January 11, 2000
Dear Dr. Irene,
Your site is wonderful, educational, and inspiring. It is a great comfort that a site such as this exists to help spread awareness that verbal abuse is unacceptable. Although verbal abuse does not leave scars it is none the less felt deeply, in the heart, soul, and mind. Abuse gradually deteriorates the most vital part of an individual: their self-esteem and self-respect.
I am submitting
this today, Jan. 11, because today marks the fourth anniversary of when my
husband left me in search of “his happiness." It also marks the
anniversary of my freedom; of my rebirth.
But this of course is the end or rather the happy beginning,
depending on your point of view, to an otherwise unhappy marriage.
I want to share my story in the hopes that it may help someone realize that a better life is possible after abuse ends.
I married very
young to my high school sweetheart. I
know for a fact that I married my abuser knowing “in my heart” that he
was not perfect, that he had “problems and issues”, but my love made
him perfect in my eyes. I was sure that my love would be enough to change
him, to make him feel secure. But,
as I was to discover, nothing would make him secure enough. Because I was
so young, na´ve, and inexperienced (he was my first boyfriend), I
believed that everything this man had to say about relationships was true,
and thus must be followed. (After
all, had I not promised to love, honor, and OBEY him?)
And so began my INDOCTRINATION!
I shouldn’t talk to any of my friends because “They’re
crazy and messed up.” “We should spend our time together.” “I want
to be with you, don’t you want to be with me?” “They don’t
appreciate your company like I do.”
In the process I lost my friends and any
hopes of obtaining a clear perspective of what was happening in our
I shouldn’t go to certain places because “We could do
something together.” “Don’t you want to be with me?” “We can
have more fun together.” And so I lost my
I shouldn’t do certain things because “It’s not right.”
“It’s silly.” “It can affect us.” “Or better yet let’s do
this.” And so I lost my spontaneous nature.
I shouldn’t smile so much, or look guys in the eyes because
“The guys will think you like them and that might cause problems.” And so I
became more serious and reserved, and walked looking toward the ground.
I shouldn’t complain because I was “Too sensitive”
“Exaggerating” or “Taking things too personally or seriously.”
“Didn’t know how to take a joke.” And so I
disconnected from my feelings because I thought I could not trust them.
I was expected to do everything to avoid putting “our
relationship” in jeopardy by always taking into consideration the
“we” and the “us”. When
in reality there was never an “us”, there was only him, his way, his
needs, his wants and desires. His need for absolute control.
I had to watch what I said (and it never mattered how I practiced
it), walk on eggs, watch for any hints or gestures that would give me an
indication of his mood. And so I became cautious and adopted an “on guard”
approach in my interactions with him.
I shouldn’t provide opinions that differed from his because “You’re wrong”, “Not thinking
straight.” “Too stupid to understand.” “Not seeing the point
clearly.” or “Have no experience on the subject.” “You are being incoherent.” And so I
began to doubt myself when I spoke. I believed my judgment and perspective was flawed.
became silent - because by becoming quiet you never said the wrong
thing and thus had nothing to fear. One
did not have to worry about getting “the look”, hearing him raise his
voice, hear his speeches (verbal torture as I used to call it) or see his
scary gestures. I stayed
quiet because I was scared, I didn’t want the children to be scared. I also did not want to be
embarrassed in front of family or friends. (I was anyway!) Silence meant I didn’t have to
watch him get angry over the stupidest thing. I wanted to keep the peace.
I also didn’t want to give him reason to attack me (I felt
vulnerable). But, SILENCE had a price. One
I paid dearly. On the outside I looked calm and complacent, but inside a
storm of resentment and anger brewed. The more I kept quiet and refused to
fight back, the more he thought he was right, the more he justified that
his needs, wants, and desires were first. By staying quiet, I never told
him of my needs and wants, and so never had any hope of these being
acknowledged or satisfied. So, he was not responsible for my happiness,
although I was responsible for his happiness.
