Personal Gallery: Struggling With Emotional Abuse

PREFACE

For anyone who has read any of my postings, or heck, had a real conversation with me, you know that I’m very candid about my past; my emotions and struggles and all sorts of that type of stuff. I’m pretty sure a majority of stuff I wrote on here for a 2 year period was related to things associated with a pretty severe bout with depression, development of a very inhibiting level of social anxiety disorder, my break-up, dropping out of school, and so on. Those were all challenging events, but I overlooked that I hadn’t talked about one thing that hadn’t properly talked about one thing; prolonged emotional abuse.

The depression, the anxiety, the extreme exile, all of these things were obstacles that required a sort of emotional-personal training and rehabilitation in order to overcome and grow beyond, but this one aspect is one that has represented more than an obstacle; it has reshaped me as a person, and even now, I am still suffering the effects from it.

A critical reason why I have always shied away from this subject is because it is hard to talk about it without feeling very incendiary. It is just hard to talk about it without it feeling like a smear campaign against another person, and it is far from that, and I’d also say that a lot of it was out of control of either person in my case, but there were so many factors that fell into place ‘just right’ that, for two people who were new to serious relationships, didn’t have the experience to see all the trouble on the horizon and take measures to make sure that the relationship can’t sustain these destructive qualities. I kind of look like it as sort of a relationship immune system. We were still babies. We didn’t really have much of one, and it only took a few bacteria to exponentially grow into a debilitating disease.

And much further than that, a lot of emotional abuse is self-derived. You might be able to trace the pattern of thought to a case in which the other person felt the need to control how you feel once or twice, but it only took those few times to develop it into a habit of the self. It is just a nasty, ugly mutant.

So with that said, I just reiterate, one more time, anything I say in what I am writing is in no way saying anything against a specific person. This is someone I still hold in the highest regard, and knowing her so well all those years, I know that we’ve each taken everything from what we had and grown more than the baby from Honey, I Blew Up the Kids after that shrink ray got set to reverse. Sorry if you can’t help but get the wrong impression about someone because of this, I can’t help you if you do, but I am finally going to say some things about it, because, as always, I write here mainly for myself, but I do recognize people read this, and I try to hide it, but I like that. That fact is always in the back of my head, and many times, I write this very personal stuff because I think there is always someone out there who stumbles in here, then ends up being able to relate in some way. Anytime someone tells me they read my blog, and that it reached them in some way, well, that really does mean a lot to me. Ignore me trying to hide it.

Close relationships are weird, because they are kind of like classified CIA files, how long is long enough before you can declassify certain information? There probably is no answer to that, and maybe I make too much public, but I’m going to take the easy way out and chalk it up to the writer’s curse.

Alas, onward!

PART I  – EMOTIONAL ABUSE AND YOU

If you have never experienced (or recognized that you are experiencing) emotional abuse, then let me try to sum it up. I’m going to use someone else’s words first. A user named ‘SUSAN_IS_A_BITCH’ on Reddit had this to say about emotional abuse:

And the worst thing is it’s not always clear. With physical abuse there are bruises, cuts or other injuries. It’s easy to point to mark on their body and say “she did this to you.”

With emotional abuse you just get worn down from the inside. It starts small, with offhand remarks that don’t even seem that insulting or controlling. “You spend so much time with your friends, why don’t we do more things together?” A balanced scale isn’t enough for them, so they slowly tip it in their favor. Every time you hang out with a friend instead of him he gets sad, apathetic, withdraws or outright tells you that you’ve hurt him. You’re choosing not to spend time with him, so that makes you the bad girlfriend, right? Eventually your friends ask you why they haven’t seen you in a while, and they either withdraw from you or challenge your love for him. But he’s only guilty of wanting to spend time with you, and how bad is that?

But she’s not satisfied. You wear a shirt she doesn’t like and she pulls away from your hug. You make a joke she finds insulting and she ends the conversation. If only you could dress yourself better or not be so offensive you wouldn’t have so many arguments. If only you were a better boyfriend.

