Breaking Silence

14, August 2011 at 6:17 PM (scapegoated) (, , , , , , , , )

When an abused woman emerges from an abusive relationship, one of the first and most powerful needs she has is to be heard. For however long she has endured her partner’s blaming, shaming, withdrawal, ignoring, dismissiveness, reality-twisting, control, attacks on her sanity and credibility, and isolation, she has been without connection to others, denied the ability to communicate, and thus dehumanised. As evidenced by the great number of personal blogs on the internet describing the writer’s experiences and information-sharing about abuse, it is an abused person’s instinct to communicate what they have been through at the first opportunity they feel free enough to do so. It is also prescribed by all professionals helping victims of abuse that she try, through talking, writing, or art, to process her experiences. The reason for this is twofold: first, it is critical to the processing of traumatic material that the victim learns to be able to describe their experiences, so that these experiences become integrated into long-term memory rather than remain always just “under the surface” of consciousness, resulting in intrusive thoughts, anxiety, panic, depression and fearfulness continuing into present daily life; second, especially if emotional/psychological abuse has been chronic and long-term, involving blame-shifting, gaslighting, crazy-making, and/or abusive withdrawal/silence, the victim has for so long been controlled by and afraid of her partner that even after she is free and safe from him, it is typical for an abused person to feel extremely out of touch with who she was before the relationship and who she is now afterwards; she has lived for so long with his voice in her head arguing, fact-twisting, blaming, dismissing, denying her reality, and silencing her with violence, threats and other forms of dehumanising abuse, that she has quite literally lost her own internal voice. Talking about her experiences, especially in groups with women who have been through similar experiences, writing about it, or expressing herself creatively, is essential to finding her own voice again, and nurturing that until it finally becomes stronger than and more present in her mind than her abuser’s. These two therapies must occur, first for the purpose of coping with the immediate crises, later for the purpose of long-term healing.

For these reasons, like many other women who have endured an abusive partnership, I created this blog. Some women who have survived abuse and trauma also find meaning and purpose in what they have endured by helping others, through story or information sharing, group support, or advocacy. I am one of these, and have been working in all three areas since ending my relationship.

A very common feeling when a woman has freed herself from the nightmare of an abusive relationship is an intense desire to prevent or protect others from having to go through what she has just survived. It is an established fact: abusers are highly unlikely to become non-abusive, even with legal or therapeutic intervention (see also: Signs Your Abuser Isn’t Changing and Steps of Accepting Responsibility for Abuse); there has also been shown a strong tendency for an abuser to become more firmly entrenched in abusive behaviours with each subsequent partnership in which they “failed” to control their partner(s) and/or the outcome of the relationship as they would have liked. This can be a very frightening thing to learn for a woman newly out of an abusive situation, but it is necessary to face the fact that despite what he has told her during the whole relationship, there is nothing the victim can do or could have done to change her partner’s abusive behaviour, there is nothing she could have said or done differently to have been treated more lovingly or respectfully than he was willing or capable of treating her on his own, and his behaviours were and are not her responsibility nor her fault.

But after months or years of being told that she is responsible for his abuse and destructive behaviours, it can take quite a bit of time to reverse with intellectual knowledge the emotional sensation that she could have prevented harm coming to her and/or her children by some means other than simply leaving the man she loved and/or had become dependent upon (emotionally, socially, financially, or all of the above). Once freed from the relationship, some women channel this lingering or residual feeling of responsibility into a desire to prevent harm coming to others (I went through this phase myself and wrote about it in “Feeling Responsible”). It is not vindictiveness or jealousy that worries about the next women becoming victims of his abusiveness, but rather the knowledge that abusers do not change, and over time, tend only to get worse; it is a sympathetic response coming from a place of knowing how it feels and wishing no such suffering come to anyone else on earth while he continues on his path of denial and destruction. To be sure, it is a confused response: the victim of significant abuse, having learned she could not have influenced her partner’s behaviour to be anything other than what it was, for a time grasps at a feeling or belief that she can influence whether or not someone else will be harmed by him. It is akin to feeling like, “There is a killer on the loose and he must be stopped!” In time, of course, this feeling recedes as the victim gains an even greater understanding of how NOT-responsible they truly are for their partner’s abusiveness– just as she is not responsible for the abuse she received, she is not responsible for the abuse the next women will receive– and, when her own healing nears completion, feeling responsible gives way to empathy, compassion, and the acceptance that perhaps the most she can do is bear witness.

I mentioned above that I have gone through the phase of feeling responsible and wishing to prevent harm from coming to others. I will not say I do not still feel like this somewhat from time to time, but as I recover from the various traumas I experienced during the relationship, I am beginning to let go of that sensation. And, as I began this post, I too needed to be heard as I had not been for two years while with this man, and afterwards when I was left to only imagine how much more he was manipulating his network of allies for sympathy and support than I saw him do during our relationship. After my partner moved out, someone local whose identity was unknown to me and who apparently wasn’t willing to ask me directly for the link to this blog began attempting to find it through various search inquiries. I could tell by their search terms, the person knew my last name and other bits of information about me that meant it is either someone I know personally or someone my ex must have been talking to about me. I wondered if the person might be someone who was a friend but was afraid or unsure of coming forward, perhaps confused by what he or she may have been hearing from my ex. It was at this time that I made this blog findable. About this relationship, I wanted to speak for myself for once, and took my cue from other abuse blogs regarding the legality of using names: it’s allowed, and encouraged– to say this person abused me helps victims identify the abuse with the individual who committed it, rather than with the self or even whole groups of people having attributes similar to the abuser. Further, personalising helps break down dissociation, a problem I was suffering from greatly and needed to address in order to move the worst of my fears out of the present and into the past, where they belong.