Of course this is
only the tip of the iceberg. Not only did he want to alter my behavior and
thoughts (which he did at first), he targeted on the one thing that would
always place me in a superior level then him. He targeted my brain. Yes, that’s right, my
intelligence. Having been an honor student in high school and in college,
he attacked this area with more frequency and devotedness - to ensure my
dependence on him. Over time
I became - in his eyes - “immature”, “silly”, “stupid”,
“ignorant” “a Barbie head.” “You need to be explained things at
kindergarten level.” “You’re worse then my most inefficient
employees.” “You’re going to make the company you work for incur
losses when you make decisions.” “Are you sure you are learning in
that college? I think you’re wasting your time” or “I glad I’m
letting you study, you really need it!”
Yet, when I had to study for a test or do a project, and it was
going to take away time I could dedicate to him, he would say, “You’re
smart, you can learn that quickly.”
“You know that already, you don’t need to study.” “I bet
you can learn that in no time, you’re so intelligent, study later.”
only reason he allowed me to continue with my studies was because he
wanted to shut my parents “big trap” and “show them how wrong they
were”. Retrospectively, I
believe that if he had not allowed me to study, I would not have put up
the fight to do so, even though I really, really wanted to. So it was a blessing that one of
the first things my parents said when I married so young was “I doubt
you will get your college degree.” I immediately informed my husband of
this. (Funny how starting out you tell your mate everything, but as abuse
continues and escalates, you learn not to trust him with your most secret
thoughts and desires - because it can later be used against you!) As you can see, these controlling
abusers only allow things if it allows THEM to manipulate the situation to get a point across, make them
look good, or make someone look bad, as was the case with my parents.
Of course the
impact of these words was indescribable.
Some days were better then others.
There were times when I could actually ignore these comments and
see them for what they were. But at other times (the majority), they rang
in my ears for hours, even days after they were said. They affected me in
ways that until now, I did not understand.
I became forgetful, I lost interest in cleaning the house, I
wouldn’t fold the clothes, I lost interest in my appearance, I kept
really busy, doing errands, visiting friends and family. I did anything in
my power not to return home until I knew he was about to arrive. I laughed less and cried more. And it goes on and on: signs that
clearly indicated that I was unhappy, but I stayed. Why?
Simply answered: I did not want to see things as they really were, I did not want to confront reality. Why?
Fast-forward a few years when I noticed that my husband’s
attention was not solely mine. At
this point I really did not care, I had just graduated college and had
obtained a scholarship to continue with my Master’s degree. This was the only thing that gave
me a sense of my self-worth and helped unravel the distorted perspective
my husband wanted me to adopt. So
I happily threw myself into the process, three months into my semester
(Oct.) I found out I was pregnant with my second child, needless to say
the timing couldn’t have been worse.
A month later around Thanksgiving, my insignificant other told me
he has found happiness with his co-worker friend and was going to move
out. (What is it with special
days, that abusive men always have to ruin them? I can’t remember one special
day: Christmas, Thanksgiving, Valentine’s, A Birthday, Graduation,
Anniversary, or a Mother’s Day in which he behaved himself!)
Well needless to
say the rug was pulled out from under me!
The month of Dec. was literally spent crying and suffering because
his abuse escalated during this time.
In Jan. he moved out saying, “I know I might be making the
biggest mistake of my life, but I want the opportunity to come back.” When I protested he said, “I have the right to come
back.” I answered “If you have the right to come back, I also have the
right to say no, and I can tell you from this moment on, once you step out
of that door you might have a right to come back to this house, but you
will not find me in it!” He
half-smiled and answered “Why wouldn’t you want me back?” I answered “I just might like
being ALONE.” He than said “Good, because when we get back together you
will do things for me because you want to NOT because you feel you have to
or because I tell you to”.
And he left, but,
boy did I feel relieved. I had no job, no money and I could never consider
the house where we were living in to be mine (it belonged to his parents). I’m not going to lie and say I
finally saw the light and totally ignored him. Learned behaviors and
reactions are tough (although, not impossible) to break. I cried, I was
hurt. At first I missed him,
but when I asked myself: “What
do you specifically miss?” My
answers were: sex, him holding me at night, and going out together. That’s all I could answer, and
it showed me I had nothing to hold on to.
And when I asked myself “What things do you want him to
change?” The list I
produced was so long that I understood from that moment on that only a MIRACLE could change him.
