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  1. tessa
    tessa August 8, 2011 at 9:42 am |

    this is a beautiful post. thank you for writing it. do you think you really would have left the relationship sooner if people had been a little bit more insistent with you? or, did you need something like an emergency room visit to put the leaving in motion?

  2. BHuesca
    BHuesca August 8, 2011 at 9:51 am |

    Thank you.

  3. Allison
    Allison August 8, 2011 at 10:06 am |

    This is such a powerful post. Thank you for talking about this issue of “strength” that is often debated with victims of abuse- obviously there is so much more to abusive relationships that are too often simplified and even more often used against the victim for not being “strong enough to leave.” Thank you for such a personal and balanced portrayal.

  4. Riptide
    Riptide August 8, 2011 at 10:20 am |

    How would you have responded to a friend saying “Yes, Autumn, you *can*. But you *aren’t*.”?

    I wish I had time for a more in-depth response, but I want to thank you for sharing your story. It made me re-evaluate a few things I’d internalized about relationship violence–for example, I found myself reacting dismissively to the insinuation that criticism is a form of abuse, when so often it actually is. If there are things we can “criticise” about our friends and partners, there are always better ways to address them than tearing those people down. Thank you for helping me realize that.

  5. Marie
    Marie August 8, 2011 at 10:31 am |

    It’s amazing, the completely unrelated things that somehow get linked together in that fog to mean “totally not abusive!” I remember these things making perfect sense in my mind, and I only realized they didn’t have any logical connection to each other when I’d say them out loud and people would make that “I don’t know how to respond to that” face.

    Q: Does he hurt you?

    A: No, we’re getting married.
    A: No, we’re getting married and he’s taking my name.
    A: No, I’m a feminist.
    A: No, I graduated head of my class.
    A: No, I majored in women’s studies.
    A: No, I volunteer at shelters.
    A: No, I’ve helped other friends out of abusive relationships.
    A: No, I’ve gotten out of abusive relationships before.
    A: No, he came to a pro-choice rally with me.
    A: No, we’re great, we just got a dog.

    I didn’t realize that none of those things actually mean, “No, he doesn’t hurt me,” that there was a reason I couldn’t just respond to a direct question with a direct answer. Only once I was out did I realize that all those unrelated answers had never translated to, “No, he doesn’t hurt me,” but had always translated to, “Yes, he does hurt me, but it doesn’t matter and it’s not that bad.”

    And thank you for talking about that fog. It’s one of the hardest things to describe to others, that you can be strong and smart enough to rip your way through college but sometimes you sit down and have to really try to remember how reading works, and why it matters.

  6. Marie
    Marie August 8, 2011 at 10:40 am |

    Riptide:
    How would you have responded to a friend saying “Yes, Autumn, you *can*. But you *aren’t*.”?

    Oh my god, this, that is perfect. I can just imagine how that would have affected me at the time, because the natural follow-up (they wouldn’t have even needed to say it, it would have popped into my mind) is, “Why aren’t you?” And the lack of a clear answer to that would have been so disturbing to me, something I couldn’t dismiss very easily.

    I mean, none of these things are guaranteed magic — it probably wouldn’t have gotten me out — but I know when I finally left there were a few moments running through my head, a few things people had said to me, that finally all clicked together into a picture/hope of, “You’re not crazy, this is wrong,” and I could see the question of, “Why aren’t you taking care of this?” being one of those things.

  7. AndersH
    AndersH August 8, 2011 at 10:44 am |

    Wonderful post, thank you.
    This made me think about toxic masculinity, and how part of that is definitely about being “strong and alone” (even if it kills you), and how that ideal rarely gets challenged. Sort of like how certain parts of masculinity are now seen as generally positive instead of being challenged or held at the same level as feminine/other kinds of behaviour.
    No person is an island, and it’s an absurd standard to hold people to. It’s sad that such a negative attribute (story, illusion) is held up as a goal by anyone. It’s good to be strong; to be part of a community is not being weak, and rejecting help isn’t being strong.
    The “individuality trick” seems tailor-made to divide and conquer, given the existence of institutional forces.

  8. Kristen J.
    Kristen J. August 8, 2011 at 10:55 am |

    I wish there was a magic wand to penetrate that fog. Thank you for writing about it.

  9. Ellie
    Ellie August 8, 2011 at 11:01 am |

    Thank you so much for writing this. Parts were hard to read, but I’m glad I had the chance to read them.

    I also have been in an abusive relationship, though mine never escalated as much as yours and never required intervention outside of just my family and friends. I think the stumbling block is that we have trouble seeing ourselves as those type of people. I think instead, it may be helpful to try seeing those people as being like us.

    My ex, who I loved very much, was not an abusive prick. He was a nice guy, who did a lot of nice things for me, and who was generally great; until he wasn’t. And the times that he wasn’t just got to occupy more and more of our time together. But when you see an abuser on TV, or in a news article, you don’t know about the inside jokes the couple had, or the charming things he said to her mother when they first met, or anything like that. We don’t understand that two sides can coexist in the same person, and figure that if there are nice things there somewhere, he couldn’t possibly be that abusive person.

    Those nice things in no way make abuse acceptable, but they do make it harder for some people to recognize.

  10. Rosa
    Rosa August 8, 2011 at 11:05 am |

    Thank you

  11. Rachel
    Rachel August 8, 2011 at 11:17 am |

    Thank you for writing this. I really like how you talk about that fog is ever present during that time. I try to explain that to people when I tell my own story and it’s hard for them to understand. I really appreciate your bravery.

  12. me
    me August 8, 2011 at 11:22 am |

    See you were handling it… just not in a remotely healthy way. It’s like when you’ve got that wicked cold/flu thing but you hype yourself up on caffeine, decongestants and antihistimines, pain meds, put on two sweaters when it’s barely cool, so and so forth, and go to work anyway. You come home exhausted, you feel like shit but you’re putting on your brave face, you are going to work and getting things done. Except you’re not getting anything done, everyone can tell you feel like shit, yet you keep smiling and saying “it’s just a sniffle”. You know better, they know better. Except with a cold your boss/friends/whomever is willing to say “you damn well know it’s not, go home and get better or I’ll kick your butt”

    I don’t think he was emotionally abusing me. I think we were definitely heading in that direction (mildly controlling and through his infidelities destroying my self-esteem but not yet insulting/commanding me directly). Ironically it was my depression that made me seek help–I had already done the depression thing before and could see a breakdown coming and this one was promising to not be pretty. It was the counselor who was willing to say “you damn well know this is not an okay situation. fix it. and by fix it I mean dump him”. I got to the point where I could see emotional abuse in my future (his girlfriend had dumped him and I started being told how I wasn’t as awesome as she was…). And because I had been in counseling I was able to actually handle it in a healthy way. i.e. get out

    When I first went to see my counselor I thought I was crazy. Like black-is-white; up-is-down crazy. I remember there was some old black and white movie where the evil husband is trying to send his wife to an institution (or something) and he’s moving things around and telling her things wrong and so an so forth to make her breakdown. I felt like that. I knew that it felt wrong, but he was saying things were okay. A few people told me things looked wrong–those people who I let know what was going on–and *I* said things were okay. But I put up on my brave face and most people didn’t really know. And I was on my way to a breakdown due to that kind of black-is-white behavior–I had to assert to myself that I wasn’t crazy, I could trust my instincts, and for the past two years my instincts were just bouncing off the walls with alarm. Ignoring my instincts was the “crazy” thing to do, it’s why everything felt wrong, why I didn’t know what was going on, and was a major component of my little bout with depression–because, basically, by ignoring my instincts I was saying black was white, up was down. (yes, I know the politics of using the word “crazy” but I have no other word to adequately describe that feeling. If you can come up with a better word, please let me know)

    Also, I think the pure amount of doublethink required to ignore that kind of instinctual panic (i.e. the instincts are screaming “why aren’t you paying attention to us?!”) makes it very difficult for others to breakthrough. I have one good friend who lives on the other side of the state who told me that I could vent to her however much I wanted, but she would still think he was treating me badly no matter how much I then tried to turn his actions around in my head. Even doing what she did, which was continually saying “this is wrong”, is hard I think. The fantasy of how things are working out and how good things are going to be can make one (me, at least) spin a pretty fantastic tale for others about how things are rough now but they’re about to get great. It takes a really observant and strong person to see through all of that say “yeah, but you’re lying” *and* maintain that point after you flip out.

