Tag Archives: emotional abuse

Sunday Shortie: Liar’s Dance

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This post is the first Sunday Morning Shortie. I’m slightly long-winded, something I did not know about myself which, surprise!  is this Sunday’s theme. So just some quick thoughts, typed out fast, minimal editing.

The anti-husband said I was the stupidest smart person he ever met. About that, he was correct. When I walked out, I was ignorant in a whole bunch of ways.

I didn’t know I could get along with others.

The anti-husband said the conflict in the home was my fault. He said I provoked him and the children and this explained why my friendships didn’t last. Today I live in peace. The only break in that peace comes when something triggers a memory of his wicked ways and then the conflict is internal. Oddly enough, I play well with others after all.

He was wrong.

I didn’t know I could live under the same roof with a bunch of people in peace.

One full year without a raised voice, without an argument, without a single conflict. We talk about things and shrug our shoulders over differences. We respect each other’s boundaries. If someone has a rough day, we make cups of tea and sit on the porch. If someone needs privacy, the roommate sits on the sofa and plays Bejeweled. I did not know this was possible.The major difference? The beast no longer rages through my home.

He said the tension in our home was all my fault.

He was wrong.

I didn’t know I could sing.

For years, when I tried to sing along with the radio, the anti-husband said the sound made his ears bleed. He mocked my efforts, rolled his eyes, howled like a dog until I shut up. Not metaphorical howling, literal howling to drown out the sound of my voice. Once I left, I remembered singing solos in the church choir thirty years before.

I may not be trained, but I do not cause small children to cry.

He was wrong.

I didn’t know I liked poetry.

The anti-husband mocked poets.  I stayed away out of self preservation. To a predator, hysterical sobbing indicates weakness inviting an attack. Good poetry reaches through the intellect and speaks directly to the soul through emotional connection. Feelings are a luxury you don’t indulge when it takes all your energy to keep your soul in one piece.

The beast hated poetry. He said I didn’t like it either.

He was wrong.

I sure didn’t know I could write poetry.

Once those feelings roared back, I needed an outlet. God spoke to me through a lovely older woman in a poetry class so I tried a few lines. In five months, I wrote eighty-three poems. The next time I saw this saint, I showed her a few and we cried together. Today, they are my secret, an act of worship I share with my Creator.

The beast never discouraged me from writing poetry because never in a million years would I let him close enough to find out. More than likely, it never crossed his mind I would attempt such a thing.

He was wrong.

I didn’t know I had things to say.

For years, I didn’t know the truth, so how could I say anything? Once the confusion began to lift, I wanted to throttle him. How could I talk when everything came out in a torrent of word vomit?

Today is a better day than yesterday. I’m learning the power in sharing our stories to see the captives set free. I am loud. I remember how to laugh.

The beast badgered me into silence. He stole my voice. He thought I’d cover for him to save myself, keep silent to cover the shameful things.

But boy. . . was he ever wrong.

Deal Breakers and Monkey Love

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Women talk to me. Not sure why. Maybe it’s this strange tendency to laugh inappropriately during confessional sessions. More likely,  my Christian pedigree worked the magic– pastor’s daughter, pastor’s granddaughter, pastor’s great-granddaughter. We attended my father’s church for years, my household appeared to be in order, therefore surely I’m an expert on the ways of matrimony. The whole ‘older women instructing the younger’ kicked in somewhere around thirty-five despite the fact I didn’t have a swinging clue.

I did not cultivate bleeding hearts by the front door, they just appeared right and left. Quite possibly the teaching in our church contributed—just as politics or law enforcement tends to attract a certain personality type, the heavy emphasis on the wife’s submission  and patriarchal headship attracted men with an abusive streak, . I’m going to go with that theory and believe our churches were top-heavy with abusive men because the atmosphere made them feel all warm and snuggly rather than the cynical viewpoint that most men are abusive.

The Blind Shall See

For years, I did not understand what I was hearing. I spent lots of time waving my hands about and squealing. I tried to offer help but generally said something lame like, ‘my husband can be pretty difficult at times too.” or “when I figure this out, I’ll write a book and we’ll move to Reno.” They thought I was joking. Silly women.

Once upon a time, I was a highly social person. When I left, only a couple of good friends remained, both  blessed by the anti-husband’s seal of approval. Nice ladies who I loved dearly, but the fact remains, when I broke ranks, I lost their companionship.

Let’s take a moment while I feel sorry for myself a little.

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During those years of informal counseling sessions, I did learn to recognize the difference between a difficult man and an impossible one. The difficult  might be proud or stubborn or shortsighted, but once they  recognized the unhappy wife in their kitchen,  they tried to make amends in some fashion, no matter how awkwardly. These wives would come back later, grab me in church with a twinkly eyeball thing that made my nerves scrape together and say, “Thank you *so* much Sister  Ida for praying with me the other day. Can you believe? Melvin prayed about it and already things are improving! God is so good!”