Now you’re walking on eggshells, because any little comment or mistake you make might set her off.

And when he does get argumentative, it’s almost scary or intimidating. He lashes out and calls you blind, naive, immature, selfish, lazy and drags up past events to prove his point. And he’s right. Because you were selfish at that party last year. You were immature in front of his friends when you hung out those two months ago. Remember that one mistake you made two weeks ago? He does. And it hurt him. How could you forget it?

But it gets to a point where you can’t take it anymore. You yell back at her. You tell her that this is the last time you want to have this conversation, that you don’t think you can do this anymore. That you don’t want to do this anymore. And she cools down. She realizes that she was wrong, that she went too far. And she apologizes. It’ll never happen again. She’ll never shy away from your hug again. She’ll forget about those things you said. She’ll talk to you when something bothers her.

And you’ll make up. Because you love each other.

But it’ll happen again. And it’ll be your fault.

The examples might be kind of weird, but part of that is the arbitrary nature. It does hit on a couple things, though. There is a lot of subtlety, because there is emotional abuse in a relationship the way we are talking about right now, and there is abuse abuse in a relationship where somebody overtly and violently makes a point to tear someone down, often with tactics such as shouting and outbursts, making a point to take away the other person’s worth verbally. In this case, I’m not talking about that level of emotional abuse, which, to me, is almost an apples to oranges level difference. In that case, any self-respecting person can easily recognize the emotional abuse and other forms of manipulation (unfortunately, a lot of people who get stuck in those arrangements have already had their self-worth stripped from them before they can recognize they need to get as far away from that at possible).

This is what makes emotional abuse in a relationship so frighteningly effective– it is that harmless stream of water, masked as the ebb and tide of being in love, but over a long period of time, that stream ends up serving to be more of a knife than anything, cutting into parts of your emotional landscape it is not meant to flow.

I’d identify a cycle that you can recognize from ‘SUSAN_IS_A_BITCH’es words on emotional abuse. There is an innocent start. Something arises borne out of love. We don’t spend enough time together or you spend more time with your friends than you do me is a real common and strong example. You love this person, or you are at least infatuated with them at this point. Of course you want to see them, and wait, they want to see you, too? Just more than you have been?

This innocent start then leads to spurious thoughts. Oh wow, this amazing, beautiful girl that I am falling in love with really cares that much about seeing me? And she wants to see me more?  How did I get so lucky to end up with someone so great? 

This specific example is particularly good because it has a high risk of developing at any stage in a relationship. For instance, I know that I have a common problem in the beginning of any involvement with a woman where I am almost in a state of shock and disbelief. The thoughts swarming in my head whisper to me that any day now, she is going to realize that she doesn’t like you like she thought she did, after all, and certainly not as much as you do– she’s bound to call it off and leave you holding all the cards. When you meet someone you really really like, then further actually are able to develop something with them, I can’t imagine a worse fear. So if it is early on in a relationship, of course this is going to be very dangerous, because it is not even close to emotional abuse at this point, and you have no way of recognizing that it could turn into it down the road, because it is perfectly harmless at this point. It is affectionate. It invalidates all of your fears while validating you. It is awesome.

The other side is when something like this happens in a relationship that has had time to mature. This one is just as dangerous because while you don’t have that newly born affection factor at play, you have something that is probably packaged with a lot of truths. And for all anyone knows, maybe there really is an imbalance of attention and time. Maybe it really is just a case of someone neglecting the other person, which presents plenty of other problems. But usually it isn’t so cut and dry. All you need is a couple instances.

I know that we spent time together last night, but you were at the gym late, and by the time I saw you, I was already so tired. I feel like I didn’t even get to really see you.

Last weekend we didn’t really do anything. I went shopping with you and Mary, which I don’t mind because I get to hang out with you, but then there was Dan’s birthday party. I’m not complaining, I was just hoping to get to spend more than just a few hours with you on Sunday because I waited all week, and it isn’t the same when we always have to go out or I have to compromise just to see you.