  13. heyjudi
    heyjudi August 8, 2011 at 11:27 am |

    Thank you for writing this. When you’re in a toxic relationship it’s hard to see through that “fog” you so aptly described. Especially when you are an activist, a feminist, an educated person who took courses in women’s studies. I know. I have been there.

    It’s difficult with those movies that the Lifetime network portrays of abuse, which is always made out to be obvious and heinous, where the protagonist is a woman who is just a sweetheart but oh-so naive. The reality is always very much more murky than the tv drama, and I think it sends a confusing message to women who are in abusive relationships: “Well, my partner doesn’t do THAT,” or, “My partner’s not THAT bad.”

    It’s insidious the way they worm themselves into our hearts and then slowly start dismantling our reasoning and core identity. It indeed DOES create a fog of confusion.

    And being an educated person makes it that much more difficult to admit we are in the sort of situation you described. It’s embarrassing and you just don’t want to admit it to people because you of all people should know better (perception).

    I hope this article gets LOTS of readings and turns on lightbulbs in LOTS of people’s heads. It’s okay. You’re okay. And we’re right here with you to help you handle it.

  14. Brigid
    Brigid August 8, 2011 at 11:39 am |

    Thank you for writing this.

    I have thought a lot about how we — Americans/Westerners/people in capitalist societies — conflate feminism with strength or absolute independence. This fallacy is hurtful (and just nonsensical) in a lot of situations, abuse being one of the more obvious and destructive. It points to something I think Western feminists need to seriously examine: how our societal expectations around independence and community, our definitions of “freedom” and “liberation,” and our cultural definitions of self-worth and equality color our feminism.

    It’s no coincidence that feminists in a society that celebrates independence and capitalist competition above cooperation and community has trouble conceptualizing a feminism that isn’t centered around autonomy and access to material wealth. Those things are important, but we need to question our emphasis on them, instead of allowing our feminism to uncritically reproduce the ideas about worth and power of the society in which it was formed.

    This may seem pretty abstract, and it is. Sorry for that. But it is exactly because of concrete, personal experiences like yours that I believe it’s vital for us to think and act critically about how we, as feminists, [intend to] value community and individuality, independence and interdependence, agency and power.

  15. Z S
    Z S August 8, 2011 at 12:04 pm |

    Thank you for this. It makes me feel reassured actually because I said exactly that to a friend in a similar position. Her own family had berated her in front of me for putting up with it, suggesting they hadn’t given her a world-class Ivy League education and feminist upbringing so she could put up with that crap. I shouted at her father at his own dining table to just shut up because he didn’t know what he was talking about. The obligation on her to be strong was incredible.

    Does anyone think there is any mileage in the idea that abuse of this nature is allowed to pass by such a woman partly because a hetero relationship is one of the few places left where the fact of being Woman and Man are among the most important things about the people involved? If a woman is a lawyer, then when she is at work, most people hopefully see her lawyerness before her femaleness – even those who refer dismissively to a “woman lawyer” wouldn’t say “lawyer woman” or “woman playing at law”. They might assume she’s not the best or most committed lawyer, but most people still wouldn’t say she wasn’t one at all. In a store, you are a customer first, because even if your card says Mrs on it, you’re assumed to be paying with your own money. To the government, you’re a taxpayer, because you may file by yourself. Etc. Thanks to feminism, certain women get to be People before Women, in many settings. And that means they’re liberated from following old scripts about how Women behave, and can more freely write their own, just like my friend most of the time.

    All that could disappear behind closed doors in a hetero relationship. Because your sex/gender are intrinsic to the situation – he may be dating you because you are smart, funny, a lawyer, etc, but none of those qualities would matter if you weren’t female. Maybe there is potential for such a couple to fall into old scripts, and not even realize. You assume you get to be a Person at work, at your soccer club, on the train, at the homeless shelter where you volunteer, but you become a Woman at home – and because of this you still do the second shift, find yourself unable to assert your needs, and tolerate treatment that would have you screaming blue murder in any other setting (eg if your boss/some skeevy guy on the train did that to such a woman she would react powerfully). And God knows the media isn’t offering many new scripts for how hetero couples should be treating each other behind closed doors. Obviously this only applies to women who are generally highly liberated. It’s just what I felt was going on with my friend, that she felt astonishingly entitled to equality and respect everywhere except with her horrible boyfriend, where she would just crumble. Anyway I don’t know if I am expressing this very well, but this post brought back this conversation with her after she left him 18 months ago, and I have been thinking about it ever since.

    Autumn I am glad you are out of that place now. Thank you for a thoughtful and helpful post.

  16. katrinaholloway
    katrinaholloway August 8, 2011 at 12:18 pm |

    @me (comment 12):
    what you’re refering to is gaslighting:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaslighting

    one of my exes did that to me a lot. i don’t know if it was on purpose or if he just couldn’t remember the things he said/did and rather than admitting it, he blamed me for not remembering correctly. i know i still have a hard time labeling that as abusive.

  17. April
    April August 8, 2011 at 12:38 pm |

    katrinaholloway:
    @me (comment 12):
    what you’re refering to is gaslighting:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaslighting

    one of my exes did that to me a lot. i don’t know if it was on purpose or if he just couldn’t remember the things he said/did and rather than admitting it, he blamed me for not remembering correctly. i know i still have a hard time labeling that as abusive.

    I’ve also heard this referred to as “crazy-making.” When I heard descriptions of those terms, I was dumbfounded. My abusive ex did exactly the same thing. Constantly.

  18. Kay
    Kay August 8, 2011 at 12:49 pm |

    It took me nearly a year after managing to leave my first abuser to realize what had happened was abuse. That I had lost sight of who “I” was. Afterwards, I swore I’d never be complacent in entering an abusive relationship ever again.

    Except I did. It wasn’t physically abusive, but verbally and emotionally so. Four years of ups and downs (mostly downs) and being constantly belittled and my triggers deliberately set off.

    You never think it’s you. I never thought that I, strong, independent, fiercely opinionated and outspoken girl I am, would be subject to the abuse that I was. It has only been in the last few years that I’ve been able to relatively openly talk about my abuse and the lasting effects it has had on me.

    So thank you. Thank you so much for this post.

  19. katrinaholloway
    katrinaholloway August 8, 2011 at 12:50 pm |

    @ april:

    it did make me feel like i was going insane (for lack of a better word, sorry). this is why i no longer speak to him since our breakup: he continued doing the same thing even after we were no longer together.

  20. April
    April August 8, 2011 at 1:08 pm |

    I found this website on another blog the other day, and think it’s a valuable resource for these situations (sorry about the URL/title; the content’s really informative and powerful, though): http://youarenotcrazy.com/

  21. Mario
    Mario August 8, 2011 at 1:11 pm |

    I just shared this with friends, with a special invitation to my male friends to read it…I also hope that those of us that have daughters will read it.

  22. saurus
    saurus August 8, 2011 at 1:33 pm |

    Marie:
    It’s amazing, the completely unrelated things that somehow get linked together in that fog to mean “totally not abusive!” I remember these things making perfect sense in my mind, and I only realized they didn’t have any logical connection to each other when I’d say them out loud and people would make that “I don’t know how to respond to that” face.

    Q: Does he hurt you?

    A: No, we’re getting married.
    A: No, we’re getting married and he’s taking my name.
    A: No, I’m a feminist.
    A: No, I graduated head of my class.
    A: No, I majored in women’s studies.
    A: No, I volunteer at shelters.
    A: No, I’ve helped other friends out of abusive relationships.
    A: No, I’ve gotten out of abusive relationships before.
    A: No, he came to a pro-choice rally with me.
    A: No, we’re great, we just got a dog.

    I didn’t realize that none of those things actually mean, “No, he doesn’t hurt me,” that there was a reason I couldn’t just respond to a direct question with a direct answer. Only once I was out did I realize that all those unrelated answers had never translated to, “No, he doesn’t hurt me,” but had always translated to, “Yes, he does hurt me, but it doesn’t matter and it’s not that bad.”

    And thank you for talking about that fog. It’s one of the hardest things to describe to others, that you can be strong and smart enough to rip your way through college but sometimes you sit down and have to really try to remember how reading works, and why it matters.

    Can I add another?

    “No, I’m not a good person / not a good partner / they’re just having an understandable response / I would test anyone’s patience! / I have to deal with my shit before I can go after them for their’s / any other variation of ‘it doesn’t count as abuse because I’m so hard to love.'”