This always annoyed the crap out of me. For one thing, I couldn’t follow my own advice and expect a hallelujah chorus and, for another, how come God kept answering their prayers for marital bliss while the fish in my own kitchen continued to rot the airwaves? And another-nother thing. . . you know what kind of advice I gave? “Have you told your husband how you feel about that? Go home and talk to the man for heaven’s sake. He isn’t psychic.”

Despite my nasty inclination toward self pity,  I realized these women didn’t want instant perfection. They wanted to feel heard. They wanted to know their husbands cared enough to listen and respond and make a few adjustments in the right direction. (We are, of course, talking about women who actually came for advice, not the really scary women who  generally hung out by the alter offering advice no one ask for.)

Meanwhile, Back on Topic. . .

Yes, I was a stellar counselor to the weak and weary. This constituted the extent of my helpfulness. Still the hurting arrived on my doorstep whilst I continued to complain to the Almighty.

Looking back, I’m just now starting to see God’s plan.  I was learning to discern abuse in others even though I could not see the same patterns acted out in my own living room. Please explain this if you can because I do not have a clue. I’m going to blame the fog of confusion the beast kept wrapped about my mind with his constant stream of crazy-making. I do know the fog lifted only after I refused to listen to him any longer. Still, once my eyes pried open, many things snapped into focus and those  years of hearing story after story made all the difference.

The Turning Point

I was beginning to see a different breed of husband, tyrannical in nature, taking no prisoners, determined to have its own way at any cost. These men were nothing like the flawed yet somewhat reasonable men who took their wives feelings into consideration (upon realizing their wives had feelings.) No, the tyrants refused all compromise. Backed in a corner, they might give ground  only to extract a heavy price later. Their wives came away feeling worse with every encounter. They looked beat. They looked unloved.

Another distinction—the wives of these bullies showed up at my doorstep confused. No way they could articulate their ongoing troubles. If they did manage to come up with a complaint or two, they also supplied a half dozen reasons why nothing suggested would ever help. The scary part?  They were correct and I knew it. These women felt trapped—the rock and a hard place, the double bind, damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

In contrast, the Normals had a really good idea what they wanted. They had actual, concrete problems. He spends too much money. He won’t help around the house. He looks at other women.

Problems loomed. Ignorance abounded. These ladies might or might not take advice. They might leave the living room and go do something stupid like running off with the pool boy. They might take  advice and discover they should’ve shelled out the cash for a trained counselor in the first place. They might be miserable, unhappy, unfulfilled and sexually frustrated but they were not held prisoner in confusion and fear.

The Big Picture

Here’s how I came to picture the difference:

In a normal marriage, you’ve got two imperfect people sitting on a sofa. They fuss, they smile, they smooch, they fuss some more.  They conflict. They scoot away from each other toward opposite ends of the sofa. Maybe one goes and gets someone else to come sit on their lap. The other may walk away, or the offending spouse may leave with their new squeeze. Or they may kick the third party off, learn to scoot closer to each other and eventually smooch some more.

In an abusive marriage, you’ve got two imperfect people sitting on a sofa. Right smack in between, you’ve got a five hundred pound orangutan holding hands with the husband. The monkey makes sure his boyfriend always gets his way. The man may scream, holler and yell, or make snide remarks and sulk and brood. He may get some girl on his lap and smooch her while the wife tries to peek around the monkey. Every time she thinks she sees something, the monkey smacks her good. Every time she tries to say something, the monkey smacks her good. Every time she tries to address something, the monkey smacks her good.

The monkey is a deal breaker. You cannot reason with a monkey. You can’t fix a broken marriage as long as that monkey is on the sofa.

Deal breakers come in other forms—drug abuse, alcoholism, mental illness.  The important point here? To realize that advice given to Normals will not apply to Monkey Marriages. Books written for conflict resolution, counseling, marital advice, sex education will not work.  So the big step—the very first, very big step is–Name the monkey.

The First Step is Always the Toughest

If there’s an orangutan on your sofa, you are being abused. Or you’re Steve Erwin’s wife. The first is more likely.

In my experience, this is the most difficult step to freedom. Stop allowing the one abusing you to define abuse. You must discern. There are objective criteria. There are books out there to help you understand. Ultimately, you must stare that monkey down and say its name.

If you  identify abuse, you need to understand a few things to get  free. You are dealing with a different animal  entirely. Stop focusing on your mistakes, your issues. Stop taking blame for everything wrong in your marriage.

Of course you make mistakes. Of course you aren’t perfect, who claimed you were anyway? Of course you have issues from your childhood.

None of that can be addressed with someone whopping at your head so stop trying.

You are never, ever going to make that threesome work.

Sex in an Abusive Marriage, Part 2

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This isn’t an easy series. I don’t like talking about sex because, in my experience, sex was never okay.  If you arrived with your knickers all a-twist, this post will set them twirling. You might want to skip on over to here.