It seems that yesterday while on the job my ex ran into someone he knows to be dear to me along with some other people who are friends with acquaintances of my ex. Whether this chance meeting provoked his bad conscience, paranoia, jealousy or just plain narcissism, or whether it is just coincidence that after this encounter he was up all night searching his own name and scouring my blogs (both of which he has taken zero interest in until today), probably no one will ever know. The result, though, is that he has written to demand that I remove his name from this blog and therefore return it to a state of secrecy. He thanks me sarcastically for publishing “personal shit” about him. He displays no sense of irony or awareness of his hypocrisy that not only did his “personal shit” become mine as it equates to his abuse of me, but also that he had no problem throughout our relationship and afterwards violating my privacies to anyone whose ear he could catch, planting distortions, misrepresentations, blatant lies, or whatever it would take to achieve the classic abuser one-two punch of increasing his sense of might and right while isolating me away from getting help, support, gaining confidence or even being heard by anyone at all. Like Judith Herman says in her book, Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence from Domestic Abuse to Political Terror:

“In order to escape accountability for his crimes, the perpetrator does everything in his power to promote forgetting. If secrecy fails, the perpetrator attacks the credibility of his victim. If he cannot silence her absolutely, he tries to make sure no one listens.”

What is most remarkable about his note, though, is that five months after he moved out and I broke up with him, and three months after I never responded again to any of the many attempts he has made to solicit a response from me– including committing felony forgery through my checking account– this man still thinks he has the ability to control my activity and the right to tell me what to do. He even writes, “you have no reason to be using my name on anything you publish” (emphasis mine), thus revealing a still very strong belief that he may decide for me whether or not I have reasons of my own to do anything.

I could wish that he is finally reading the posts on this blog because he wishes to understand how his abusiveness affected the life of another person, and to develop compassion and empathy for someone he claimed to love, but I know this is not what is occurring. He is angry. Like many abusers, anger is his dominant emotion. I can remove his name from this blog, he will still be angry. Should he choose to retaliate in some way, I will not be surprised. I have given it some thought and decided I will remove his name– but not because he demanded I do so and attempted to scold me for speaking out, but because my once urgent need to be heard and desire to warn others have been mostly fulfilled, and therefore have passed into different realms of the recovery process. But one thing I will not be bullied into changing my mind about is this: How this man abused me is not my fault, therefore not my shame. I am under no moral or legal obligation to co-operate in any way with him for any reason, he who repeatedly verbally, physically and sexually assaulted me. Those things are entirely on him, and if he sleeps ill at night, it is not because his name is/was associated with this blog, but because he committed many crimes. He may have gotten away with them in the moment, but he’s playing a losing game if he thinks his wrong-doings will lie silent forever.

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4 Comments

  1. C Gannon said,

    It is a shame that such a person like that cannot find the discipline in himself to not cyber-stalk.

    We have a saying in my house: “own your shit”. The sooner one does this, the sooner they can clean it up. I can only hope that this abuser gets over himself, and stops deceiving himself, for his own sake.

  2. distant spark said,

    I have replaced his name in the three posts where it appeared with, “Abuser’s name removed. By their fruits ye shall know them. Matthew 7:16”

    Unfortunately, treatment of Narcissistic Personality Disorder is rarely sought, and even more rarely effective; it’s unlikely he will ever get over himself, own his shit, or clean it up. To do any of those things would require something of him that I never saw him possess even in the slightest degree: genuine empathy. He doesn’t have it, he can only verbally mimic its characteristics as he has read it described in books.

  3. darkpenguin350 said,

    He violated your body and then has the gall to complain you’re violating his good name by writing this blog? That’s pretty out there!

  4. distant spark said,

    Yeah, really, good point. There are so many hypocrisies in everything he does I’m often too overwhelmed to notice them all. He claims to have been “abused” by me because I called him a “creepy pervert”; when he started molesting me while I was asleep– and I protested in a variety of ways, but he kept doing it– he became a sex offender. It would be outrageous for a rapist to claim a victim is “abusing” them by calling them a rapist, but if they’ve raped someone, they are a rapist (and really, considering what he’s done, “creepy pervert” is pretty mild). But again, because of their severe lack of empathy for others and resulting inability to understand how they impact other people, it’s typical of an abuser to believe their complaints are equal to those of their victims. They don’t get it. I guess they can’t get it, or they’d never be able to live with themselves. Like Lundy Bancroft says, “When an abuser looks in the mirror and sees a dirty face, he sets about washing the mirror.”

    Thank you for your supportive comment.

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