  23. Comrade Kevin
    Comrade Kevin August 8, 2011 at 1:44 pm |

    Your post reminds me of something that happened in my life quite recently. A F/friend had to immediately leave the place where she was leaving when a roommate with anger management issues confronted her frequently, both in person and over e-mail. He also was partially responsible for deciding, along with the other roommates, that she needed to leave anyway. They literally decided to get rid of her behind her back at a secret meeting.

    The problem we had is that our Friend had a history of childhood trauma. This meant that she reflexively minimized and normalized the intensity of what was going on. So it took forever before she’d ever really express what was going on. And coupled with this was a belief that there was something wrong with her if she reached out for help. She’d been used to being entirely self-reliant, but this was a circumstance where it’s okay to be a little needy.

    I’m glad to say that five of us Quakers helped her move into a new place, and that someone from the Meeting agreed to open her home to her at a moment’s notice. And I’m also thankful that she agreed to at least entertain legal action and seek legal advice during the whole of the terrible ordeal.

    And I’m glad that you’ve made own your realization, as well. The process seems to have made you stronger.

  24. EmmATX
    EmmATX August 8, 2011 at 2:12 pm |

    How would you have responded to a friend saying “Yes, Autumn, you *can*. But you *aren’t*.”?

    I am very glad you’re out of this relationship, but I have to second this question. My sister, who lives in a different state, has recently left a 5 year abusive relationship, the last 3 years of which she completely cut off contact with my parents and I (at the abuser’s urging, of course). During the time she was still talking to us, we told her OVER and OVER and OVER that what he was doing wasn’t right, that it was controlling and abusive, that she deserved better. It had no effect whatsoever – at first she agreed, but didn’t leave him, then she started denying that the things she had told us about had ever happened, then finally she cut off all communication with us.

    Maybe I’m feeling defensive because I feel like I should have been able to help her, to prevent these last 3 years of abuse she suffered. And I’m sure it’s a GOOD thing to offer help, to tell a woman she is being abused and treated wrongly. But based on my experience, it’s not likely to have the effect the help-offerer wants.

  25. EmmATX
    EmmATX August 8, 2011 at 2:15 pm |

    I guess I should add that I do think the distance had an effect. Had my sister been living in our hometown with us, and not thousands of miles away from any friends or family, I don’t believe her abuser would have succeeded in separating her from us. So perhaps in that case these tactics would work.

  26. LC
    LC August 8, 2011 at 2:28 pm |

    This is beautiful and moving and so hard to read.

    I’m one of those friends behind the hedge. I have been for a while now with two relationships. In one I was quite sure and while I didn’t push I wonder if I had whether she might have left earlier. (She seems finally out now, but she’s got a lot of rebuilding to do.)

    The other… he sets off flags, but I’ve been quietly excused from the friendship because I clearly don’t understand. And I don’t know what to do.

    Someone mentioned the “Of course you can, but you’re not.” I’d like to think that would help.

    Thank you for writing this.

  27. rossignol
    rossignol August 8, 2011 at 2:36 pm |

    I was in a toxic relationship but didn’t realize that some of what had happened was abuse until about a year after I broke up with him. One of the hardest things I’ve had to come to terms with was “allowing” myself to get into the situation because, hey, I’m a feminist! Feminists are strong, they don’t allow themselves to be abused. We know all about the patterns of abuse and we would surely recognize them if they were happening to us. Forgiving myself has undoubtedly been the hardest part of the recovery process.

    In college, I was a member of our school’s sexual assault prevention group called Consent. I was also raped. When I reported it to our school’s sexual assault response coordinator, who was also the faculty advisor for the group, I said, “But I’m in Consent!” She said (not verbatim), “You know as well as I do that being in Consent doesn’t protect you from sexual assault. If that were the case, then we would make everybody join the group.” I feel like it’s similar with feminism and abusive relationships. Being a feminist, unfortunately, does not always prevent relationship violence, and I think this post does a great job of explaining why.

  28. Annie
    Annie August 8, 2011 at 3:26 pm |

    oh god have I been there. thank you for writing this.

  29. Gabrielle
    Gabrielle August 8, 2011 at 4:18 pm |

    This is just me leaving another thank you for this post. Just… really thoughtful and moving.

  30. Marie
    Marie August 8, 2011 at 4:29 pm |

    My abusive ex and I, our life plan was that I was going to work outside the home and he would be the “house husband” and take care of the children. That was the super progressive story we told other people. The real story was, I was going to work my ass off to support his sponging off of me. But that didn’t sound as good as words like “breaking down binary gender chores.”

    I remember telling other people our future plans, and other women — feminists, especially — would get so starry-eyed at me having bagged a good feminist guy. I was pretty arrogant about the whole thing — well, it just takes *work* you know you can’t *settle* you have to *fight* for your feminist beliefs — until somebody said something like, “You are so lucky, you can’t ever leave him,” and it suddenly sounded like a life sentence instead of this progressive fantasy I had of my personal feminist success. It just seemed so depressingly clear in my mind: 1) stick with him and the way things really were and be a good, successful feminist woman, or 2) leave him and probably end up in a relationship where I would have to fight tooth and nail to have a career of my own because I failed at feminism. I felt like a failure either way: either I was failing to be happy in the perfect feminist arrangement, or I would fail to find and create the perfect feminist arrangement, and have to be one of those women who was a feminist by day and dishwasher by night. Not that I wasn’t the dishwasher by night, but you know, that was an exception, he was tired tonight, and angry last night, and out the night before, and needed a break the night before that… but theoretically he did all the housework while I worked because we were feminists.

    I’ve lost touch with all the women who oohed and aahed about my progressive marriage. I wish I could find them and tell them, you know, bad people can figure out what feminists want just as well as super awesome progressive feminist guys. Bad people can smile and learn the word “kyriarchy.” There’s no guarantee or coat of magic armor. Just hard and scary work and sometimes running like hell.

  31. Kristen J.
    Kristen J. August 8, 2011 at 4:30 pm |

    EmmATX: I am very glad you’re out of this relationship, but I have to second this question.My sister, who lives in a different state, has recently left a 5 year abusive relationship, the last 3 years of which she completely cut off contact with my parents and I (at the abuser’s urging, of course).During the time she was still talking to us, we told her OVER and OVER and OVER that what he was doing wasn’t right, that it was controlling and abusive, that she deserved better.It had no effect whatsoever – at first she agreed, but didn’t leave him, then she started denying that the things she had told us about had ever happened, then finally she cut off all communication with us.

    Maybe I’m feeling defensive because I feel like I should have been able to help her, to prevent these last 3 years of abuse she suffered.And I’m sure it’s a GOOD thing to offer help, to tell a woman she is being abused and treated wrongly.But based on my experience, it’s not likely to have the effect the help-offerer wants.

    If it helps, one thing that sometimes helps my clients see with different eyes is pointing out that the abusers doesn’t want to act like that (something ze will reinforce) and the abuser needs hir help to stop. Of course you may have already tried it, but FWIW.

  32. EmmATX
    EmmATX August 8, 2011 at 4:39 pm |

    Thank you for your response. It made me cry a little because this “how painful it must have been to know what was happening and feel powerless to stop it” is just so true. Maybe we should have flown out there and just shown up on their doorstep after she cut us off, and that would have worked… But maybe not.

    I have done my best to be accepting and understanding, and not dwelling on my hurt and anger over the way she treated us – having read so many accounts of abuse on feminist blogs has given me a much better understanding of how he was able to isolate her from us (for the latter part of their relationship, it was death threats against us :-/ ).

    There is definitely no pretending it was just a bad relationship – she has a temporary restraining order against him at the moment. Our worst fears have been confirmed, that he did indeed progress to physical violence.

    Anyway, I know this is somewhat off topic for the thread, especially as my sister doesn’t especially identify as a feminist. But obviously this is a subject very large in my mind right now and I appreciate any advice from those who have been through it on what tack to take to make it easier on her to reintegrate into our family. So thanks again :)

  33. Liz L
    Liz L August 8, 2011 at 4:44 pm |

    Thank you so very much.

  34. Diana
    Diana August 8, 2011 at 6:47 pm |

    I think that just having stories like this one helps arm against the I can handle it tendency. This resonated strongly for me – while the abuse in my relationship never moved into violence, I stayed for three years when part of me knew after one that I should leave, because Our Love Was Special and I Knew What I Was Doing and I Could Change Things and Make It Work.

    I even observed to myself, more than once, that if I was watching someone else from the outside in a relationship like mine, I’d tell her to get the hell out. That’s how complete the abuse happens to other people mindset was.