Interesting thing happened once I came out as an unloved wife. Other women started talking, looking over their shoulder from time to time as if the spirit of their own private beast might be listening, then slipping quietly back inside the likeness of an Ozzie and Harriet life. Some spoke openly if only for a moment, usually of times long past, then back they went  to make goo-goo eyes at the new husband, more than happy to leave the dead burying their own.

Who can blame them?

Listening as I was with ears still bleeding, I kept hearing the same theme—sex as a power play. Specifically, sex used as a tool to gain power over the victim. And oh! what an effective tool it is—

Many Branches, Same Roots

In some cases, the husband refused to have sex with his wife claiming she’d let herself go, gained weight or otherwise made herself repulsive to his delicate sensibilities.  Two women told almost identical stories of husbands who kept them on the hamster wheel for years.  One man told his wife how many pounds she had to lose, then once she hit her target weight, told her it didn’t matter because he didn’t really like a woman with large breasts. Another treated her body as radioactive, refusing to touch her as she aged and taking up with a girl just out of her teens the minute she left.

Other stories mirrored my own experience of a demanding man always wanting more. The stories all went something like this (with a few kinks here and there just to keep things off-balance):

Man complains about quantity (not having sex often enough), wife ups frequency, man complains about quality of experience.

Wife reads a few books, works at bringing spice to bed, husband gripes about her lack of enthusiasm.

Wife takes a few acting classes, fools husband into thinking he is sexy beast, husband complains about her appearance.

Wife joins Weight Watchers, goes to gym, gets new haircut, collapses from exhaustion from running all over the place, husband complains about frequency.

Wife quits trying. I mean really, if he’s going to be unhappy anyway.

Husband blames her forever.

Another version involved men who maintain a simmering grudge over the wife’s former relationships—maybe she wasn’t a virgin before they married or, in one ironic case, an outwardly pious man angry because his wife allowed *him* to take liberties before their wedding. That one just slays me. The wife in question was not laughing however.

A variation on this is The Affair. Husband mistreats wife, wife has a fling, husband pursues wife like crazy wanting to reconcile and graciously takes her back, then proceeds to  verbally/emotionally beat the crud out of her forever and ever. In these cases, the husbands said they couldn’t trust their wives and  constantly demanded the offending wife prove their fidelity. She made a mistake, they both know it. Only nothing she does will ever be enough to heal his aching soul.

One man I know calls his wife, “that slut”—not to her face mind you. He saves this lovely phrase for his male pals. I’m actually related to that slut and a more faithful woman could not be found under God’s heaven. He’s referring to the well known fact that before she accepted Christ, she lived with a man in a common law marriage. I have yet to understand why someone hasn’t punched this creep right in the chops for talking about his wife this way.

Rock and a Hard Place

In every case, I’m going to say one thing. I don’t think any of these men want the problem fixed. I don’t think they desire healing and restoration. In their twisted world, it’s in their best interest to keep the pain fresh and their wives hurting at all times for a very simple reason.  Ammunition—a way to claim the moral high ground, justifying their abusive ways. This never-ending merry-go-round provides both power and control over the wife. Shame, guilt, blame—all powerful tools to keep the balance of power firmly under the husband’s control.

In my case, I believe my husband did not want to be faithful. Monogamy wasn’t his thing. Having a frigid wife gave him justification for extra-marital affairs and an ongoing affair between his right hand and a computer screen . Sex with me became just one more form of masturbation, one he was more than willing to indulge and another way to vent his anger. Making love would’ve required effort. Keeping me constantly off-guard and hurting gave him a tool to control because I could not deny his unhappiness. Nor could I ever fix things. Only he could say when and if he was finally happy with me in the bedroom and that was never going to happen.

Please note that I’m not trying to negate the sins and mistakes of the victim. I am, however, trying to point out the parallel between the abuser’s treatment of his wife’s weaknesses and/or failings and the very real condemnation the devil himself unleashes against repentant sinners to keep them defeated through ongoing, paralyzing guilt. The husband in these cases becomes the accuser of the brethren. In Christ, there is forgiveness, hope and restoration. A husband that refuses to attend counseling, refuses to accept his wife’s efforts to change, refuses to admit that his own actions may play a role has no desire for a happy ending. There’s a big, big difference between a man who’s working through issues in a marriage and one using those issues as leverage in an ongoing war.

While editing Part One,  I realized that somewhere along the line, I dropped the phrase, The Beast, and called that oaf of a man ‘my husband.’ My counselor would have a field day with that little slip, wouldn’t he? I did not edit those references out because I think it shows something important. In this area, I’m not  free of the pain of being so despised by a man I gave myself to over and over for decades.  I still see myself as that woman crouching in the dark, trying to keep her husband from seeing the naked body he loathed.

Part 3 to come if I don’t change my mind and write about something more pleasant like root canals or weasel wrestling. Also note that in the few stories I found online with male victims, this pattern of sex-as-weapon seemed to hold true. The stories related here are firsthand accounts. If interested check out here and here.