This kind of stuff is really tough, because there are a lot of intricacies of time management, social balances, relationship boundaries, and definitions of what constitutes as proper time spent together. In spite of that, what can you really say in light of that? You might even agree. It is not the sometimes occurrence of this that leads to any emotional abuse, but it is the next pattern that comes into play. In the case of this example, and pretty much any other experience that I can think in my case, it is when something wrong with you or how you’re investing into the relationship is changed from a perfectly normal grievance into an emotional gun that is shoved in your face and used to hold you hostage. And as you can see, the spurious correlation is kind of like that infamous Wikileaks video that people are still arguing about. Is it a rocket launcher or a camera? Is this a sincere grievance, or a ransom attempt?

Finally, you get taken hostage so often and for so long, you develop a type of stockholm syndrome, where you really begin to doubt yourself, but you want to be so committed. You love this person. You want to give them their best. You want to love them as much as they love you. Bam. You voluntarily have walked into the prison cell and locked yourself in. Until you start to send that you are in a prison cell.

This leads to the point when you break. I guess in this way, you could almost look at your emotional well-being like a tree. You can put a lot of weight and stress on each branch, and you wouldn’t be alive if you weren’t doing this, but at a certain point, a branch snaps and breaks. It’s painful. It is painful before, but within reason, and pain fluctuates, but when something breaks, instinct takes over. Everyone has shouted some variation of “OW!” in their life. This is no different. Your blow up happens, their blow up happens.

You’re not even necessarily enlightened about being abused emotionally, you just are recognizing that the other person has been taking themselves in account and not you, and the only real recognition you’re guaranteed to have is that you’re not wronging them this time, they just need to chill out.

Let me step aside from outlining the cycle of emotional abuse to note that when it comes to identifying if you are being put through emotional abuse, this is the stage where it should be totally clear if you are or not. I don’t know enough to really know how to technically describe what is probably going on in the other person’s mind at this stage, but in essence, you’ve just called this person out on their game. You might not be saying, “hey! You’re taking advantage of me– emotionally!,” but you are saying, “hey, boy! This ain’t right! You tryin to game me!” It is basically a recognition of manipulation. Someone who is emotionally abusing another person is manipulating them. They might not consciously realize it, but as soon as someone snaps and calls them out, they recognize it, and their greatest fear is that the other person recognized it, because in their mind, if they did, then everything is going down the tubes and everything will probably be ruined forever (much like that fear I have at the beginning of a relationship).

The thing is, the other person might not quite realize the game being played, furthermore, even if they feel like the other person is being unreasonable, they probably don’t see it as manipulation or abuse. Much furthermore, who wants to come to grips with the fact that they’ve been abused– emotionally? I’ll come back to that later, though.

What you have next is the save face freakout on behalf of the abuser. A surreality sets in, that they could be jeopardizing everything they have with you because of how they’ve been acting and all the pressure they’ve been putting on you. Above all else, they must do everything they can to make sure that doesn’t happen. This person breaks down, they might even beg and plead; admit they were wrong, and promise to improve. Of course, you have gone this whole time feeling like you’re doing all these things wrong, and so you make the same vows. And, as SUSAN_IS_A_BITCH clearly outlines, the ugly cycle continues.

Legitimate concerns repeatedly packaged as trojan horses in order to take you hostage until you can’t handle it anymore, snap, have a falling out, and strong pleas and vows to do better, until the trojan horses come back, except the next time they’ll probably be trojan cows, or something else. That’s the general process of it all, now, let me tell you about myself.

 

PART II – EMOTIONAL ABUSE AND ME

I couldn’t help but kind of laugh to myself for part of that run through the cycle and spending time example, because in my former relationship with Kara, I was actually the first one who employed that sort of thing. In fact, I’m sure I probably subjected her to some emotional abuse as well over 3 years, I think it would be impossible for us to not be guilty of all the same things in relationship that, as solid as it was, was loaded with so much gunpowder, the only differences is what degree of offense is each person guilty of?