    My friends either didn’t notice it, or didn’t say anything (many told me after I finally left him that they had always wondered why I had stayed so long) – it took becoming active in an online gaming community as a couple and having those people be around us just in text and voice chat and see how he was treating me, for someone to finally remark on it. Those friends were what it took for me to realize that leaving him didn’t make me a failure, and I’ll never stop being grateful to them for stepping up and saying something when not even our bloody roommates had, before.

  35. Cat
    Cat August 8, 2011 at 7:26 pm |

    I just wanted to say: Yes, exactly, and thank you for articulating it.

    I thought I’d be the out the door at the first sign, but what I wasn’t prepared for is how subtle the ramp-up is from the first critical remark to the first punch.

    Now the hard part is explaining to people that I was victimized but that doesn’t make me a “victim.”

  36. CassandraSays
    CassandraSays August 8, 2011 at 7:27 pm |

    Ouch, this is uncomfortably close to home for me.

    I was a feminist from childhood, raised that way by my mother. And when I first encountered a man who was potentially a danger to me in an intimate context…I was completely confused. We had been friends before we dated, and I knew that he was troubled. He’d been diagnosed as schizophrenic, and he was an alcoholic. I recognised both of these things and felt sympathy, and wanted to help heal him, like he was some sort of wounded bird (ah, the joy of feminine programming). He was prone to making you and me against the world statements, and initially I revelled in them, being 19 and a bit pretentious.

    And then he hit his mother. Punched her during an argument and knocked her out. After carrying her to bed, he called me to complain about how he had lost control and really it was her fault for always hassling him about stuff and god he was so tortured.

    I should have left then, but I didn’t. I encouraged him to get more therapy and tried to get him to stop skipping sessions. I tried to get him to take his meds. I tried to gradually wean him off the booze. I played the rescuer role with all the stubborn determination that an idealistic teenager can muster. When I threatened to leave if he didn’t stop drinking, he told me that he had a heart condition and might die at any moment. I thought that he was probably bullshitting, but felt too guilty to say so. He didn’t like my old friends from high school so I didn’t see them as much. Every time I made a move towards leaving, he guilt tripped me into staying.

    And then I went away for a whole summer, to visit my Dad in another country, and it was like a horrible cloud over my head lifted and I hadn’t even realised how much it had been weighing me down until it was gone. I explored the new place and met new people and had fun, and immediately I knew that I wanted to date other people, so I did.

    Then I called home and told him that I thought we should in fact be seeing other people, and that I was doing so. And then a week later he called be back and told me that my apartment (which he had the keys to) had been broken into. When I got home, it was trashed and some stuff was missing, but there was no sign of forced entry and some of the most valuable stuff was untouched. The police came over and took a look around, and said that there was no way it had been a break-in, because how would anyone have broken in?

    I still think he did it, in a fit of anger. The only stuff taken was stuff that had a lot of emotional value for me (records etc) but not much resale value. At the time I didn’t believe his story that he’d come over and found the place trashed, but I felt too guilty about seeing other people to accuse him of anything.

    As soon as I got back he pretty much acted as if my breaking up with him had never happened. He just assumed that things would carry on as before, and displayed increasing levels of rage when I tried to remind him that we had broken up. And then one night we were arguing on the phone and I hung up on him, and he called me right back and screamed at me YOU DON’T EVER HANG UP ON ME. WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? DON’T YOU DARE EVER DO THAT AGAIN.

    And finally I admitted to myself what I’d been denying all along – that he wasn’t just “intense”, he was a bad person. That hitting his mother, which I’d half convinced myself had never happened and that he’d just made it up to give himself an excuse to whine at me for attention, had been a sign that I should have paid attention to and acted on at the time. That he had succeeded in isolating me from my friends. That he’d gradually been grooming me to accept more and more control over my life from him, and that if I hadn’t had some time away I might not have realised until it was too late.

    After I finally told him to leave me alone for good, he stalked me for months. I would go visit my family in Scotland, and the phone would ring within half an hour of me getting there, and there would be nothing but silence and breathing on the other end. The same would happen when I got back to London. It didn’t stop until I left London and moved to the US, and the whole time between when I broke up with him for good and when I moved away I was looking over my shoulder.

    What I’m saying is, Autumn’s story could have been me. And all my friends knew that the guy was bad news, but none of them told me so. Oh, they told me afterwards that they’d always hated him, but they hadn’t wanted to say anything because “you’re so stubborn” and “you wouldn’t have listened if I had said anything” and “I figured that if it got really bad you’d just leave him”. People assumed that I was strong enough to get myself out of the situation if I needed to. And in the end I was, but only barely, and maybe only because some time away allowed me to clear my head.

    It’s been over 15 years and to be perfectly honest I’m still afraid of that guy. I keep expecting him to turn up one day, or to see him on the news and find out that he’s killed a woman. And in some way I knew that about him all along, I just didn’t want to admit it, because admitting it would have meant admitting that I had misjudged him in the first place, and that just wasn’t acceptable to my ego or my sense of self.

    Abusive relationships aren’t simple, and I wish we’d abandon the cultural narrative that says that they are.

  37. CassandraSays
    CassandraSays August 8, 2011 at 7:44 pm |

    Also I realise that the escalation from “he was a controlling asshole” to “I’m worried that he might kill someone” probably sounds ridiculous. But here’s the thing – when he was 5, he tried to hang his little brother. According to him, because he wanted to see if the kid would turn blue. His parents should have put him in therapy after that, but they didn’t. And the way he spun it to me was, look at how messed up I am, the only thing that can save me is the love of a good woman. And he didn’t start telling me stuff like that till we’d been dating for a while already.

    And now I realise that I feel like I need to justify why I’m scared of the ex who hit his own mother hard enough to render her unconscious and almost killed his little brother, and I wonder how the narrative of how abuse works is playing into the fact that I feel the need to explain that no, I’m not just being a mean uncaring bitch, he really is kind of scary.

  38. ellid
    ellid August 8, 2011 at 9:02 pm |

    My ex-husband did much the same thing to me, only he never struck me during our marriage. It’s taken me years to reclaim my anger and myself because I truly had no idea I was being abused until after it was over.

    And people are still telling me to get over it, and over him, as I’m supposed to pretend that eighteen years of my life never happened. I’m not sure whether to tell them to fuck off or simply nod politely and ignore them, but man, it hurts.

  39. ordinarygoddess
    ordinarygoddess August 8, 2011 at 9:13 pm |

    I remember when it got to the point where – it was so bad, and it had scaled up so subtly, that I couldn’t admit to my friends who were trying to get me out how bad it had become. I told myself, “I’ll get out, and then I’ll tell them the truth, but I can’t tell them now. Because I don’t want them to worry or freak out.”

    Because I don’t want them to worry. Yes, I was that f*d up.

    It took another five years to get out. Because I had to do it on my own, because I couldn’t bring myself to break the facade of “it’s ok, I can handle it.”

    Thank you for this.

  40. LC
    LC August 8, 2011 at 9:15 pm |

    I want to offer my love and support for everyone who has shared a story here.

    @Autumn: Thank you for the support.
    I know there isn’t one way to treat it. If anything, the hedge has gone down a little of late, as she reached out some to shorten the distance. (Even if it was couched in a “it hurts me to think you are trying to hurt us with comments”.) It still feels like there is a huge land mine of trouble if I ever say anything against him.

    I have no fear he is violent with her right now. He raises emotional abuser flags far more. I will be the last to know if anything is amiss, of this I am sure. Given the mail I sent her at the beginning of their relationship that was never answered and she claims she never got, I doubt I am allowed to bring anything up. The fact she and I have a history doesn’t help matters, of course, as anything I say is just “jealousy”.

    “You don’t even have to try to make plans to see her or anything if that’s unlikely to happen. But the friend with whom I was best able to repair the damage that was done during my period of isolation was one who took regular steps to reach out, without judgment, without pressure. And I can’t say I ever really confided in her–but I knew that throughout, she cared for me, and that that never changed.”

    And therein lies the problem, I think. I don’t know if she can see me as not judging her, and I don’t know if I can not judge. I’m the one who is supposed to be honest and call bullshit on people. I expressed my worry, and she vanished. Whether he cut her off or she chose is unknown to me, and I can’t ask. I can’t pretend to not be concerned about their engagement, his leaving her in another province because he “doesn’t like her parents”, or anything in the past. I don’t think she and I can hang out because I feel like I’m lying to her by pretending I think things are ok. That can’t be helpful for her. Everyone else seems to just invite them both, hang out for silliness, and then talk about him behind her back.

