create a better life or world. Abusers need to know that this kind of behavior is not acceptable and we will not tolerate it, no matter how much we care about them. Just importantly, we need to be aware of whether our self talk is positive and loving towards ourselves.

Share your experiences by leaving a comment.



  1. Great article! However, I had a hard time reading it, because both your text and background are both blue. There is not enough contrast there to see. The white shows up wonderful.

  2. Thank you for your suggestion searchingwithin. I’ve changed the color font and hope it makes it easier reading. 🙂

  3. Thank you for changing the color of the text in the post. I am not at all into spam, however, if you take a look at my blog, you will see that I was married to an abuser for 21 years. I know what it feels like, and having left him when my life was over half over, I had to learn some lessons fast. Some of them I am still learning, and I have made many mistakes since then.

    I do know how you feel.

  4. Luann, thank you for coming by and for sharing your experience. I can relate to what you said. My first marriage was 23 years and I’ve made my share of mistakes too. But that’s to be expected I think and is part of the learning process. Thank you for sharing your experience.

  5. Oh, thank you! This is just what I need today. I’ve been with this guy for 23 years and turn 46 this year – half a life! And I’ve been feeling stupid about waiting so long. But he wasn’t always verbally abusive. Sometimes he was really nice! And right now he is being extremely nice, because I have totally withdrawn. Sound familiar?

  6. That’s what binds us to our abusers, their capacity to be so kind and loving. After all, that’s what drew us to them in the first place.

    You might want to read the profile of an abuser I have called “Signs of Abusive Personalities.” Everyone should read it, whether they know an abuser or not. My best wishes to you and good luck.

  7. Emotional Abuse has components that are far more difficult to detect than Physical Abuse because the wounds bleed internally. It’s unsettling for me whenever I research the professional opinions of this topic because so often, you find the generic example: a woman whose meek, mild tempered and easily controlled is the victim of abuse. Anyone who has ever met me, let alone known me, would never use those adjectives to describe me; it is safe to say that I am highly outspoken, sociable, ambitious and accomplished in my field of work… and I have suffered from the most insidious form of emotional abuse the last year of my life.

    I’ve read that patterns implicate an abuser. Patterns also implicate a recurring victim. I’ve often been accused of attracting or being attracted to trouble. I can’t help but think it must be a combination of masochism and narcissism– masochism for feeling deserving of poor treatment and narcissism for believing you can change the person who thrives on you feeling poorly. Some people just call it the early stages of battered woman syndrome. Regardless, I know that my life has painted a pattern of choosing to stay with men that hurt me (emotionally and or physically) and excusing or dismissing those who have even abused me sexually– or attempted to.

    My abuser is a very conniving creature. He is obsessive-compulsive, meticulously evasive and by all means a true megalomaniac. But his most obvious weakness is his need for control. He is educated and smart but moreover very tenacious in being perceived as the smartest, therefore he goes to great lengths to prove this (to himself as well as others) by shredding anyone who 1)threatens his ego 2)questions his position 3)calls him on his mistakes.

    He is charming but the sheen wears dull the minute he feels defensive. He is witty but that wit soon turns into vitriol. He is averagely good looking but places his worth on his sexual prowess. He is domineering sexually and manipulating emotionally: For example, he dictates when, where and how sex will occur (even how long it will last, by watching the clock during the act) and then he’d “gently” inform me that my complaints it was too rough etc are only because I am “sexually naive”. He would with-hold sex, affection, even contact of any kind (the silent treatment is his favorite game) without obvious cause or specific reason only to address me later with a letter/email/text of criticisms on my character, lifestyle or manners towards him. –This was generally, if not ALWAYS, after I attempted to discuss my unhappiness with his treatment or my concern for the relationship.

    He withdraws/dissociates and often, it results in a raging attack weeks later as a surprise punishment. He stores up his rage, almost calculatingly so. But he has NO control over his actual emotions and expression of them. He is compassionately impotent and emotionally immature (his tantrums are literally that of a third grader).

    He went from aggressively clamoring to meet everyone in my life to slowly cutting them all down and insisting our time together should not include others– he went so far as to accuse me of disrespecting his time on many occasions. He would berate me publicly for being 15 minutes late, even when it was obviously out of my control. He would not “allow” me to take phone calls in his presence –or miserable brooding and insulting would start up with him again. Although he worked very hard to get into my life, and convince me he was a “huge supporter” of my career (I’m a singer), he later told me he hated jazz and hated staying out late and hated the people I knew (which would be impossible as he had yet to meet half of them)…

    He was ridiculously jealous and it became clear that he was very insecure around other men– no matter what age or stature. He often projected that jealousy by insinuating or out and out calling me a liar and accusing me of “leading guys on”. Any time he was called out on his childish jealousies he would retort by calling me “dramatic”. In fact, calling me “dramatic” became his par course for deflection for 90% of our (unhealthy) relationship. While it was ALWAYS he who screamed, slammed doors, called me VULGAR names (publicly and privately), questioned my honesty, sincerity and intentions, *I* was the one being called dramatic for telling him he was breaking my heart. The truth of the matter is, he was breaking down my esteem; it can happen to anyone, not just the meek.

