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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Steps of Accepting Responsibility for Abuse

10, April 2011 at 12:45 AM (sad or sorry for myself, solution-oriented) (, , , , , , )

If you would like to print out a version without my comments, please see the page Steps of Accepting Responsibility for Abuse.

I just found this a few days ago. I cried and cried as I read it. I remembered myself asking for so many of these things so many times over the years, I remembered the last proposal I made to save our relationship and how it included so many of the things below; I remembered all of his broken promises to do some of these things, and reflected on how my final plea for resolving our issues remains only hinted at because he blew me off repeatedly when I asked if he wanted to hear it. Although I was never as thorough nor could I have been as concise as the outline below, I cried also because I felt validated and proud of myself that my instincts about what I needed and deserved were not only reasonable but correct. I cried because I felt stupid for all my confidence, because I believed there were things about him that to this day are still feeding my faith that he has the strength do this. Finally, I cried– and I still do as I read it again– because I “hear” him objecting, “I can’t do this, I don’t think I should have to do this, I’m not capable, it’s too much, it’s too hard. It’s not worth it. Our relationship is not worth it. (You are not worth it.)”

Adapted from youarenotcrazy.com

Steps of Accepting Responsibility for Abuse

If he claims he’s “changed” but isn’t doing the steps below, he’s not really changing. He’s manipulating you.

1. Admit all his abusive behaviour. This includes emotional, sexual, or physical abuse of present or past partners. He must stop suggesting you are “acting hurt” because you are unstable, weak or stupid, and stop implying you’re trying to turn people against him because you’re jealous or resentful. He must acknowledge the good in you and any other person he has abused, rather than try to save face by insisting all his “abusees” are instigators or bad seeds. He must stop all denying and minimising, including questioning and rebuffing your memory of the abuse.

2. Acknowledge his behaviour is a choice, not a loss of control. He needs to recognise that during each incident he gives himself permission to be abusive, and then he continues to choose how much to let himself go.

3. Acknowledge that his abusive behaviour was wrong, unconditionally. He must identify his typical justifications, and admit they are just excuses to be abusive; like “I just lost control” or “I was just trying to get you to listen!” He can no longer try to defend his abuse by pointing out how much you get on his nerves (emphasising how victimised he is by your “annoying” behaviour). He needs to explain in detail about why his behaviours are totally unacceptable, stop blaming you, and make a heartfelt apology. He must stop asserting that your reactions to the abuse are abusive to him. He must admit he knows that your self-defense, blunt honesty about his hurtful actions, or refusal to be bullied is NOT abuse.

4. Recognise the impact his abuse has had on you, and show empathy. He needs to discuss in detail the immediate and enduring effects his abuse has had on you, including your fear, distrust, depression, anger, and loss of freedom and other rights. He must face you to validate your pain, knowing fully he caused it. During this empathetic description of the damage he has done, he can’t revert to self-pity, talking about how painful the experience has been for him. Apologising is critical; but he also has to recognise that being genuinely sorry is just the beginning, and meaningless unless he seriously examines the swath of destruction he has caused.

5. Make amends for the damage he’s done. He has to develop a sense that he is in debt to you and to your children as a result of his abusiveness. He can begin reparation by being consistently caring and supportive, talking with people whom he has misled in regard to the abuse in admitting to them he lied, putting your needs before his own without expecting to be congratulated for it, and many more actions related to cleaning up the emotional and literal messes that his behaviours have caused. As he does this, he needs to accept that he may never be able to fully compensate you. Identify in detail his pattern of controlling behaviours and entitled attitudes. He needs to speak in detail about the day-to-day tactics of abuse he has used. Accept the need to give up his privileges and do so, this means saying goodbye to double-standards.

6. Accept that overcoming abusiveness is likely to be a life-long process. At no time can he claim his work is done by saying, “I’ve bent enough”, or complain that he’s sick of hearing about his abusiveness or control and ask when you’re planning or going to get past it. He needs to come to terms with the reality of working on his issues for good, and that you may feel the effects of what he has done for many years. Equally important, he must be able to identify his underlying beliefs and values that have driven those behaviours, such as considering himself entitled to constant attention, looking down on you as inferior, or believing that men aren’t responsible for their actions if provoked by a partner.