    I’m not good at that.

    Thank you for your support, though. I am trying to just be there for her in what ways I can, without lying to her. But it all feels like a “damned if I do, damned if I don’t” situation.

  41. Feminist News Links «
    Feminist News Links « August 8, 2011 at 9:30 pm |

    […] An account of relationship violence and denial based on a desire to seem in control and independent. […]

  42. Kristie
    Kristie August 8, 2011 at 9:36 pm |

    Thank you. Thank you for your strength and power in writing this and taking a big gulp and putting it out into the world. I’m also a feminist, Fortune 500 employee, college grad and domestic violence survivor. I hear you. And can’t even begin to tell you the power these words will have on the world and on your own life. I wrote a book “Dish It Up Baby” about my experiences back shortly after I left that relationship. And it hasn’t been easy… but it’s been 11 years now of living in FREEDOM. Welcome. :)

  43. V
    V August 8, 2011 at 9:44 pm |

    Thank you for this. My ex-boyfriend was abusive, and I feel like I can relate to so much of this. After he showed up at an animal shelter I volunteer at and started pushing me around and hitting me, I finally broke down and told one of my friends that night when I got home, and she recommended we go to the police. I’m so glad she did that; I was able to get a 2 year restraining order and haven’t spoken to or heard from him in over a year. I was with him for two and a half years, and tried to leave so many times, but I always went back. I will be eternally grateful to my friend, who gave me the push I needed in the right direction. I’m not sure if I would have left him for good that night had she not suggested we go to the police.

  44. Cheshire
    Cheshire August 8, 2011 at 9:50 pm |

    Thankyou so much for writing this, it is so muchto think a out, brilliant writing

  45. Kate
    Kate August 8, 2011 at 10:13 pm |

    Thank you for posting this. I’ve been thinking about it all day. I too was in a relationship with a man who was emotionally abusive, controlling, and violent. I finally left when I realized it wasn’t a far stretch to put violent and abuse together into physical abuse. During the course of the relationship, I had many of the same thoughts as you and many of the other commenters here. I’m too smart to be in an abusive relationship. We’re just passionate people. The yelling, throwing things, punching walls…all signs of passion. Relationships need passion, right? Unlike your story, I didn’t have friends asking me how things were. All of our friends were “mutual” friends, which meant his friends, a consequence of the controlling. To them, he was the fun party guy who just liked to drink. They didn’t see the violent person I went home with who grew increasingly agitated the more he drank. After a while, I actually blamed our relationship problems on my depression. Even when he was berating me for being depressed, it never occurred to me that his treatment of me was the reason I felt that way. I sometimes wonder if I had friends to tell me things were bad whether I would have gotten out sooner, but I suspect I would have given the same response as you, “I’m handling it.” Reading your story and those of several of the commenters, while difficult to read, were really helpful in affirming that it’s not lack of intelligence or lack of strength that keep people in abusive relationships. It’s being stuck in the fog of abuse. It still amazes me some days the changes I’ve seen in my life since ending that relationship. Not just in my mood and energy level, but my ability to handle the obstacles I face and the stress that comes with them and my ability to walk away from people I know will be unhealthy companions. Also I’ve seen such a change in my dog, who was “our” dog during our relationship and came with me when I left. As a rescue dog, she came with her own problems. She was never fond of other dogs and always seemed tentative around anything new (she was even afraid of balls). After we left that relationship, I really saw her personality blossom into a silly, loving, friendly dog. It pains me to realize how much she was affected by the abuse, but I’m grateful we were able to leave and even more grateful I didn’t bring children into that environment.

    Finally, I’m so glad that Autumn and all the others who have shared their stories on this page were able to get out of those relationships. And to those working to get out of their own abusive relationships or help a friend leave, I wish you the best of luck. You are doing the right thing.

  46. Sam
    Sam August 8, 2011 at 11:36 pm |

    Thanks for writing this. The thing about struggling to describe the relationship without it sounding abusive really resonates with me. I’ve spent too much time doing that. It’s hard, especially when some things work really, really well, and my expectations around feeling loved and feeling in love are really low. I grew up with parents for whom “my kids love me” meant “and will do what I want, and say what I need to hear, and won’t challenge me on my bullshit”. Oh, and “when I lash out at them, I can apologise afterwards and that makes it all ok”. Having a partner who was so good, but had the same patterns of behaviour was really hard.

    I think for me it’s come down to a rule: I’ll accept your apology, and your promise never to do that again, and I’ll be grateful for both. I want you to try not to do it again. If you do, I will dump you. If you do something different, but also majorly transgressive, it definitely goes on the list of “never again” things, but you know, I just might dump you the first time. Try not to find out. Because, you know, fuck that manipulative bullshit.

  47. Verity Khat
    Verity Khat August 8, 2011 at 11:52 pm |

    Thank you so much for telling this story. I am so glad you made it out, ALIVE. We all need to be reminded that just because we know what abuse looks like doesn’t mean we’ll recognize it in our own life. Hell, it’s drifted that direction in two of my relationships–age 15 and age 25–and both times I didn’t realize how blurry the lines had gotten until I was out.

    This also really struck a nerve because, if she hadn’t been away at college with us, this could have been a close friend of mine. At first we thought, “Aw, they have such a cute long-distance relationship.” Then flags started going up. We could see her shrink into herself while on the phone with him. And when the rest of us looked around at each other, all of our eyes said the same thing: “Something is Not Right here.”

    I was always amazed that our gentle campaign of “What’s wrong?” “That’s unreasonable of him,” and “You deserve better from someone who loves you,” actually WORKED and she did DTMFA. Your tale chilled me to the bone; now I’m certain if there hadn’t been several thousand miles involved, he would have gotten her to shut us out and we would have lost her. But he was far away, and we were not. And now she’s married to a great dude! (Who had the sense to take us seriously when we, uh, preemptively threatened him with serious bodily harm at their wedding.)

  48. Marie
    Marie August 9, 2011 at 9:35 am |

    ordinarygoddess: Because I don’t want them to worry. Yes, I was that f*d up.

    Yes, that, so much. I had this long list of things I was going to tell people once I had left him, but not before. There were all the messed-up fears of appearing weak, or being a burden. But there was some legitimate stuff, too.

    Partially, I was just so fragile that I couldn’t deal with other people’s worry. I just felt like any loud noise, raised voice, or big emotion would shut me down or make me run. Anything that didn’t have an immediate, simple answer was terrifying, because abuse had taught me to just react 100% with “well what if I gave you some money and had sex with you and made you dinner and bought you some drugs.” I had no ability to react with, “Let’s have a difficult but helpful conversation about our emotions.” I just had no emotional resources left to deal with other people’s feelings in an adult, non-appeasing way.

    But mostly, my abuser was one who used “worry” as a tactic. “I don’t mean to yell, it’s just that I’m just so *worried* about you.” Talking to him, you would have thought I was an infant who couldn’t feed or dress herself, who needed constant care in public to keep from running into the street or, I don’t know, talking to another adult. So worry, concern, caring, compassion, all those had become codewords for me that really meant “I am about to coerce you into doing something you don’t want to do.” It was a phrase that was always followed up by attempts to overpower, coerce, manipulate, threaten, or scare me, never followed up by things like support or kindness.

    Of course, friends who were worried about me didn’t know that I had new definitions of all those words, that when they said to me, “I’m worried about you” I heard “I’m about to hurt you and you aren’t allowed to stop me because you deserve it.” I think it’s really important what Autumn said about specific, direct questions. You never know what kind of language somebody is speaking with their abuser, and you can’t take for granted anymore that they understand what you’re saying. “I love you and care about you” could now be a phrase that signifies horrible, traumatic things are about to happen. I could have responded to something specific like, “I am afraid that you are going to hurt yourself because you seem so sad all the time, and I don’t want you to be hurt like that because you are my friend,” which is the same thing as saying, “I’m worried about you,” but “I’m worried” had become such a trigger for abuse by then that I couldn’t hear it without shutting down.

  49. SamanthaPink
    SamanthaPink August 9, 2011 at 9:57 am |

    Allison:
    This is such a powerful post. Thank you for talking about this issue of “strength” that is often debated with victims of abuse- obviously there is so much more to abusive relationships that are too often simplified and even more often used against the victim for not being “strong enough to leave.” Thank you for such a personal and balanced portrayal.