Recommended: The Abuser’s Evil Demands for Forgiveness by Jeff Crippen and Anna Wood

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This one article can set you free. No kidding. If only I’d understand how this cycle of build-up/abuse/honeymoon worked, so many things would’ve been different.

I don’t talk much about the good times because looking back, there weren’t any. And yet the beast said I love you every single day. He cried if his last blow up were particularly heinous, he brought home flowers and even the occasional you’re-a-wonderful-wife Hallmark card.

He also demanded that I forgive him instantly and never mention the incident again. He made sure I realized this was really my own fault an if I weren’t such a rotten wife, things would be different. After all, how much can a man be expected to take?

When he admitted to using porn, he demanded instant reconciliation– as in, I got one night to be upset and I’d better be ready to go by the next. For some strange reason, this didn’t work out so well.

What I didn’t know? The anti-husband acted like a typical abuser– build-up the tension, look for an excuse to rage followed by The Incident, then his idea of repentance. Other women use to come in my kitchen  and make over the flowers on the table, totally unaware I paid for every single one in ways they wouldn’t understand. Those were not I-love-you flowers, those were I’m a jack-ass flowers (but now that I’ve brought them home, you have to forgive and forget or you’re the one in trouble.)

Here’s an excerpt from Jeff Crippen and Anna Wood’s article:

Another common and wicked tactic of the “Christian” abuser is his insistence, on supposed biblical grounds, that his victim continually forgive him and love him. Anyone who knows much at all about the nature of abuse will realize that abuse occurs in a cyclical manner which involves several stages. The stage that comes right after the big blowup stage is commonly called the “honeymoon stage.” During this time, which can be short or long, the abuser can appear to be contrite, remorseful and even very kind. He expresses remorse over what he has done and promises it will never happen again. He makes promises that he’ll change, that this time all will be different. He might buy presents for his victim, fulfill a few past promises made to her or even appear to take an interest in spiritual things. His promises are all nonsense, of course. In fact, because his supposed sorrow and repentance is FALSE (he even has himself deceived about it), the cycle WILL repeat itself. After all, that is the nature of a “cycle,” right?

When the abuser “repents,” he always includes more or less flagrant demands that the victim needs to forgive him. He will often throw in a couple of “false guilt/blaming” missiles about how his abuse was caused at least in part by the victim. None of this is true repentance. In fact, this is abuse itself. The honeymoon period is within the cycle of abuse and is just another aspect of the abuse. It contributes to the confusion of the victim and works to strengthen the abuser’s control over her.

Head over here to read the rest.

Nowadays, I buy my own flowers, thanks much.

Interview Over at Moving On After He Moves Out

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Not long ago, I found a new blog by Angela Ruth Strong, Moving On After He Moves Out, commented on one of her smarty pants remarks and got myself interviewed. Life is odd sometimes.

I love her site and the way she handles the tough issues of divorce with honesty and grace.

Angela asked some tough questions, some I haven’t bothered to ask myself just yet. Things like, “How long were you married and what was the image of your marriage that was presented to the world?” and “Where are you now in the healing journey?

The image of my marriage that was presented to the world?

Apologies may be in order.

To read the interview go here, then check out her awesome writing. Thank you so much Angela for having me!

Recommended: Cindy Burrell: Ezine Articles and Other Good Stuff

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Life with the anti-husband was never fun but during the seven days of hell before leaving, the man screamed, hollered, blamed God and searched for some answer as to why I was emasculating him this way. Refusing to back down equals castration. Who knew? And asking someone to go to anger management who screams, hollers, yells and blames deity seven days straight without taking a breath is defiant. (Clarification: The Seven Days of Hell were actually Ten Days of Hell but the first three consisted of the mutter/mumble/slam doors/stomp around/slam things/silent treatment.)

None of this is particularly relevant except that in his search for enlightenment, the beast blamed ‘bitter internet women.’ Upon which, my ears perked as, believe it or not, this was my first clue that maybe, just maybe, someone out there might understand the horror of my homelife. After all, people blog on make-up, monkeys, money– why not monsters?

After leaving, I started looking and found…

…nothing.

You Could Never Do This on Your Own So Who Have You Been Talking To??

Don’t get me wrong, plenty of angry folks abound  both male and female. I found women who’s husbands walked out, women who burned their brassieres and wrote bad poetry, women who cut their hair, their skin, their souls and blamed society. But this pool of bitterness, this raging foam of female, middle-aged Christian rebellion, this conspiracy against Christian Manhood? Nada.

Turns out I didn’t have the vocabulary to search properly. At this point, terms such as verbal abuse meant less than nothing, some psycho-babble made up to sell books, certainly nothing that pertained to the prison of my home. I was confused, blistered, raw and still hearing the anti-husband’s talking points any time I got still for half a minute. Those BIW’s turned out to be an elusive bunch.

