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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A Short Recess

6, April 2011 at 9:53 PM (conflicted, sad or sorry for myself, trapped) (, , , , , , )

I keep thinking about this blog and whether or not to make it visible. On the one hand, I’ve seen some of these be very helpful to people who are going through similar things. Of course, if my experiences can be helpful to others, I want to share them. On the other hand, I have an extreme fear he will retaliate for the existence of this blog. I could wish him to be the kind of person who would not do that, but I can’t be sure.

From what I know, he doesn’t seem like the vengeful type, but I guess considering the circumstances one can never be too careful as far as that goes. During the course of our relationship he did on several occasions violate my privacy, sharing with strangers, his family and both his and my friends things I said or things about me that I told him were just between him and me, or that I felt were things that normal couples share and simply know it isn’t cool to go spreading all over town. He says he does this because he’s seeking support, he’s just trying to talk to people about his experiences in this relationship to “get perspective”, but there’s something else happening. He swears it isn’t intentional, but he seems to always manage to tell my and our private things in such a way that lacks diplomacy, sensitivity and good will, and often results in his listeners defending his character, actions and behaviours and condemning mine. Huh. He also exhibits a great deal of carelessness, such as using my extremely unique name (I’m the only one in town) in a group setting consisting of people whom I can’t know who they may be or who they may know or where anything he says may or may not be carried outside the group. When I have objected, protested, complained, or even just expressed a concern, I have been accused of instilling in him a tremendous fear of talking to other people about anything. Which puts me in a stuck place, doesn’t it. Either I accept that my and our private issues become public domain and/or conversation fodder and/or gossip material, or I accept being accused of abusively isolating him and “threatening his mental health. ” Not much of a choice for me, is it. Lose, or lose. I’m so sick of feeling exposed and misjudged and scared that pretty soon everything about me or everything I’ve gone through is going to be known to some-hundred of his facebook friends, many of which are people I know too, because it “helps” him to tell people what a nightmarish existence he’s been living since meeting me, and how damaging it has been to him. He also has a grievance (I just found out about a year after the fact and from 1300 miles away) about my unwillingness to climb a ladder due to being afraid of heights. “Support”, “perspective”, um…?

Well golly gee, all the information out there says that abusers do exactly as he did and does in order to isolate their victim and discredit their victim’s character and reputation so that if they ever do come forward about their experiences, they won’t be listened to, believed, or otherwise taken seriously 😦 Others do it to cultivate sympathy and attention for themselves; still others are seeking to be validated and/or enabled. He says he does it for none of these reasons, but… he does it, reaps every of the “rewards”, and there’s nothing I can say or do about that.

Especially now that he is focusing on re-establishing broken or neglected ties with his old friends and social circles, and his current “thing” (and oh yes, I can hear him now telling me that calling this his “thing” is abusive!) is to, eh… claim the abuser is the abused… I live in dread and fear that all it will take is one status update on facebook and not only will sympathy come pouring through the internet for the poor guy, but my name will be associated with reactions of shock and horror that I turned out to be such an awful, terrible partner and human being. I don’t have facebook, so I can’t know what people are going to (think they) know about me. I stay out of people’s way. It’s not my style to engage in preventative or reactionary gossip battles. And worst of all, I live in a town where no one seems to have the balls to come up to someone and say, hey, ya know, I heard this and I just wanted to get your side of it/let you know it doesn’t affect the impression I have of you from my own interactions with you directly. That would be freakin’ noble! But it simply does not happen here.

I would hope that he would see the difference between this– completely devoid of identifying information and not read by anyone who would ever know who he is– and even the most innocent-seeming facebook update or post on his own personal blog. But I’ve hoped a lot of things about this guy, and came out always the loser for having overestimated him.

So I don’t know what to do 😦 Help myself and possibly others, or continue to fear his potential to retaliate and/or his plain belief (and power to communicate that belief to others as unbiased, objective Truth) that I stole his brain two years ago and have been kneading it like a ball of dough ever since.

I could hope that if he wanted to read this blog that he might use it as a sort of mirror, unflattering to himself and his ego as it may be, and someday get help with certain of his behaviours. I saw a lady’s blog once that chronicled everything that she experienced in her relationship and was going through after she and her partner were separated. He finally broke down and admitted his problems and committed to getting help for himself and for them both from the angle that he had been abusive toward her. She kept sharing on her blog how their therapy was going and all the discomforts and difficulties associated with trying to re-establish their relationship, mend their broken trusts and violated boundaries and everything. I thought they were both pretty heroic– the sheer honesty it required of her partner to get to that point and accept also her need to keep journaling online about it. But it’s out there now, a record of two people working hard and doing a lot of painful shit because they loved each other. Aww. Well I’m not going to say my blog will ever get that interesting or have any sort of major and unexpected plot twist like hers did. But I created it anyways for the same reason she originally did: to get through the hard parts of the days, weeks, months to come. I hope at the very least my former partner would sympathise with at least that much and understand my intentions with it are innocent.

Finally, I also debate whether to keep this blog hidden from him because access to it would allow him to be privy to what I think, what I’m going through, and things going on in my life, whereas I’d still not know jack shit about him. (Of course, that imbalance wouldn’t be in any way different than it has been the entire time I’ve known him.) Come to think of it, I shouldn’t even be worried about this. He never took an interest in anything I’ve ever written before, so there is absolutely no reason in the world to think he would now. Yet there’s still a part of me that wishes he’d really listen to me, believe me, take me seriously, and do something about it to become a better man, for himself, and for us.

But there is no us.

I’m sad today.

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