And for the first time I could feel. I felt everything that was happening to me and it was overwhelming. I felt it was unfair. I felt I deserved better. I felt jealous. I felt angry. I felt rage. I felt disgusted and disgusting. For the first time I decided to face what I was feeling instead of burying it deep inside me in a little box. I guess you can say I mourned for my marriage, but I especially mourned for myself. All the time thinking: how can the man I choose to be my life long companion, be in fact my worse enemy?
I was blessed by
having the parents that I have, not only did I go live with them, but my
father gave me the necessary support so that I could finish my Master’s. My Dad said “You need to provide
a good life for yourself and your children, you finish your education
because that is the best inheritance I could ever give you!” “Everyone needs help now and
then and it should be given when you most need it!” This support allowed me to heal. I call this stage the cocoon
stage, because what would eventually emerge was the butterfly. Of course it took time, but in
order to evolve and help me keep focused on my newfound reality I did two
One, I began reading everything on the subject (and still
do!). My favorites: The
Verbally Abusive Relationship, (where I learned that our realities
were two different worlds, he wanted control.) I wanted a loving,
trusting, mutual friendship. When we married, these two worlds crashed
together. I of course lost. When Words Hurt, No Visible Wounds, and Men Who Hate Woman, and the Women Who Love Them (The
first book I found that addressed my problem). In each I saw my life in print.
Two, I began writing a day by day journal of how I felt, of
what had happened. I collected every scrap of evidence that demonstrated
his lack of love and respect for me. (This was done by saving all the credit card bills, which
showed all the money he was spending on his new lady, while the only thing
he left on the kitchen counter for me was $60.00). So the day he would call
complaining about his life, asking me to go back with him, to listen to
his problems, I would force myself to read my journal and look through the
bills. In a snap any urge to help him, go back to him, hear him, feel
sorry for him - evaporated completely.
As time passed, the entries to that journal diminished. Currently,
I no longer write in it, except once a year - when I read through it again
and write about how I feel now. The difference is remarkable; literally two different
people that have been writing in this journal.
Behind me are the days I felt: dazed and in
a fog, lost, unappreciated, misunderstood (what language did I speak, to
make him so mad?), depressed, and alone.
God, I felt so alone. I couldn’t understand this at
first. How could you feel alone when you have someone in your life? his
depressed me. Why is that when we were together we seemed to be
light years apart? t wasn’t until he left that I realized
that even though he was no longer around, I was still doing the things I
had always done. I mean I was
still cleaning the house, doing the laundry, doing the errands, washing
the car, taking care of the kids, throwing out the trash (Yes, he didn’t
even do this), going to school. I was still
doing it ALL. I was still
doing it ALL. I was still
doing it ALL. It hit me how little he helped me; how
little he did around the house, That
is when I understood why I felt so lonely, so drained, depleted, run down
- and why I felt so distant from him.
t was because even though
we were together physically - emotionally and psychologically we
were miles apart. And what
was even more incredible was when I discovered: I was more independent then he was, he actually needed me
more then I needed him!
Eventually, I came to one of the hardest points of my healing
process. It was a very, very, very painful lesson. I realized I was co-dependent. I had
to accept that I played a significant part in this abusive cycle. Believe
me, this is not easy to accept. I
realized that the reason he did what he did was because I LET HIM! I
had to realize that the only reason he didn’t give me the respect
I deserved, wanted, and needed - was because I never respected myself
enough to ask or demand them. I
never protected myself when he hurt me.
I never said OUCH!
You are hurting me and I do not
like it and I will not allow it!
thinking back, I can only remember three instances (early in our marriage)
in which I put my foot down, opened my mouth, complained and protested
very loudly - not caring about the consequences. One of those moments
occurred when we were about to go out and I put on a nice shirt and a
skirt (the skirt was from a two piece set but, I was not using the shirt). Hubby came over and said in a
demanding voice, “Hey, put on the shirt that really goes with that
skirt!” I said, “No, I won’t feel comfortable.” He insisted, “If
you're going out with me, I want you to put on the shirt that goes with
that skirt.” “I said
“No, I’m six months pregnant and the half- shirt that goes with this
skirt is short and will not cover me.”