I heard the word abuse mentioned for the first time in the counselor’s office. Don’t get me wrong, I tried it out a few times. I knew what went on wasn’t right, I knew the kids were severely wounded, I knew it had to stop. But… he never hit me.  Hitting equals abuse. Everything else falls under the category, bad manners, and as I’d been told over and over, I had a problem, I was too sensitive, I was weak . (Note: he did actually hit me early on, but let’s save that story for the post on bullying.)

On this particular day, I sat in the comfy chair with my box of tissues trying to describe the tension in our house. The way the kids and I looked at one another when the anti-husband-mobile pulled in the driveway, stood frozen waiting for the door to open. How we could tell what kind of night we were in for by how hard he slammed the door and the amount of growling before he got through the entry.

Someone left muddy shoes by the door? Unacceptable. How dare anyone inconvenience the beast. Don’t you know how tired he is? No one appreciates the beast! Stepping an extra eight inches over a pair of filthy, stinkin’, nasty shoes will not be tolerated in his house! This better not happen again! Who’s shoes are these anyway??!! Louder and louder and louder until the rabbits react and then the mad dash as everyone scatters. Every single night.

The counselor says, all calm and stuff the way counselors do, “So you were all emotionally abused, that’s for certain, now what about–”

Too bad for him I was no longer in the chair. The synapses quit firing, the room goes dark around the edges, fingers drum the arm of the chair, one leg swinging like it’s taking off for Mars and one confused counselor waving like crazy to get the crazy woman’s attention.

Well I’ll Be…

This was A Clue. The loose string that once yanked,  unraveled the chords twisted around my thinking. I had to know more, I *needed* to understand. And no way could I afford counseling for myself when the kiddies kept curling up in random corners sucking their thumbs that way.

I asked a few more questions, made note of Counselor from Heaven’s vocabulary and went searching. And just like that, I found manna from above. Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Bandcroft. The Verbally Abusive Relationship, by Patricia Evans.  I bought a stack of goodies, charged the anti-husband’s account and hoped he didn’t remember the Amazon password.

These were not my best days. I read and underlined and squawled and read some more. Things began snapping in place. I googled verbal abuse, bullying, emotional abuse, sexual abuse in marriage and found tons of informative websites. Confusion departed.

I made an appointment for myself with the counselor.

But what I did not find were like-minded women, Christian or otherwise,who walked this out already. I didn’t know where to look for one thing and for another, I suspected they might be afraid to talk just like someone else I knew. But I wanted– no, I needed– to find someone battle tested and relatively sane with stories to tell.

Enter Cindy Burrell

Took a year to find her website. She appears neither angry nor bitter although her faith is obvious. Tucked among the articles and book reviews she moderates a forum with ladies brave enough to tell their stories, sometimes for the first time. I read but do not participate. I suspect many others do the same. Fear makes a horrid taskmaster.

More truths snapped together inside my soul and this time I cried, not for myself, but for all the hurting lambs collectively. The heavens opened, birds sang and I exaggerate only a wee little bit. I saw the power play of weak abusers pounding their mates behind closed doors and realized something profound. No way these creeps could get away with this without the darkness. Isolate the victims first, make them feel responsible, keep them separated from anyone who might help. And with that epiphany I knew I had to start talking.

In case you’ve arrived here in similar shape, here are a few links to Cindy’s amazing series of articles along with a few selected quotes:

I Know How the Blind Man Felt

I have never been blind, but I have been in bondage.

During my 20 years of marriage to a verbally and emotionally abusive Christian man, I did everything I knew to encourage him to see me as his wife, to submit to his leading (even when he was wrong), love and pray him back to the Lord. I forgave his many offenses against me, and I can’t begin to count the hours I spent either crying or praying for the restoration of our marriage. I imagined a day when my husband would return to his first love and recommit himself to our relationship. My first priority was to serve God, as I believed with all my heart that my faith in God and my love toward my husband would bring about God’s perfect result. I chose obedience and waited on my Lord.

Then, at what seemed like the most unlikely moment, when I least expected it, the Lord released me. I have never once doubted it. Even in writing the words, though, I anticipate the skepticism of those who may read them. Miracles that occur outside of the bounds of our spiritual limits must be rejected.

In my own experience, and in my exposure to the experiences of other women who are abuse victims, it is apparent that there is a bizarre, almost word-for-word script associated with the behaviors and character qualities of abusers. Although I have not been exposed to physical abuse, a majority of these earmarks seem to be evident, whether the abuse is physical, verbal and/or emotional. Here we go…

The Introvert Meets the Man of Her Dreams…

When the abuser finally snuffs out the final spark of hope the victim holds out, his victim will need to muster the strength to tell her secrets and ask for help. Yet the abuser has been mindful to keep his public image distinctly separate from his private brutality. After so many months or years of surviving in the shadows – even fortifying the false image of their “happy” home and keeping the abuser’s terrible secrets – the day finally arrives that this abuse victim decides to take a risk and speak up. In spite of all she has been through, she has to wonder: Will anyone believe her?