    I agree with Allison. Thank you for this post. You brought to light so many of the internal struggles people have with abuse. Thanks for posting this and letting us know just what it feels like.

  50. Kimberly
    Kimberly August 9, 2011 at 10:43 am |

    I was briefly in a relationship with one guy that I think could have gone that way. He was upset about something one day, and instead of just expressing some anger around me, he took a (verbal) shot at me. I immediately just told him, no, that’s not how things are going to go. He apologized, etc, and I congratulated myself for handling it. I think all I can really attribute that to is timing though. If I had been having a bad day, that would have been something that affected me emotionally and wore me down. It would have been (probably one of) the first drop(s) in the pool, and it was so innocuous that a potential abuser could repeat this until one has the desired effect.

    There were of course other problematic details, but I didn’t recognize those until later.

  51. Suzanne Perry
    Suzanne Perry August 9, 2011 at 12:14 pm |

    Well Done!! We need to hear stories exactly like this. Sharing our experiences and finding each other is the key. Knowing we are not alone is VITAL. Very very well-written you graced every point with honestly and truth and how abuse overtakes one and we dont acknowledge it as such… I too downplayed it, became isolated and on an on… 22 years later I FINALLY got out for good….. APPLAUSE to you, your freedom, and your courage to share!! Thank you!

  52. Cold North Wind
    Cold North Wind August 9, 2011 at 1:28 pm |

    This was interesting to read, as I never married for “love”, which is perhaps partly why I never felt anything but disgust (and fear) at the abuses. Also, since the start of dating- even before-from age 6 on , I had witnessed and experienced the human abuses some men perpetrate on others; especially crimes against women and children. When abused, I tried to get out- and was met with a wall of judgemental disbelief and treated like a criminal. Then, I absolutely experienced that fog of which you wrote. I was still functioning though- planning and strategizing how to deal with all the systems who seemed bent on keeping all of us in a situation of abuse. Extreme and serious and criminal abuse.The police were wonderful. However, even they could not convince a crown prosecutor to press charges-and I had to survive a few years before it was even possible.(law was changed) I suppose it is a multi-faceted societal problem reaching back through thousands of years of some males really treating women and children as -disposable goods put on earth to pander to those criminals. Add societal myths and attitudes, and mix with individual differences and one has a perplexing human rights issue.One that destroys .

  53. Cold North Wind
    Cold North Wind August 9, 2011 at 1:28 pm |

    This was interesting to read, as I never married for “love”, which is perhaps partly why I never felt anything but disgust (and fear) at the abuses. Also, since the start of dating- even before-from age 6 on , I had witnessed and experienced the human abuses some men perpetrate on others; especially crimes against women and children. When abused, I tried to get out- and was met with a wall of judgemental disbelief and treated like a criminal. Then, I absolutely experienced that fog of which you wrote. I was still functioning though- planning and strategizing how to deal with all the systems who seemed bent on keeping all of us in a situation of abuse. Extreme and serious and criminal abuse.The police were wonderful. However, even they could not convince a crown prosecutor to press charges-and I had to survive a few years before it was even possible.(law was changed) I suppose it is a multi-faceted societal problem reaching back through thousands of years of some males really treating women and children as -disposable goods put on earth to pander to those criminals. Add societal myths and attitudes, and mix with individual differences and one has a perplexing human rights issue.One that destroys .

  54. sick
    sick August 9, 2011 at 4:33 pm |

    I don’t even know how to start this comment. Maybe I should just apologize in advance because it’ll probably be long and not what you’d guys expect from the subject and this blog’s audience. But as Suzanne Perry put it, I guess it is vital to share those stories… I don’t really think mine might help any victim around, and if anyone thinks the same, I totally agree my comment should be edited or deleted. But at the same time, I’m really glad I found this space today – I like to come here once in a while and I was very lucky to find this discussion at the moment I needed it the most.

    I’ll explain. As most people here, I define myself as feminist and that’s vital for my identity as a person (I don’t think I could bear being a woman otherwise). I’m also a lesbian, married to a strong, fierce, opinionated, feminist woman. You see, we could never be those people. We both went to college, we’re queer activists… I study gender, I have even gave a lecture about domestic violence once, I’m a peaceful person. And now I think I may be an abuser. And I just use the word “may” because “be” doesn’t sound fair right now – I’m desperately trying to believe that it wasn’t me, but rather something that occurred to me. And even though I reckognize that psychological violence plays a huge role in abusive relationships, i only got REALLY scared by this possibility when things got physical last saturday. I never, ever thought I was capable of hurting anyone that way, anyone but I did beat my wife then. I’ve been getting and acting increasingly angrier over the past months for various reasons (and i had previously admitted our relationship was becoming abusive, and I am truly committed to change this), but I really didn’t see that coming – tossing objects, breaking furniture, pushing her against the walls, grabbing her by her hair, preventing her from leaving the house for almost three hours of abuse, telling her that she deserved it. All I have to say in my favour is that I was insanely drunk and out of control; that neither me nor anyone who saw me at that moment (some friends tried to stop me) could reckognize me in that furious, violent woman who crashed everything she could put her hands on and got the whole place upside down. But it doesn’t justify what I did, it can barely explain how it was possible. I was temporarily changed into a stereotypical chauvinist male offender and I want this to never happen again.

    Me and my wife are discussing things with each other and other people, I don’t want to mask what really happened. She didn’t leave me and I think she won’t. I feel lucky for it, although I don’t know if I really deserve it. But sometimes I can’t help but feel she should do so. That’s what we believe and tell others to do – to report violence, not to get caught with an abuser. I feel strangely marked, scared and guilty by what happened and at the same time dettached from what I did. I think I can’t believe it yet.

    That’s why I said i think my comment wouldn’t help anyone – I don’t think I could help anyone understand the abusers, neither do I believe this is the point here. And I’d like to stress I’m not trying to forgive any abuser here, not even me. But I hope someone could help me understand what I did and why – I mean, if it is that hard to be a feminist and a victim of abuse, how can one be feminist and a domestic offender? I don’t get it. I just don’t…

  55. tinfoil hattie
    tinfoil hattie August 9, 2011 at 6:45 pm |

    sick, I’m sorry. I can hear that you are in incredible pain.

    Your violence is a symptom of something inside you that has gone horribly wrong. I don’t know what that is, and you sound like you don’t either. I would suggest getting to a therapist immediately. Keep calling and calling until you find one who will see you on a sliding scale, if necessary. Reach out to “anger management” groups, though I’m not sure if they will be geared toward women. Google. See if there is help from the National Domestic Violence Hotline. See if there is help from lesbian groups. YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

    I think that for now, it is better if you and your wife can live separately – her safety is paramount. You say you can’t believe you ever did that; you didn’t recognize yourself. I hear: “…and therefore, there’s no guarantee I won’t do this again.” You need intervention, you need IMMEDIATE help, and above all, your wife needs to be SAFE, RIGHT NOW.

    Also: AA, Co-dependents Anonymous, other 12-step programs. Just for a safe place to go and be heard. If the “god” part bugs you, skip that step. That’s my strategy.

    The best to you, and thanks for being brave enough to come here. I too hate and despise abusers and think they don’t deserve compassion – and yet, and yet. You do.

    I hope to someday hear from you on some thread somewhere that you DID get help and you DID keep your partner safe and you are MUCH better.

  56. tinfoil hattie
    tinfoil hattie August 9, 2011 at 6:52 pm |

    PS: Sometimes, this kind of rage can be helped with medications for depression. There is such a thing as “agitated depression” that manifests as RAGE. It’s worth exploring with a health care provider.

  57. tinfoil hattie
    tinfoil hattie August 9, 2011 at 7:03 pm |

    And holy SHIT – how did I leave without saying this?

    AMAZING, beautiful, eloquent post, Autumn. WOW. Thank you, thank you SO MUCH for writing it. Beautiful insights. Remember that hindsight is 20-20, and you and your friends are so much smarter about all of it now.

    And the fog? Ay-yi, the fog! I do have PTSD (from abuse, ta-da!) and you describe THE FOG perfectly. Also, “I really believe I am crazy. No, really crazy. Like I-can’t-discern-reality crazy.” Whew. So very validating to read of that experience, so similar to mine! And the sobbing feeling of relief when someone gave it a name, and went on to describe the other symptoms.

    You are so brave. I hope I do not sound condescending, because what I feel is utter admiration. Thank you.

