I was married young,
and full of hopes and dreams. What I ended up getting was a
nightmare. I was married for 24 years, and when I finally got the
courage to leave, I was still not aware of what I had endured for years.
I did not know there was a word for it. I left and sought counseling and
that is where I learned about emotional abuse. It started slowly,
and by the time I left it had escalated to verbal abuse, physical
abuse, and mind games. He would scream at me when I least expected
it, throwing me off balance and leaving me searching for reasons why it
had occurred, and how to avoid his outburst. I would drive
to work replaying the scene over and over in my head, trying to figure
out what I could have done differently. It never changed. His
abuse always occurred in the privacy of our home or when I was trapped
in a car with him. Everyone else in the World thought he was a
wonderful, kind person.
He would wake me
up out of a sound sleep, screaming because he could not find his socks,
he would come home and throw the laundry that I had separated and ready
to wash all over because it was in front of the washing machine, and not
in baskets. He showed me how to load the dishwasher because I did
not do it correctly. He even went as far as to show me how to use
toilet paper because I used too much. He took over the cooking
because I did not know how to cook. He started to take his clothes
to the cleaners because I did not clean them correctly.....and of course
everyone else in the world thought he was wonderful because he was doing
all these things.....
If I started a
project he would come home and tell me how I had done it wrong.
One day, his anger escalated
to physical abuse and he threw me against a wall and started hitting me
in the face and stomach.....It was after that, that I returned to
college and got my degree because I knew I could not stay. I
finished my degree and in my sickness stayed another five years while my
daughter was in college. It was during these last five years that
the mind games started, and I think we were on our way to physical abuse
again. One day I was painting the garage. He came out and told me
to bring the paint sprayer to him so he could help, I guess I was
not quick enough. He grabbed it out of my hands and pushed me. I
confronted him and asked him why it pushed me. He stood there and said,
"Whah whah whah, poor Doreen" . Shortly after that, we
moved our daughter to another city and I went to my first pro baseball
game. I loved it! I was so excited - I left elated and said I
could hardly wait until the next game. He stood there in the
parking lot, red in the face, screaming at me that we were never going
to another game. It was
there, right then and there, at that moment, that I knew it was over.
After 24 years of being yelled at, put down, hit, denied things I
wanted, mind games (telling me I had said things I hadn't and looking at
me like I was losing it) - I finally woke up. I knew I had to get
out. I KNEW HE DID NOT WANT ME TO BE HAPPY.
Thank God, I
found a wonderful counselor who was well versed in emotional abuse.
I went to therapy and read and read and read. I have come a long
way. I have God in my life. I have learned to love me. I refuse to
accept abuse as a part of life. My next challenge is my son.
He has learned some of his father's abuse patterns. He is 23 and
miles away. The last time I saw him was two years ago. It was like
being thrown back in with my ex.
My son wants to
return to the city where I live and attend college, and live with me.
I am not sure how I will handle it if he still has his father's habits.
I left my ex, walked away, never had anymore contact with him, and
failed terribly when my son was here two years ago. I felt
like I was right back where I started.
I think this is a
topic that also needs to be addressed. Is this common when a father is
emotionally abusive the kids continue the treatment. I have a
friend going through a divorce now, and her ten year old treats her like
her soon to be ex does. How do we stop these cycles? Thanks
Thank you for your story. I love to
hear about successes, and so do the readers - judging by what they
request more of. Good for you!
What to do with your son...how do we
address such problems? Yes, Doreen, these problems are common in
abusive families. A few thoughts come to mind.
The first thing is to remember that
your son is likely to be predisposed to anger given his father's
biology. As the old saying goes, "The apple doesn't fall far from
But that's not the whole story. In
order for the predisposition to actuate, psychologists believe that
the environment the child grows up in must be abusive or neglectful.
Whether your son was emotionally abused by your husband or was witness
to your abuse at the hands of his father, dad taught him lessons: Both
how to be a victim and how to be a perpetrator. Techno-babble:
Your husband modeled abusive behavior and taught your son
everything he knows. He also taught your son that the bully
"wins," and that "weakness" (i.e., soft behavior)
is contemptuous and is to be taken advantage of.
My next thought concerns your ability
to handle abusive individuals since, while you walked away from your
husband, you did not indicate that you learned how to negotiate him -
or other abusive people in your present-day environment. While
you give no specifics on how you "failed terribly" in
the past with your son, my guess is that while you can handle
high levels of abuse (you leave), you do not know how to deal with the
minute to minute abusive interactions or subtle abusive
interactions that don't even get noticed.
If you choose to allow your son
to live with you, make up a set of bottom-line "rules" ahead
of time. What are your expectations regarding housekeeping, rent,
visitors, etc., etc.? What do you consider respectful behavior and
disrespectful behavior? How will you handle disrespectful behavior?
What are grounds for eviction? Make up a very, very detailed list of
your expectations and articulate them to your son. Put them down in
contract form and have him sign if you must. Be specific about what
behaviors, attitudes, etc. you will not tolerate. Know how you will
handle mis-behaviors. Once you decide on a plan, stick with
it. Don't let a mis-behavior slide under any circumstances,
even if you think you are being "mean" or
ever forget, it is your house and you are the boss. It is
OK to "pull rank." Your assignment, if you will, is to teach
your son to respect you - instead of take advantage of you. You are
doing this for his sake as well as for yours.
Finally, (and do this whether your
son comes to live with you or not), get a copy of Suzette Haden
Can't Say That To Me! and learn to recognize and
counter abusive statements. Always keep in mind that you were never
taught the skills you are learning now - the cognitive, emotional, and
verbal skills you need to demand respect!
Again, thank you for your inspiring
story...keep us posted if you want.
May God bless you and
yours, -Dr. Irene