    The harder I tried to convince him I loved him, the more often he became dissociative and punishing. He broke it off between us numerous times, only to be the one EVERY TIME to make contact and pretend as though nothing happened. He would find a way to get my attention, reaction etc and start things up again only to turn around and accuse me of not leaving him alone. This went on since the third month of our (unhealthy) relationship. He always found a reason to explode and evacuate and always found a way to blame, but always found a way to re-enter.

    He graduated from calling me dramatic to “pitiful” and “crazy”. He told others that *I* had behavioral problems. It’s coincidental that he says the same things about his mother, both ex-wives and every woman he ever had a “relationship” with. The fact of the matter is, he lived across the country from me and met me by a fluke but stayed in town 11 days to see me every night. Within two weeks of meeting, he arranged to be in my city 5 days a week every week until he moved here completely just a month and a half later– all for the purpose of being near me. He moved his office/work to MY city. i never asked him to do this and it was not 5 days after meeting me that he told me he was -quote- “making a claim on [my] body”. I was something he collected and showed off… for a little while.

    He emailed numerous times a day, while also texting me at least 10 times every day, as well as calling AND seeing me most nights. He threw temper tantrums in airport waiting lines, lines to get into nightclubs, cabs, his own building garage, at work, in our favorite bar… and he unleashed a worse wrath unto me if I tried to calm him out of blowing up at strangers. Recently, he defiled me in the street, calling me the worst names at the top of his lungs… all because he did not like the fact that I was no longer interested in being with him. This was just moments after he spent an hour trying to “convince” me he only wanted the best for me. Twelve hours later the emails and calls started again. This time, apologizing but not without blaming me for “provoking his demons”. …But he insists *I* have behavioral problems.

    He has unregistered guns in a city where it is illegal to have any. He has threatened to blackmail me. He smears my name in letters to people I know and sing for. He sent a litany of reasons why I am crazy and dramatic to an 80 year old man but ended the letter with “I want only the best for her”. He is a classic BORDERLINE PERSONALITY: ‘I hate you, I love you… go away but I won’t let you go too far away… save me, you’re sick. Forgive me, you’re to blame’.

    I feel foolish for being entangled with the very drama he has accused me of creating when he is in fact a trauma to recover from. I am ashamed and anxious and doubting of my own perceptions/intuition now. I realize, intellectually, that he is a controller/abuser. I can’t escape the low self esteem he succeeded in implanting in me– he counts on me to question my value and validity. This is a residual of his abuse that I have to clean up and replace. It’s been very hard. It’s been months since we were together and yet the emotional affects of his calls and words stir anger, fear and shame in me. When indifference can occur, I’ll be healed. I hope to be wise enough to avoid a relapse with another abuser. It’s up to me, now, to change my pattern of endearing myself –subjecting and submitting myself!– to abusive men.

    Emotional Abuse is real. It is crippling and it is something one can repel if equipped with KNOWLEDGE and self-esteem. I have the wisdom and knowledge, now, the esteem is the next step.

  8. Hello Erin

    Sounds so much like my abuser, who one counselor felt was a borderline personality. For me, accusations went from my “wanting” every guy who talked to me, to my being called a lesbian. Which turns out to be quite common for abusers to do.

    I also got the “you have mental problems” routine too. While living in India, it took me a while to get use to friends laughingly tell me “your crazy” after I said something as a joke (to Indians it means your funny, etc). I can associate many of my experiences with yours.

    It takes time to heal from such abuse and it comes a little at a time. One of the things I’ve done for myself is to stop excusing or trying to rationalize peoples behavior. I feel that is one of the things that traps the victim for the abuser.

    My prayers are with you Erin and I wish you many blessings in your new start in life. Thank you so much for stopping by and sharing your experiences. Blessings

  9. Wonderful blog I was able to understand a little more about abusive relationships. What support can I offer a friend going through an abusive relationship? At the moment she believes that he will, once again, get back on track and seek help….but this has happened so many times I have lost count. I don’t want to say I told you so but I don’t feel like I am being a friend either??!!

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  10. Hi HGHR

    Actually, there isn’t anything you or anyone can do so long as she still holds hope or believes he will change. She needs to stop making excuses for him. But no one can make her do that except herself.

    The help you might offer at this time is to direct her to the “Signs of Abusive Personalities” article, if you feel she would be open to reading it. Abuse victims can’t be helped unless they realize they need to get out and then ask for help in doing that.

    My best wishes to you and your friend.


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