Working Through Bad Memories

In our household, it is affectionately referred to as “bad juju.” I suppose that acknowledging temporary insanity with a dose of humor is half the battle. But when our lives are humming along at a fairly even keel, it is not at all humorous when one of us suddenly stumbles into it. The bad juju.

For us, bad juju is what we call an old wound that we thought was healed but isn’t – somewhat akin to post traumatic stress. An otherwise innocent situation can unexpectedly propel us back to a disturbing memory, registering an immediate, fear-based reaction – an emotional nosedive.

Cindy has twenty-two articles and every single one is gold. You can find the complete list here. Cindy and her husband have a wonderful blog that highlights her books and the forums I mentioned here. When you visit, please leave her a few encouraging words and tell her Ida Mae sent you.

Get Free, Stay Free

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Suffer, you need healing.

Profound I know. Only I didn’t  for years. And while this blog could be one big rant-fest from here on out (the anti-husband provides a constant stream of inspiration) I’m not exactly getting any  younger nor do I want to live out these twilight years gazing upon my belly button.

So in a highly non-professional, non-authoritarian fashion, here’s what I learned. Definitely a work in progress and hopefully those further down this path will chime in.

1) Swallow that pride. And its corollary: Recognize you may have some.

Granted,  an abused woman has little personal dignity left but pride can still be a sticking point to getting out and getting free.

To get out, you’re going to need help from family, from authorities, from friends and bystanders and if you’ve lived  any length of time locked away inside your own misery, asking can be about as pleasant as a root canal.

Funny thing—as the marriage fell apart, I found myself on the floor quite often, repenting for all sorts of things. I writhed around, crying, confessing my many failings–  submitting to my husband halfheartedly, not praying for him with the proper enthusiasm, being a rotten wife, a horrible dance partner and a worse mother. After some of this, the Lord stopped the tirade. He said, in no uncertain terms, that I was repenting over the wrong stuff.

Seems I was just bumping over with pride.

Not to argue with the Almighty mind you, but really, what was He thinking? Took some time to understand—much longer than confessing the anti-husband’s old talking points—but eventually a few lovely gems worked their way upward. For your amusement, here’s my confessional:

I didn’t want anyone to know my marriage/family wasn’t perfect. Not friends, not enemies, not anyone.

I cared what others thought  to the point of creating an illusion of a godly home by both my words and the omission of my words. Folks had the wrong idea, I let them think what they wanted. When the anti-husband pulled something in public that just couldn’t be ignored, I said my husband was difficult sometimes. Difficult? Threatening your children with a gun is difficult?

I thought I could change my husband if only I could find the right combination of prayer, fasting, obedience, submission, meekness, quietness, goodness. My abuser fed off this like a pig at a trough.

I hated the stigma of being a divorced woman and refused to play.

I knew what religious people would say if I left, therefore I didn’t want to be the one doing the leaving.

I didn’t want to admit I made a mistake. At our wedding, the attendants were taking bets on how long the marriage would last. The longest time frame? Three  years. Who wants *that* chorus of I-told-you-so’s singing in the background.

Then you have pride’s evil twin—arrogance.

I told the kids they would  never have to worry about their parents getting a divorce. Know why? Because I made up my mind I would never leave no matter what. I thought I could hold the marriage together all by myself. I made promises I couldn’t keep and never stopped to question why the kids kept asking.

Just who did I think I was exactly?

When the no-matter-what got past the point of holding on a moment longer, I still hung on.  I knew he wasn’t going anywhere—he didn’t like women enough to find another (took too long to ‘train ‘em right’, direct quote) and he liked hurting us way too much. When everything fell apart I told him, you’re not that old. You’ve got plenty of time to find another woman to torment for the next thirty years. His response? But I don’t want to torment another woman.

*Sigh

But probably my biggest area of pride involved magical thinking. In the twisted arena of my mind, I alone upheld my husband. My prayers, my support, my love and affection were all that stood between him and a quick slide into a cesspool of sin. Please note the irony of this and try not to snicker.

2) Admit you were abused

Most abused women don’t know they’re abused. Unlike their tormenter, they don’t like the idea of victimhood. Recognizing the abuse as a living, vital force doing damage in their home means facing up to some very uncomfortable truths.

Along with the above, there’s always the possibility you heard someone stupid define abuse and believed them. Like. . . oh, I don’t know. . . your abuser maybe? Other folks put themselves on record all the time—pastors, mouthy internet preachers, female enablers and just about anyone else who doesn’t want to deal with something that won’t stop wiggling long enough to get a fork through it.

The anti-husband is the leading authority on abuse (just ask him.) He’s quick to tell anyone who’ll listen that he was abused all his life by every woman he ever encountered starting with his mother, his sister, his step sister, every ex-girlfriend, his one and only spouse whom he loved and sacrificed for on a daily basis, the women he worked with, women he encountered in the grocery store and naturally, every black woman he ever encountered because “everyone knows they all have attitude.”

