I will never forget the dread I experienced when I was honest about my feelings with my abusive ex-boyfriend. Anything and everything can and will offend an abuser, especially when you disagree with him. What an abuser chooses to get upset about is their choice and is as unpredictable as the weather; something that was benign yesterday can be infuriating today.
Disagreeing with him was never a good idea. After doing so, I remember that sick pang I'd get in my torso as I awaited his imminent reaction. And even when there was no reaction, I found myself wondering and even asking him if he was mad at me. Why? Because that's what I expected: He usually did get mad at me when I voiced my opinion. Why wouldn't I worry? Anger was the typical response I got when I was honest with him about my feelings or frustrations. Even with no response, the push and pull of his abusive dynamics prevented me from thinking properly; I was left emotionally "hand shy," inwardly wincing before each anticipated strike.
In an abusive relationship it is as if you are a building that has been demolished by dynamite and your true feelings are hidden somewhere beneath the rubble. They have been buried there because it is not safe to say how you really feel. An abuser controls you through silencing you and as a result he gets his way through force. An honest expression of feelings really sets off the abuser. He has constructed a world in which there is no need or room for your feelings. All he cares about is getting what he wants when he wants it and if you don't comply he reacts with violence. If you don't do what he wants, he no longer has use for you. Therefore he scares you back into "line" through verbal or physical assaults.
It is and isn't difficult to keep your feelings buried under rubble. At times, it's easy because you're already in denial and feeding yourself all kinds of lies as to why the relationship is "not that bad." Well, it's not that good either. Maybe you're even drinking or drugging to numb your feelings so you can tolerate it. I know I did that at one time. Then again, it isn't always easy to keep your feelings hidden, to let the abuser dominate your thoughts completely, especially when you have a rebellious streak like I do. Several times I said things to him that were better left in the rubble heap, the resting place of my innermost thoughts and feelings. Why not leave them there? Why not leave them unsaid? They meant nothing to him, might as well leave them with the rest of the debris.
During those instances -- and there were several -- when I "challenged" him, he would scream at me, slam something, or dump me. This would create a whole new cycle of stress in my life. Though most of what happened was predictable, it drained my energy. Towards the end, he broke up with me at least once a week, and nothing frustrated me more.
Thinking of the power he tried to gain over me by habitually breaking up with me makes me ill. Why bother to break up with someone if you are just going to go back out with them the next day? He was so controlling that he even tried take my life. Think about it -- the ultimate control for an abuser is to have the final say in whether someone lives or dies. It is not surprising to me that one-third of female homicide victims are murdered by a romantic partner. I still have trouble dealing with the fact that he almost killed me. It was scary, being so close to the brink of death and having the outcome be in someone else's hands, especially the hands of my abuser.
All is not solved when the abuser leaves the situation. There is residual damage. When I don't hear from a guy I'm dating for a while I start to think they are are beginning the same dynamics in which withholding affection is crucial -- or that they are punishing me in the same way my abuser did whenever I expressed my true feelings. I begin to wonder what I did to cause this, as it always felt like my fault in the past.
"Are you mad at me?"
I find myself asking this question any time I am honest about how I feel if my feelings differ from the opinion or needs of the person I am talking to. Why? This is just residual mental damage from being in an abusive relationship, a relationship where expression and honesty often resulted in a verbal or physical attack. To this day, I sometimes worry that people will withdraw their friendship in order to punish me if I don't agree with them. However, I have found that most don't because they are good people and good friends, people who wouldn't do that to me or anyone else. It is refreshing to be able to trust again. I haven't fully let my guard down, but I know that maybe someday I will, and maybe someday when I state how I feel, I won't have to ask the person I'm talking to "Are you mad at me?"
If you or a friend is experiencing domestic abuse don't hesitate to reach out for help. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is open 24 hours a day and will provide you with the guidance you may need to get to a safe place. The National Domestic Violence Hotline can be reached at 1−800−799−SAFE (7233)
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