On Being a Smart, Independent Emotionally-Abused Woman

But is he mean to you? my friend asks when I tell her that I am changing my last name back to my maiden name after my divorce.

What do you mean? I ask back, not wanting to think that she may be implying that if he hasn’t hit me, then he hasn’t been mean to me.

You know, hit you, she answers.

Is that it? Unless I’ve been physically beaten—smashed against the wall with the requisite concussion, broken bones and black eyes—he has been nice to me? Is the abuse I have endured as naught because only my eyes are red, not my skin? Two years of constant insults and curses, and twenty years of belittling comments and controlling behaviors are okay if I haven’t been physically broken? It doesn’t make sense. Do people really believe sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me? Have they never been upset by criticism? Have they never felt the pain of rejection? Have they never felt a sting caused by a word? Have they never felt a hurt-filled word reverberate through their mind a minute after it was uttered, an hour after it was uttered, a week after it was uttered—forever?

I look at her and respond (truthfully), He kicked a bag at my head once and I called the police. He didn’t try again.

She looks satisfied, as if now there is justification for my disaffection, for my wanting to distance myself from him and his name. And I had played right into those expectations, that to be abused can only mean to be physically tormented. My reply disappointed me; once again I didn’t stand up for myself, I didn’t say what I needed to say. Yes, he’s been mean, I should have said, he calls me bitch and liar and leech every chance he gets. Yes, he is mean. He insults my job, my interests, my ideas, my vocabulary, my family, my friends, my looks, my name, my breathing, my smell—my everything. Yes, he’s mean. And I have had no protection from him because he has not hit me, or threatened to kill me or physically harm me. And that must stop. For if I let her misperception continue, what chance is there to change that misperception?

Yes, verbal abuse is abuse. It hurts and humiliates. What more needs to happen to a woman in order to be protected against a man? Why do only welts count? A man should not be free to use his wife as his verbal punching bag.

*   *   *

It’s devastating when the person who is supposed to encourage, support and protect you becomes the person you need to be protected from.  Now I pay a lawyer $350 (it used to be $500) an hour to defend me against and extricate myself from the man I unhesitatingly married almost twenty-three years ago. How does love morph into hate? How does the man who tells you you’re beautiful become the man who calls you ugly—inside and out? How does the woman who hangs onto her husband’s every word as if it were the truth from Mount Sinai come to cover her ears and scream STOP over and over again so she won’t have to hear him berate her? How did I come to hate the man I once loved?

I can blame him. I can say he’s selfish and a narcissist. I can say he never really loved me, it was all about him, always, and I naively believed that he cared about me. But what does that say about me? How did I end up with such an evil man? I can analyze and hypothesize about his faults and faultiness, but, ultimately, to make my life better, to make it one that improves upon this dismal present, one that I will be content within—no, happy within—I need to understand where I went wrong, or at least to understand where my intentions were missed, why my actions came up lacking. Much that went wrong can be blamed on him. So what? Does it really matter that he is a deeply-flawed person. The right question seems to be: am I? Am I flawed for having fallen in love with him? for having stayed with him? for having believed in him for so long (even more than myself)?

Laura G. will proudly tell anyone that she is happily divorced. Any hint of controlling words or behavior gets her antennae up–high. She’s a mother of two teens who hopefully know how not to act towards others and how not to let anyone act toward them. She’s also a teacher who always expands the lessons to somehow include the life lessons that she has learned the hard way. And she writes; her blog is www.RebelliousThoughtsofaWoman.com. The book that came out of this part of her life is Get Your Words Off Me; she’s now at work on a novel that shows she has not lost her belief in love and healthy relationships.


8 responses to “On Being a Smart, Independent Emotionally-Abused Woman

  1. I think we all need to look at our own culpability, but I also believe that abusers (of any kind) are skilled at deflating our egos and making it that much harder to find our way out. We pay for our own mistakes in the lawyers, the dealing with the kids, in a million different ways.

  2. How is it, though, that so many abusers manage to deflate the egos of women who seemed to be so strong? Did they feel around until they found our cracks and pry them open? Do we all have cracks?

    We pay by becoming bitter and then realizing that a hard, bitter shell will not let us find a better life for ourselves and our children.

    Ugh, paying for lawyers, that really causes regrets.

    Regarding the kids, the bright spot is when they see their mothers stand up for themselves–and them.

  3. Laura G. raises many valid points. I’ve never been able to comprehend why the system doesn’t kick in until fists fly and guns are drawn. Where is the domestic violence prevention?

    Laura G. was smart. She left before the abuse escalated into physical abuse.

    Hopefully, the director Pres. Obama just appointed to the VAW office (she was a judge) will do something about manipulation of the legal system as an instrument of abuse. Christie Brinkley just brought this issue into the spotlight.

  4. As a domestic abuse counsellor and a survivor of abuse, both verbal and physical, I can tell you that most women agree that verbal violence is the worst form. Unfortunately, women who need help sometimes don’t get it because they think only physically abused women can go to a shelter. That is untrue.

    • Actually, Diane, my experience is that the shelter system isn’t interested until fists fly and guns are drawn. If your shelter is different, my hat is off to you for being so enlightened. I wish your point of view was more wide-spread.

      The statistics are kept on physical abuse, but nobody keeps track of the number of women who commit suicide because they can’t take the emotional abuse.

      I hope, Diane, that you will become a leader among your peers.

  5. In my state, Virginia, a husband (or wife) can say whatever he wants to his wife–I guess they consider verbal abuse a kind of conversation. Only when a couple is divorced can the ex-wife complain of harassment when he opens his mouth and the nastiness spews out.

    When I inquired with a domestic abuse counselor about calling the police she told me that they don’t like to handle those kinds of calls. And the two times that I did call the police, they were ineffectual. In fact, they were harmful–they told me not to return home because they feared for my safety. So instead of taking him out of the house, they told me to leave–leaving my daughters in the house with an unstable man. Not exactly a system to believe in.

  6. I am a survivor of a (mostly) verbally and sometimes physically abusive relationship for 14 years. I left 5 and a half years ago. I still have nightmares (and daymares) about him. I sometimes wonder if I will be damaged forever. I am both proud that I survived and damaged at the same time.
    I heard on NPR that France is considering a law against verbal abuse in marraige. I think that would be an excellent idea. The verbal abuse was far worse and more damaging than the physical – by a long shot.

  7. Great post! I bet you put a lot of research into it.

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