7. He must treat you well from now on. He must honour a commitment to never repeat his abusive, manipulative, coercive, belittling behaviours. His improvement is not dependent on your good behaviour– such as saying that he won’t call you names as long as you don’t raise your voice to him. If he backslides, he cannot justify his abusive behaviours by saying, “Yeah, I screwed up, but for three years I behaved, don’t I get credit for that? You expect me to be perfect?” as if his good behaviour is chips to spend on occasional abuse.

8. Abandon his distorted, negative picture of you and swap it with a more empathetic view. He must stop asserting that your reactions to his abuse are abusive to him, proving he’s justified or excused. He must recognise his thought pattern that focuses on and exaggerates his grievances against you. As a result, his perceptions of your weaknesses tend to be quite harsh and unforgiving. He needs to compliment you and pay attention to your strengths and abilities.

9. Be willing to be accountable for his actions both past and future. He is no longer above reproach, and this attitude must be replaced with a willingness to accept feedback and criticism for any backsliding.

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“That’s none of your business.”

9, April 2011 at 2:59 PM (angry or frustrated, defeated, this is madness) (, , , , , , , , )

Blocking and diverting: Blocking and diverting specifically controls interpersonal communication. The verbal abuser refuses to communicate, establishes what can be discussed, and withholds information, thereby preventing all possibility of resolving conflicts. Blocking may be accusatory; however, its primary purpose is to prevent discussion, end communication, withhold information, or “win” an argument. Through diversion the topic is changed, often turning the tables on the partner so she must defend herself on an unrelated topic. None of the abuser’s diversions answer the partner’s question or concern in a thoughtful and considerate way. The abuser blocks her attempts to gain information or open communications by diverting her from the issue with accusations and irrelevant comments. Often the partner does not notice that the original topic is no longer the topic. She has been diverted.

Underloading: The ways that RIGHT TO KNOW are violated are when we are not given clear information, as in underloading[.] In underloading, the abusive partner gives us too little information so we are off-balance and have shaky confidence about what we are learning; or the person has left and it is only after they’re gone that we realize we don’t know any more than before we asked them a question. At these times it requires the receiver of the information to assume or draw conclusions about the meaning of the incomplete information. This is also a time when mind-reading comes into play. In order to survive this walking on eggshells, the receiver of the incomplete message or silent treatment must use past references to know what the sender of the message might intend.

Withholding: When a man refuses to empathetically listen, validate, or share information and emotions, he’s destroying the core of what sustains an intimate relationship. He’s withholding. For a relationship to be truly intimate, it requires mutual and empathetic listening, validation, and sharing.


In the 6-page letter my former partner gave me after I terminated our relationship, in which he provides a summary of our relationship and his experiences in it, he has this epiphany: at the times he didn’t want to talk to me or share information about something, he could have-should have exercised his right to say, “That’s none of your business.”

I don’t know if this is yet another bit of bad advice from his mom or his seemingly inept therapist, or if this is a discovery he came up with on his own; either way, asserting it as a “solution” to his discomfort with talking about certain things, sharing, or otherwise revealing more about himself than he is used to shows me not only how far away he really is from acknowledging how his choices and behaviours destroyed this relationship, but also how much more abusive he could have become had I not ended things when I did.

Now, he’s not wrong: he does indeed have the right to say, “That’s none of your business.” Sounds good in theory, but there are a number of things here he is failing to follow up on regarding how that would play out in practice:

1. “That’s none of your business” is a statement people use to quickly shut someone else out;
2. It violates my right to know;
3. It denies and rejects my interests or concerns;
4. It lacks empathy;
5. It steals power: he takes authority over me to decide for me what is or is not my business;
6. It is a conversational shut-down technique, which thwarts communication;
7. It functions not as an emotional boundary, but a wall;
8. It expresses hostility: the other is an enemy or threat;
9 a. It is underloading, which is abusive: I do not learn anything and have to operate on assumptions;
9 b. This immediately turns into attacking me for “jumping to conclusions”, “filling in the blanks”, “making assumptions”, “being judgmental”, “putting words in his mouth”, etc (which is blame-shifting and diverting);
10 a. It is blocking, which is abusive: he controls communication, and therefore prevents conflict resolution;
10 b. Continuing to make attempts to resolve the conflict immediately turns into attacking me for “not letting things go”, “dragging things on forever”, “never giving him a break”, “wearing him out”, etc (which is blame-shifting and diverting);
11 a. It is diverting, which is abusive: what and why I wanted to know something becomes the controversy and puts me on the defense;
11 b. This immediately turns into attacking me for “being so defensive”, “not letting things go”, “asking too many questions”, “having irrelevant interests/concerns”, “changing the subject”, “failing to make him comfortable opening up”, etc (which is blame-shifting and diverting heaped on blame-shifting and diverting)
12 a. It is withholding, which is abusive: it destroys trust and prevents intimacy, the relationship cannot survive;
12 b. This immediately turns into attacking the relationship itself for “being unhealthy”, “being toxic”, “being bad”, “it should have ended earlier”, “he wants to leave”, “he can’t handle this”, “there are too many problems”, etc (which is diverting and coercive);
13. It arouses greater suspicion: what is he trying to hide?
14. It prevents me from being able to make informed decisions for myself;
15. It manipulates to what I can or cannot give informed consent;
16. It prevents me from getting to know him (a ha, we may be onto something….);
17. It forgets that I can say, fine, I think it is my business, so if you don’t like that you’re better off with someone who doesn’t care about this as much as I do.

Off the top of my head, these are only some of the many consequences launching a statement like “That’s none of your business” can have in the context of an intimate relationship, but let’s pause on those last few for a moment. Clearly every of these consequences relates to control; but preventing me from getting to know him prevents me from being able to decide for myself not only if he is someone I even want to be with at all, but in what ways and how much I am willing or not willing to compromise, negotiate, or make any of the other usual efforts to sustain a romantic relationship. And preventing all that is seriously manipulative, and seriously abusive of power. In some ways, I’m in awe, really, that he would make any kind of argument in favour of being more controlling, more withholding, more abusive– but of course, this is not what he thinks he is doing. My guess is he thinks he’s asserting his boundaries. Everyone is allowed to have them, fine. I don’t care about that. But something akin to “I’m just not telling you, nyah-nyah-nyah” does not contribute to growing a healthy, mature, intimate or even enjoyable relationship. He has had his girlfriends who didn’t care to know his business, and there are plenty more out there who wouldn’t just the same; there was and still is no need for him to demand of any relationship that it provide him with the sensation of being known without having to tell. And when you get into an area like sex, which I will tell my readers now is what this is all about in our case, it just plain and simple isn’t right– yes it’s capital-w Wrong– to decide for someone else what they do and do not have a right to know before becoming and while being involved with you. Remember I said I agreed he does have the right to say, “That’s none of your business”; moreover I’ll even add that he has a moral obligation to say it if that’s what he truly believes. But someone who says to me, “That’s none of your business”, especially about subjects relating to my/our sexual life, has to be willing to hear me reply, “Well then, see ya later pal, cuz I don’t do relationships like that.”

So the ironic thing is, I wish he did say, “That’s none of your business” from the very start, on every subject he truly felt he didn’t want to talk about, and I wish he would have repeated it as often as necessary until the day I would stop trying to gently explain to him why I feel something is my business (in the beginning, I used to do this), or why being in a relationship is all about sharing your business with someone else (I used to do this, too), because then I could have said not just you’d be better off with someone who doesn’t care about this as much as I do— because he’d argue and argue in disagreement whenever I said that– but I’m better off with someone who doesn’t block and withhold. I guess I always knew that deep down inside, but the crumbs I was thrown here and there made me keep trying. It looks to me now like that’s what he was going for: he wanted to be with me, he wanted us to have a relationship, he just wanted it without the costs and risks of opening up his whole self, and without me having the confidence and power to leave him if I decided he wasn’t the right person for me. Had he said, “That’s none of your business” every time he wanted to or felt like he “should”, I would have decided (and not just supposed) right-quick he is not my guy, no way, no how!

(But that’s what power and control is about, isn’t it. Getting the most of what you want for the least expense and trying to keep it as long as possible. Emotional capitalist-consumerism. Yuck.)

Really, it’s just sad. He didn’t want to lose me, so he did everything in the book to try to “keep” me, which is exactly what is written in the book on how to lose me. I’m just very, very sorry that the lesson he learned from it all was not how to build a relationship better, but how to destroy it faster; not how to become a more trusting and trustworthy person, but how to become more closed and suspicious; not how to become more transparent, but more opaque; not how to become an intimate partner, but how to remain an enigma.

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