Even when I had only been dating Kara for about a year, maybe 1 1/2 years, there was a certain internally recognizable irony of my situation. In a relationship, you tend to blow up moments and instances in your head into these huge, monumental events, that may not have been to anyone else. That’s basic storytelling, and a relationship is a very complex story about two people. For me, one of the first of these iconic scenes in our story took place a couple weeks into our relationship. At this point in time, I had spent about half a year chasing this girl, getting to know her, and getting so close to her before we even dated that we basically had been dating for 3-4 months before it was official. For once in my life (while I’m in the habit of pointing them out, I will add that the phrase ‘for once in my life’ is another common psychological fallacy, which makes for good sarcasm when you recognize that)— for once in my life… things were going my way.

In high school I never quite got the girl I wanted. I always wasted all this energy chasing a specific one around, all tunnel-visioned and crap, getting close, but never quit getting over the hump. I’m a sophomore and college and I finally did it. Sticking to my guns, my standards, my method, it finally worked, and it was going to be so worth it!

One of the things about pursuing anyone like that is that when you finally flip that switch and go into ‘official’ mode, there are a lot of blurred lines that probably need defining, but it is hard to, because they’ve always been so blurred. That whole time spending thing was one. In my head, I spent so much of my life that school year compromising just in order to see this girl I was crazy about. If I wanted to spend time with her and her alone, I had to go do homework in the lobby with all of my friends, and hope that we are the two who out last everyone on any given night. It was a micro lottery on a daily basis. Even as we got close, the only time I could really count on getting that coveted alone time with her was a scheduled Tea Time, where she would make me a cup of tea and we would sit on the stairs near her floor and just talk for 15-30 minutes.

The value on that half hour was so inflated that it was the best stretch of time in my week every week. Then here I am, this girl is my girlfriend now. I can get her all to myself regularly now! But I don’t know what that means. She doesn’t know what that means. And, to me, I screwed that all up, and laid the groundwork for what would later be a lot of my own undoing.

It is a snowy friday night, two weeks in, I want to see my girlfriend and do things that girlfriends and boyfriends do with each other. I just want to be with her, close to her, next to hear, I want to hear her talk, I want to feel her hair in my hands, I want to sense her with all five ways that my body gave me, I just want to be with her; all understandably so. Naturally, I clear out my friday, and she has some plans to eat dinner with friends. Cool. But dinner with friends is never actually dinner with friends. I spend all night by myself, anxious, restless, then finally needy and greedy. 11 PM comes around and she is just getting back, but now she’s tired, and I’m freaking out. I transfer that to her. Now I’m freaking out on her. I probably even cried.

I just wanted to see you so bad. I just thought we could spend some time together. It isn’t the same during the week. Blah blah blah blah. I feel terrible about it still. While I doubt there is any actual correlation to things turning out this way, fast forward 6-12 months ahead, and most of her friends are off in their own little worlds and she is disconnected from them. We go through almost an entire relationship with her social life on life support. Of course, mine was most of the time, too, but mine had a couple recoveries here and there, where as hers struggled so often to improve.

That example about spending time together? Yeah, I went through that plenty of times. It mutated often. It was a solution-less problem. It was a variation of Paper-Rock-Scissors called Paper-Rock-Scissors-Guilt.

Paper beats Rock.

Rock beats Scissors.

Scissors beats Paper.

Guilt beats Everything.

For me, I wasn’t going through a situation of ‘you never spend time with me,’ but rather a ‘I’m sorry that I always want to spend time with you, I know you love me, too, but it is just hard for me because it is really hard for me to make friends,’ so of course I am lonely without you. That was what I was reading in between the lines.

I loved this girl. The last thing I want is to have her be lonely and feeling inadequate because I went to the gym to play basketball with my friends. Me deciding to do such a thing was, in turn, a form of my emotionally abusing myself because I felt so much guilt due to the disparity. I’d beat myself up for it, sometimes even hate myself for it. In my mind it would play out; this is so wrong, if anyone should be lonely and friendless, it should be you.