One of these days I simply must tackle some random  black woman on the street and beg for lessons.

Sometimes it takes another person to help here. For me it was, Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men by Lundy Bancroft. Eye-opening doesn’t come close. There’s so much highlighter in my copy, its simpler to just quote what didn’t get marked.

3) Talk!

In theory, this is simple. Find someone, tell them what’s going on. But in practice, chose carefully. You want someone who’ll make comforting clucky noises and reserve judgment. Most of us, no matter how isolated, still know at least one friend we can talk to.  Or, it might be someone we never considered before (see number one above)—someone judged as too liberal, too feminist, too worldly, too something. Remember your definition of  ‘too’ probably got twisted by the one trying to keep you quiet.  When the proverbial crap hit the fan, I was surprised who came to my aid and more than shocked at those who didn’t. You won’t know until you start talking.

I kept quiet for thirty-one years. Thirty-stinkin’-one years. I talked to my mother almost every day and she found out six weeks before I made a run for it.  My best friend,  known over thirty five years, heard the first tiny glimmers of this story five months before I left. She was so shocked she asked for a few days to digest before replying. (When she did call back, bless her heart, she said, I should have known, all the signs were there but you kept saying everything was okay.) Naturally when I left, the anti-husband  blamed her for our break up, calling her a bitter, man-hating divorced woman. Divorced is the only true adjective in that sentence (kisses Darla.)

4) Counselors are our friends

Not all counselors are created equal. I suggest avoiding counselors from any particular sect and finding a non-denominational group that offers help on a sliding scale.

I go to a male Christian counselor. (Shocking, I know.) He’s a professional therapist with a PhD in psychiatry and counseling, not a mouthpiece for any particular denomination. We talk about things like why I have panic attacks in the hardware store, not whether or not I did the right thing in the eyes of God by leaving my husband.

Which leads to–

5) Grow a backbone

Doesn’t have to be a big one, a tiny spine will do. Just say to yourself right now, “It’s before my own Master that I stand or fall.” (Romans 14:4)

Lock twenty-five religious people in a room, write ‘divorce’ on the chalkboard and watch the fur fly. Remember,  one day you will answer to one Person and one Person only.  Read books, study, realize you and your children have to live with your decision, not them.  And remember, your heavenly Father loves you.

Someday, I’m going to get to my Father’s arms and throw myself right in. I’ve already confessed every known transgression and dozens I’m probably not responsible for and of one thing I am assured–His welcome.

Please wrestle the Almighty with open mind and  heart until you can say the same.

6) Nurture Creativity

A personal favorite and the intended topic before my belly button became so dadgum mesmerizing. . .

We’ll get to this next time. Maybe I’ll show you the fishies I painted yesterday~

Recommended: Abuse 101 from A Cry for Justice

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Excellent article over at A Cry for Justice titled,” Abuse 101- The Mentality and Tactics of Abuse.” I’d love to just quote the whole thing but check out these gems, then go read every single word on their website. Seriously, Pastor Pippen and Ms. Woods do such a wonderful job defining domestic abuse its like water in the desert. Someone in ministry finally gets it.

Abuse is fundamentally a mentality of entitlement and superiority which uses many different tactics to obtain and enforce the power and control the abuser deems himself entitled to. The abuser judges himself to be absolutely justified in using whatever tactics are necessary to ensure this power and control over his victim.

and another…

The abuser is the center of his universe. He views his victims as objects owned by him to serve him. A person with no empathy nor conscience obviously will objectify others – make them into a kind of non-human – and this makes it easier for him to use and abuse them. Because his worldview is one of entitlement and superiority, he minimizes, excuses, and blames others for the wicked things he says and does to his victim. After all, in his evaluation of the thing, he is absolutely justified in doing “what a man has to do” to keep his property in line.

To be understood? Makes me want to cry. Thank you both, so very much.

No One Will Believe You

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Recently, I asked a friend for feedback on these first few articles. With her permission, I’m going to address a couple of concerns.

She said she was uncomfortable with the term, “the beast.” Was he really that bad?

And here we encounter a problem I’ve bumped my head against numerous times. She may have asked if the anti-husband really deserves to be called a beast, but that’s not what I heard. Without realizing it, my friend triggered a case of the Wild-Eyed Crazies.

What I heard: Are you exaggerating?

The scary part? I’m actually minimizing.

Folks want to believe only what they see. In the case of verbal abuse, emotional abuse, bullying and other cases where a dominate party violates the trust of those dependent on them, scars aren’t always visible. You can’t imagine how many times I wished the anti-husband would just hit me already so I could call the police.

It’s hard for those outside  the fractured family circle to understand the kind of torment these men dish out.  If I walked around covered in bruises, black eye, broken bones protruding through the skin, no one would question my angst. But we’re talking injuries you can’t see inflicted by actions no one else witnessed.  You’re just going to have to take my word for it and that’s a huge leap for those who can’t imagine anyone would purposefully hurt their own wife and children.