He said “I don’t care, do it for me.” To which I responded very angrily
“I told you I will feel uncomfortable, and besides I have been dressing
myself my whole life and don’t need you to tell me what I can and can
not put on!” Well he got
off my case. Looking back, I see I set a limit. After that, I can honestly
say that he NEVER EVER repeated the
same conduct again.
But my assertive moments were rare
exceptions. In general I did
not set rules or boundaries because I did not really know what setting
limits and boundaries meant at the time.
I also thought if I said what I wanted, I’d be selfish or greedy;
I would seem bitchy. Worse of
all I believed if I gave the best of myself, he would feel satisfied with
my love. He would feel
confident and secure enough to reciprocate. This of course never
happened because the more I gave in, the more
I gave up, the more I stayed quiet, the more he still needed and the more
pain I felt.
After learning this final lesson, I obtained the closure I so desired. The closure I found was much different then what I had initially hoped for or wanted. At first I wanted to see my ex on his hands and knees begging for forgiveness - because he realized just how good I was and how horrible his new lady was, how undeserving and foolish he was to give it all up and not appreciate it. (My Fairy Tale phase) Then, I wanted to see him suffer economic, psychological, and emotional chaos, while I was doing great (My revenge phase). But closure did not come in his “I’m sorry, take me back!” When he uttered that magical phrase, I realized that all the "I’m sorrys" in the world could not erase what I had been through. closure come when he did go through a very low point in his life. By this time I had totally disconnected from him; I really didn’t care. Yet, ironically he called me saying “This is your fault, if you would have taken me back when I asked for forgiveness, I wouldn’t be in this mess! I should have never asked for your forgiveness!” I laughed, and said, "Then consider that you never did, because even my forgiveness, I still don't want you back. It changes nothing!" To which he replied “My biggest mistake was leaving, I should have stayed. "You would have forgiven me then.” I calmly replied “That is precisely why God made sure you left!” Needless to say he hung up. I would be lying if I said that these events did not bring a smug smile to my face. My smile was in fact my pat on my back: “I’m proud of you, girl” because I knew I had changed, but he had not!
Closure came when I finally confronted and accepted my feelings, absorbed all that happened, understood it as much as I could, learned the role I played (my codependency), and did everything possible to improve and enrich my life.
Closure came when I learned to laugh, be happy and love myself enough to forgive myself for what happened.
Closure came when I obtained a high level of self-awareness that allowed me to know I learned my lesson.
when I could once again trust in myself and know that I would never, ever
let this happen again. (If by
chance I happen to meet another abusive person I know to RUN not walk to the nearest exit!) My feelings are first!
when I learned that my needs and wants were just as valid as his - even
more so - and that I had every right to demand what I wanted
and needed. But, more then demand, I had a right to HAVE MY WANTS MET! I learned that I am important
and I must take care of myself emotionally, physically, psychologically,
spiritually, and economically because if I didn’t, no one will.
Quite honestly, no one should feel they have to. Gone is the Cinderella Complex: I
do not need the Prince on the white horse. All I ever needed was strength
to stand on my own two feet.
when I regained my self worth and self-respect. In
short closure had nothing to do with my ex, but everything to do with ME!
I had to take responsibility for myself and my actions.
Life is a
choice, I know it sounds too simple, but it is. I decided not to go back
to abuse. I decided to take
the road less traveled. Let me assure you, although bumpy and difficult at
first, it is definitely worth traveling.
Had my ex-husband not decided to leave me, or had I made the choice
to go back, how many years would I have lost, and how many opportunities
would I have missed or given up? Sadly,
I know the answer would be “too many” because one thing I am sure of
is that my ex-husband never wanted for me what I wanted for myself. And that, my friends, is a shame
and a great pity.
I made the choice of living the life that God intended me to have: one that is fruitful, happy, and peaceful.
What is your choice?
P.S. Dr. Irene, I would greatly appreciate it if you would allow readers to comment on my story, it is with the hope that I may find it truly did help someone make a life altering decision.
After reading your extraordinary account, I am delighted to honor your request! Dear Lady, you have laid out the recovery "map." Thank you for your contribution. May God bless you. Dr. Irene
I would like to read what others wrote.