I can’t say how much of it was ever her being needy or lonely or just wanting me to be there because of insecurities, I’ll never know, and it isn’t my place to guess, but I know, especially because I was guilty of it a couple times myself, that it did happen, and that was enough to mess me up for a long time.

After we broke up, I felt even more guilt on that front. I felt that if I went out and had fun, that I was doing her an injustice, and that my entire love was a fraud the entire time because if I spent time with my friends I would not be totally deflated every second of the day, and if I wasn’t depressed that I clearly had just been making up my feelings all these years. It is one of the most broken thought processes I’ve ever experienced in my life, but I was completely hostage to it. My insides, my feelings were literally sick and diseased. Eat poison and your body will be poisoned. Emotional osmosis is no different.

Right now, I’ve been writing this for over two hours, and I’m sitting here terrified, because this is the first time I’m realizing how scary it is to undergo this. I’m realizing that when your emotions are mishandled by someone else, that it only takes a few times to turn yourself into the greatest threat to your own emotional well-being. When it comes to Kara and I, she probably only had a handful of instances that you could clearly identify as emotional manipulation, which were heavily augmented by a hormonal imbalance due to an only partially functional thyroid. If I could go back in time and replay our entire time together and take notes, I honestly might find some regular subtle exchanges that slipped out, but only a small number of occurrences I’d identify as anything that anyone would seriously qualify as emotional abuse, but that small amount of poisoned experiences was enough for me to stockpile enough self-generated emotional abuse to have my own emotional well-being on the brink of death for 2 years.

TWO YEARS! And even to this day, I catch myself struggling to maneuver properly in many social situations, and I know precisely what I am ailing from.

Jealousy is one of my least favorite things ever. I struggle with jealousy. That person hanging out with my friend all the time that my friend talks about in a way that suggests that they don’t really enjoy their company as much? Yeah, that’s my friend! They are closer with me than you! They should be! It is me, and you are you! You aren’t even self-aware! Rarr! Envy! Your time with them is time that they should be spending with me, not you.

That girl that I like with the boyfriend? You bet I’m jealous of that boyfriend. Yeah, you, guy I’ve never met, you suck. Look at me, the arrogant, ungrateful one! You’re only dating her because you met her before I did! Rarr! Jealousy!

These are impulses, and I fight them with every mean, measure, and method I possess. I like to think that I combat it well enough to at least never let it show, even if that is well below my goals.

I spent a lot of time on the other side of jealousy, and it only made me hate it even more, but it also made me that much more susceptible to its ills. Insecurity is scary. There is a specific haunting memory that may never leave me.

Belmont has a concept known as convocation credits. You have to go to 60 events that grant you at least 1 convocation credit, divided into 5 different categories, from personal development to culture and arts. Despite a lot of these convocation events actually being pretty interesting things to attend, every Belmont student in history has dragged their feet to complete them (except Jason Biddle, but he is an android from the future so he doesn’t count). It was our senior year, final semester. I wish I had a cool name for the Convocation fest that encompasses a Belmont student’s final semester. Here we are, though, me with my 30 credits and her with her 40, at one of the weirdest convocation events we ever attended. Somehow this guy who was a Commercial Voice major got his Senior Recital to count for convo, I’m guessing the catch was that he had to do it at 10 am. Of course, he packs out Massey Performing Arts Center with a roomful of entirely apathetic Belmont students who just want to get their card scanned sixty times and get on with the rest of their lives.

We sat in the back left area on the lower level. This was a period in my life where going to sleep by 5 AM was early for me. The lights are dim, the music is unfamiliar, and the apathy is at an all time high.

James zones out.

Kara probably is undergoing very similar things, but instead of zoning out, her natural inclination is to pay more attention to James.

Kara sees James staring at some girl.

James sees a lot of blurriness and probably some point where a seat and the floor meet.