It also plays smack dab into the hands of the abuser.

Typical Family Time

The beast loved to verbally beat the bloody hell out of me and the kids right before company pulled into the driveway. Then as we stood there bleeding, he morphed into Totally Charming Man– witty, funny, man’s man, envy of wives everywhere.  Throughout the coming evening, he sat  back and watched, taking potshots at each of us in turn, saying things no one else could possibly understand without the subtext.

Challenge anything he said, I wound up looking like a heinous bitch. The kids react, he punished them publicly, making an example of them, showing his audience how fully he controlled his home. Was this abusive? Taken as an isolated incident, maybe not. Day by day, damaging friendships, dividing the individual family members from one another, isolating the family unit which no longer wants outside contact with the world– You bet it was.

Could anyone else tell what was going on?

Only if they’d lived through  something similar. Later, several friends came and apologized. One said, “I lived with an abusive alcoholic father for 18 years and you had red flags waving all over the place. I should’ve known.”

Appearances Are Deceiving

Ours looked like the perfect Christian home. Others wanted to model our success. But please understand—if you only saw us sitting in a pew an hour on Sunday morning, is that really any indication of what goes on behind closed doors?  If you come over once every three months for barbeque and cream soda, can you possibly have any inkling what’s going to happen the minute your car pulls out of the driveway?

Tell Me What Happened

I can’t. If I told you I was sexually abused as a child, would you ask me for details? Would you want me to recount the incidents, one by one so you could judge for yourself how damaging these might  be? Would you decide that fondling really isn’t all that bad and I should be over it by now? Or get into a discourse about how your neighbor’s wife was repeatedly sodomized and that is much, much worse. In comparison, what you describe doesn’t sound  like abuse at all.

And yet, abused women who live with hateful domination, verbal onslaughts lasting hours on end, raging fits designed to punish them for their crimes,  and constant  threats of violence  get this reaction all the time. Tell me a few incidents. Tell me what happened. The implied message? I’ll be the judge of whether this is abusive.

The very worst incidents are the ones I don’t want to remember. The words ‘domination’ and ‘manipulation’ and ‘bullying’ are codewords for memories that lap at the edges of the very stuff it takes to get through another day. I use them to talk about what happened without plunging back into the muck. A triggered memory–one that shows up without invitation– can set back recovery by days, weeks, even months, depending on  how long  it takes to find the shreds of truth that barely hold me up and weave them back together.

It’s taken years to even admit to myself that abuse took place. How can I expect you to understand in the thirty minutes before you head back to your semi-normal family and the husband who may annoy the crap out of you, but never would purposefully set out to destroy your soul?

Google This:

  • Emotional Abuse
  • Verbal Abuse
  • Sexual Domination
  • Manipulation and Control.

If you really want to help,  really want to understand, you’ll have to educate yourself. Material is out there, pages and pages of the stuff. You’ll have to put criticism to one side and realize that women and children coming out of these marriages are showing the *effects* of abuse.

Please try to understand:

That pain you see, making you uncomfortable, isn’t free floating out there in space.

Something caused it.

*Someone* caused it.

The pain itself is a pretty dadgum good indication the story is authentic and, Yes Virginia, it really was that bad.

Don’t  judge  victims based on your own observations. You can’t see the damage done to the human spirit with eyeballs. You can’t examine the broken and bloody soul, x-ray the innards, assess the wreckage. What you *will* see is a fairly put together woman who’s learned to shut up and play nice, peeking out around the very frayed edges who probably overreacts to seemingly minor statements.

You can’t expect a survivor to explain in ten minutes it took her a lifetime to understand.

Recommended- Yashar Ali: A Message to Women From a Man: You Are Not “Crazy”

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Excellent article on gaslighting over at the Huffington Post:

“Gaslighting is a term often used by mental health professionals (I am not one) to describe manipulative behavior used to confuse people into thinking their reactions are so far off base that they’re crazy.

The term comes from the 1944 MGM film, Gaslight, starring Ingrid Bergman. Bergman’s husband in the film, played by Charles Boyer, wants to get his hands on her jewelry. He realizes he can accomplish this by having her certified as insane and hauled off to a mental institution. To pull of this task, he intentionally sets the gaslights in their home to flicker off and on, and every time Bergman’s character reacts to it, he tells her she’s just seeing things. In this setting, a gaslighter is someone who presents false information to alter the victim’s perception of him or herself.”

“Whether gaslighting is conscious or not, it produces the same result: It renders some women emotionally mute.

These women aren’t able to clearly express to their spouses that what is said or done to them is hurtful. They can’t tell their boss that his behavior is disrespectful and prevents them from doing their best work. They can’t tell their parents that, when they are being critical, they are doing more harm than good.”

Abused women will relate. In my case, things went from the type of behavior described here to a more deliberate form of crazy-making but Mr. Ali does an excellent job describing the practice in layman’s terms.

You’ll find the entire post here.