  58. lacyuu
    lacyuu August 10, 2011 at 4:35 am |

    I too have to thank you for this post Autumn. It made me realize that the relationship I got out of some months ago was actually an abusive one.

    It’s actually, I had tried to quit the relationship for over a year and in the end the ‘reason’ I had for ending it was, that I wasn’t happy and didn’t know why. Just some time later when I met my actualy awesome boyfriend I realized how horrible it had been all the time. Suddenly I had someone to talk about my former relationship and I had sooo many things to complain about, actually I wondered why I had stayed so long in the first place. I guess my abuser was not the typical one (not being angry but rather anxious about everything, thus using my pity and altruism to control me). When I read about abusive relationships I could see “warning signs” that were like his behaviour in our relationship but I shrug it off as “abusive traits” but not that it’s actually an abusive relationship, and after all his behaviour got a lot better over time ( = he learned to abuse me in other ways).

    But well reading your Post and the Comments it all felt so familar. The fog around you (after 4 years I got diagnosed with depression but I had the symptoms for almost the whole time I was in the relationship), the self-doubts, the change of personality. He never got physical but sometimes I wished he would hit me or cheat on me so I had a real reason to leave. I also noticed that most of my family and friends (even mutual friends) weren’t much surprised I broke up, I had the feeling they knew all along it wasn’t good for me but they never said anything exerpt for my mother (who I got mad at, I was quite furiously defending his behaviour and claiming I had the control over things) but I also have to say during the relationship I lost many contact with old friends I have now to repair. In my case I wish now someone would have (figuratively) slapped me in the face back then and told me that it’s not my fault, but he’s a total asshole who’s changing me and not good for me, that his behaviour isn’t right and I wouldn’t have to stand his shit. But again it’s hard to tell if I had listened to that person.

    What I would like to add, I’m from Germany and i have the impression that in German it’s hard to talk about non-violent abusive relationship. First, there isn’t an actual word for abusive relationships in german, second the term abuse is mainly used in the context of child or sexual abuse and third people only talk about violent abusive relationships, emotional abuse isn’t taken that serious (and sometimes even shrugged off as normal behaviour between a man and a woman). So I personally find it hard to explain my relationship to other people as it was. (and I guess there are less people who will interfere when they spot such a relationship pattern because they don’t realize it’s abusive)

  59. sick
    sick August 10, 2011 at 10:27 am |

    @tinfoil hattie: thank you so much for your words. you have no idea how comforting it is to be treated as a person by someone who doesn’t know me, in spite of what i did.

    tinfoil hattie: You say you can’t believe you ever did that; you didn’t recognize yourself. I hear: “…and therefore, there’s no guarantee I won’t do this again.” You need intervention, you need IMMEDIATE help, and above all, your wife needs to be SAFE, RIGHT NOW.

    i think you couldn’t be more right. i can’t understand how it happened, so i don’t know exactly what to do to prevent it. and all i want is that my wife can be safe again with me, permanently. since the occurred i’ve been telling her i think it would be better if we spent some time apart now, but she disagrees… as i never did anything like that before, she only sees me as a threat if i drink again. so i won’t. i’m still worried though about managing my anger (which had only led to violent arguments, not fights, so far, which is still ugly), and i think you gave me a precious hint when you linked rage and depression. that suits me perfectly.

    actually, i have already been under psychoanalytical treatment (for that, among other things) for one year and a half now. but i understood from your and autumn’s comments that i maybe need specialized, aggression-oriented, help. i did as you suggested and now i have an appointment with a therapist at a victim’s support center scheduled for tomorrow. i hope and believe it will help me, and i truly appreciate you already did it as well.

  60. sick
    sick August 10, 2011 at 12:57 pm |

    @autumn: i wasn’t aware of the concept of abuser education. i took a good look at the pages you recommended and i’m looking for more on the subject. i am sadly impressed though with the lack of these kind of support where i live. here in brazil even victim’s support is incipient and scarce (there was no anti-domestic violence law until 2006 – ironically, this law completed 5 years the day after my aggression). all state batterer programs i found are for reported offenders only, and violence doesn’t seem to be a problem for the LGBT groups i know. i only found help (as i said in the previous comment), after a lot of research, in a women’s center where they said they could help me because i am female (!). i wonder what are the chances for an abuser to recover here…

    Autumn Whitefield-Madrano: domestic violence isn’t nearly as simple as that. It can be about rage, or poor models, or addiction, or not having better ways to handle emotions. We talk about how abuse isn’t about losing control but about gaining control, to which I say: yes…and no. Not having better ways to handle emotions is one reason a person might hurt another.

    i do have troubles handling emotions, sometimes it seems i don’t know how to be sad, just angry. that’s not an excuse, but rather something i have to work on. that part about control was also interesting, even though i’m not quite sure i really understood it. i believe (and sadly i can say i felt it) that domestic violence is all about control, power, dominance. i can’t see me as a classic abuser, i don’t think i am controlling of her (actually, she tends to be) or even manipulative. but i think there is a point here, maybe i was trying to gain control over her. it still sounds wrong, but points to a way of see the problem that may help me overcome this.

    it seems to me that i am on the reverse of what you experienced – while you were seen as independent and therefore as someone who didn’t need that much help, i think my folks may be minimizing what i did because they love me and think i am nice and kind and stuff. that’s why i was so desperately seeking for external help. again, glad i find it here.

    well, maybe i said too much already. but what i can’t miss is: thank you so much for your help. you saying that people can change and that “i’m not sentenced” to do it again gave me a lot of hope. i’m making an effort to bring myself together and believe this, and i will do everything i can to make it true. and as i was too anxious for saying it before, i’ll do it now: this is a beautiful, honest, articulated and powerful post. i’m sure there are lots of people being helped by it now. i thank you for your courage to share it with us, and i believe from the bottom of my heart that this kind of discussion can empower people not to get stuck in those situations. i know i don’t want to!

  61. LC
    LC August 10, 2011 at 9:08 pm |

    @lacyuu — “I guess my abuser was not the typical one (not being angry but rather anxious about everything, thus using my pity and altruism to control me)”

    Ugh. I had a friend who went through that specific form of it. My sympathy.

    @sick – All my best thoughts with you. Tinfoil Hattie and Autumn have given you better advice than I ever could, so I just wish you the best in your path to changing what you want to change.

    @Autumn – I know it is “damned if I do, damned if I don’t.” And all I can hope is that in time, the “I never liked him” is a good thing. (I know I have always hated the people who suddenly hate my exes after the breakup, but loved them before.)

  62. alin
    alin August 12, 2011 at 1:37 am |

    Holy crap… That description of the “fog of abuse” is the best description I’ve found yet of what it felt like to be in the abusive relationship that consumed four years of my life. And I was also constantly telling myself that abuse didn’t happen to people like myself, that we were a “special case” that outsiders just couldn’t understand. I thought I could spot all the warning signs coming because I had been in (much shorter) abusive relationships and friendships before and now I knew what to stay away from. And I had a lot of pride invested in believing that I now knew I deserved better, that I would never let myself get drawn into anything like that again, that I had too much self-respect to allow it.

    And I had some “I’m a good feminist, I know that I deserve respect in my relationships, I know what my sexual limits are, etc” thoughts as well, and I had told friends when I thought they were in abusive relationships. (My partner was a trans man, so we had some intersectionality stuff going on there, as well– there were times when I cut him a lot of slack because I figured he was upset over feeling that he wasn’t perceived by others as male. Which is definitely a valid thing to be upset over, I just… wasn’t sure where to draw the line. And I have some genderqueer stuff going on that I’m currently trying to make sense of, so I’m not even sure if I should think of it as a strictly heterosexual relationship. Um, not because he was trans, but because I haven’t yet decided if I consider myself female overall.)

    The vast majority of the abuse was verbal and emotional, although sometimes it’s hard to know where one kind ends and another begins… Looking back at it, it was some of the worst mind-twisting and conditioning I’ve ever experienced. And I grew up in an abusive household including people like a family member who told me later in life I was making up all my memories of the abuse. The “fog of abuse” is a frighteningly accurate description of what went on during all the years I didn’t realize what was happening to me. I was really just living one day to the next, at some times. There were terrible fights that I forgot days after they happened, because everything was “back to normal,” at least temporarily.

    It often felt like he and I were trapped in this little bubble, somewhere apart from the rest of reality. And inside that bubble, reality itself worked differently. Things that would have been abusive if he said them to other people weren’t if he said them to me, because our relationship was not like other people’s. I had friends, but I couldn’t talk to them about it, because it was Private Relationship Stuff, and because I Could Handle It.