From this point, the only thing they could be stranded on an island, just the two of them, and the only thing Kara will see is James staring at every girl but her.

The recital ends, the cards scanned, and they are walking home. It is early fall, a beautiful, warm morning, and everyone walking on campus reflects that pleasant vibe, until I look over and she her fighting back tears.

What are you doing? What’s wrong?!

I am answered with the dam crumbling and full out weeping.

Are you serious?! Talk to me, please! What the heck happened?

“You don’t love me anymore. I saw you staring at that girl the entire time! How could you do that?! Just break up with me! I want to break up with you.”

No, no, no, she can’t be serious. And she is not going to do this to me right now, she is not going to make a scene like this in public. And she isn’t going to do it over something that didn’t happen.

I’ve described being taken over by anger as a red out. Instead of fading to black, everything surges to a red, then some time goes missing and when you come to again, you find that you’ve done something awful.

I red-ed out.

Almost visually, I saw the final words release from my mouth like torpedoes from a submarine, propelling at high speed, but appearing to be slow motion as water often does to motion. For those final few words, my view of the world slipped out of my two eyes and I could see myself next to this sweet, though troubled girl, violently yelling at her, and the mushroom clouds that hit her eyes and face as they impacted. It’s probably the worst I’ve ever felt in my life.

And that’s all I care to remember of that dreadful experience. It was not the first time I had been accosted by her jealousy. It was not the first time I had been emotionally abused as a result of it, but it was the time that caused me to snap.

When long relationships end, it takes a long time to become your own outside of them again. That first year of conversation was painful, I’m sure, to everyone who had to listen to me. I couldn’t form two sentences without mentioning her. Even the second year didn’t let off with the difficulty, but here I am, today, and I am an individual again. Even then, there are just stained, grimy grease spots on the carpet that I can’t help but step in from time to time.

I still struggle, greatly, with looking at a girl in the eyes. If I don’t know a woman, and she notices me, my instinct is to, very exaggeratedly turn away my entire posture from them and pretend it never happened. Sure, some of that stems from natural shyness, and a confidence that has the weight of a feather, but the instincts, the expressive reaction, that all stems from that emotional bruising that our friend SUSAN_IS_A_BITCH was talking about. It isn’t even just the conditioning I underwent where I learned to keep my head down and interactions at a minimum or risk an emotional altercation, but probably even more than anything, that guilt I felt from when I snapped and berated someone I purported to care about in the most unique way in public.

Yeah, I’ve been emotionally abused in my past. I don’t want to make a big deal about it, but I don’t want to ignore it, because it is just like depression or anxiety. You’re not going to be able to help it if you don’t accept it. You could argue just how bad it actually was, I’m probably more emotionally vulnerable and sensitive than normal, and I think that I am probably taking a lot longer to recover from it than the average person, but I was also very slow to recognize and accept it. It never ceases to amaze me how parents are always several steps ahead in some way.

I was on the phone with my dad. I had just had a massive breakdown in the car with her, and all my parents could do was sit and listen to two adults uncontrollably weeping. It was the first time I had totally cracked at that point. Later, it was just me and him talking and told me in plain English, “You probably don’t even realize it, but you’ve been emotionally abused, and have been for a while. You’re bearing someone else’s burdens, but I want you to know that you have them too, and you’re my son and I love you, and I am here to bear your burdens the way that Christ did for all of us.”

Honestly, that was probably the first time I heard those two words juxtaposed like that. Emotional abuse? Me?

Well, if you didn’t know, now you do. I didn’t know until I was informed either.

This has probably been the hardest thing I’ve written, amongst a list of a lot of difficult things I’ve written about. And you wanna know the irony of it all?

My current feelings after having written what little I did are engulfed by a single word:

Guilt.

 

 

note: WOW. I just realized that I also just happened to write this on a certain person’s birthday. Totally coincidental, but I guess on that note, happy birthday!, and I truly hope that wherever you are in life, that you’re in the best of places!