    Also, this:

    I told myself, “I’ll get out, and then I’ll tell them the truth, but I can’t tell them now. Because I don’t want them to worry or freak out.” Because I don’t want them to worry. Yes, I was that f*d up.

    Oh my god, that was me too. That was me exactly. “I can’t tell them, because then they’ll worry about me, and they shouldn’t have to worry.” To this day, there are still things I won’t tell my friends about what happened in that relationship, because I don’t want them to freak out or rage on my behalf, or worry if I’m safe from abuse (because I haven’t been able to cut ties with him fully even though the relationship is over).

    For years, I always had an excuse for him. Our relationship was “complicated.” I misinterpreted what he said. He chose the wrong words. I always misinterpreted what he said and didn’t cut him enough slack for choosing the wrong words. I was being a bad partner for not realizing that every time he said something that hurt it was just because he chose the wrong words, and pointing this out would hurt him more. He couldn’t be expected to behave reasonably or rationally because he had been abused as a child and was still hurting so badly from this, in a way that took precedence over everyone else’s pain. He was just lashing out at other people because they triggered him, and he couldn’t control it because he hadn’t finished healing from his past yet. He had poor social skills because he’d had so many terrible abusive friends and partners in the past, and he didn’t understand what normal relationships were like and how not to hurt people. He just felt emotions very deeply, and no one else in his life had ever been able to handle how intensely he felt them. If I abandoned him over this, I would be like all the other terrible people in his life who had promised to help him heal and then abandoned him. Saying that he was hurting me caused him deep pain, much deeper than I was feeling over thinking I had been hurt, because he couldn’t bear the idea that he was abusing me, and so I should never do it.

    The thing that finally brought me to my senses was realizing that he was hurting my friends– the ones who were friends with him too, because he would control-freak over all my relationships and wanted my closest friends to be his too. And my friends were hurt, even devastated, at seeing what a cruel and vicious person he could be; how he led people on being nice and charming, and then showed them his nasty side. And up until I started seeing them get hurt, I kept trying to persuade them that they just had to understand he had special issues, he was hurting so badly and said things he didn’t mean, that I was helping him overcome these things, that what he said wasn’t what he meant. I kept stringing myself along on the lie that our relationship was different, that he was different, and that I was somehow different too– that things other people would rightly have been devastated by, if said to them, didn’t “really” hurt me. I couldn’t “afford to” be hurt, because he needed me so much.

    I don’t think he’s an innately evil person or anything. But there was a point where I had to either realize what was going on, or break down completely.

    And when I realized our relationship was too fucked-up to be saved, I fell apart– I panicked. I didn’t want to believe it, because when I was stuck in the fog and the illusion, I actually felt more powerful. When I was in the illusion, I felt like I had control– if I just said the right things to keep him happy and kept him away from everything that would trigger him, he wouldn’t be abusive. When I was in the fog, the terrible things he said to me didn’t hurt. I would just dissociate and not feel anything. Admitting to myself that the relationship was abusive and that I actually couldn’t control his behavior was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. I kept wanting to fade back into that fog of abuse just so it wouldn’t hurt. Because as long as I could keep telling myself that it was abuse, when I wasn’t letting him make me crazy, I could see the world more sanely, but I also had to deal with the pain I’d been keeping bottled up for the last four years.

    (BTW, I used the word “crazy” in a reclaiming sense there. Because I have, in fact, been crazy before, and he was driving me to the point of actually beginning to make me crazy again, in the same way abusive members of my birth family helped to make me crazy in the past. But just as it was back then, all my paranoid crazy-thinking seemed mostly believable to me at the time, and it was only when the crazy-thinking started to make me feel it would be all right to hurt other people, not just myself, that I realised something was wrong and something was warping my view of reality. I just couldn’t identify that it was him, at the time. But I understand others’ fears about not wanting to look ableist by using it, if they haven’t had those experiences.)

  63. Sharing the love « The Lady Garden
    Sharing the love « The Lady Garden August 12, 2011 at 3:42 pm |

    […] Extremely triggering for relationship violence, but a brilliant and thought-provoking read: “I Can Handle It.” […]

  64. what i’m reading « scrambled meggs
    what i’m reading « scrambled meggs August 13, 2011 at 6:54 pm |

    […] Amazing piece at Feministe discusses relationship violence, independence and capability: “What would have happened if we’d all had a broader template that showed that vulnerability was just as valid a state for a feminist to inhabit as strength and invincibility?” (I can’t help think I would try to “handle it” very much the same way.) […]

  65. Sherri
    Sherri August 14, 2011 at 1:40 pm |

    Thank you so much for this. I suffered at the hands of an emotional abuser for a very long time.

    The abuse was difficult for me to pin down because it was *just* words and *harmless* deeds (like purposely being late for everything until no one would trust me with a task, telling me worthless I am in every way, sabotaging major things like my medical treatment, or sabotaging the bank account so I couldn’t leave.)

    It took the classic “other woman” for me to get off the floor and take a look around.

    Everyone is my world thinks I have it so well; Nice house, nice car, nice everything. It is so much so that if I even think about speaking up it is obviously *my* issue as he is perfect.

    I do not like what I see but I am surely about to change it.

    Let’s network ladies and help one another.

  66. Sherri
    Sherri August 14, 2011 at 1:45 pm |

    @Elin that is such a perfect description of that male mental process that it is just…striking. The need for us to reduce pain and shame so that the outside world doesn’t think that WE are the flawed, out-of-control, deficient ones is intense. Thank you.

    I’m ready to be the *loser* and accept the pain. Then I’m going to rise right above it like I always do :)

    I am older and much wiser.

  67. Welcome to Monday ~ 15 August 2011 | feminaust ~ for australian feminism

    […] sad but essential piece on the experience of abuse, and the challenges of admitting to yourself what you are […]

  68. Ben Atherton-Zeman
    Ben Atherton-Zeman August 15, 2011 at 12:09 pm |

    Wonderful column! I think there are many folks who are currently volunteering or working in the domestic violence movement, and are being controlled by their partners. They are afraid to tell co-workers partly for the reasons you outlined, and partly because they’re afraid of losing their jobs/volunteer positions.

  69. Vnagel
    Vnagel August 15, 2011 at 2:34 pm |

    Thank you for writing this. It is written incredibly well. Took a lot to not cry while reading it, I wasn’t “one of those women” and I “went to college,” but in the end I was one of those women and college meant nothing to change that. Again thank you for this.

  70. 1ceuponathyme
    1ceuponathyme August 18, 2011 at 12:37 pm |

    While the institution of feminism has also made clear the importance of community, its dual message of personal sovereignty can be easily distorted: You must take care of yourself—and if you can’t, maybe you’re not quite as independent as you think, little lady.

    This hit me pretty hard. I was raised by a feminist, independent, survivor mother. She worked for a domestic violence shelter after escaping with us from an abusive relationship. My first big report as a young student was on domestic violence. I knew the ins and outs of power and control. I knew all the warning signs. In spite of all of this, I still wound up in a terribly abusive relationship. Something that I remember very sharply from fog is that many times when my former partner would beat me, he would mock my independence, my feminism. He would tell me that I was weak, not strong, that I depended on him, that I was a hypocrite. I thank you so much for writing this post and for making that point in particular because for a very long time I believed what he said.

  71. Elfe
    Elfe August 18, 2011 at 2:48 pm |

    this is a beautiful post. Whether physical or emotional (which I suffered from) abuse changes a person slowly as you describe it so well. Someone cracks through your identity, however independent, educated, sophisticated you may be, and changes you. They manipulate and control you. Even without the physical companion of emotional abuse, you see how your shell, integrity is broken.

    I think one aspect that needs to be addressed is the relationship between good sexual chemistry and abuse. I do not know if there are any studies on this but after my experience of verbal and emotional abuse, I thought that there should be a good physical chemistry for abuse to work, because it brings people together. And that specialness of the relationship feel comes from that, I think. My partner used to claim that it was the best sex ever. After four months after our separation, I had a one night stand with a total stranger and he made me scream with joy more than my partner did in one and a half years of our relationship. We used all the six condoms he had in his pockets. He was an actor from Paris visiting his friends who were also my friends. (Yes he had a bigger and even -if I may- beautiful cock.) I haven’t missed my ex when masturbating or sexually ever since than, although I remembered his abusive remarks etc. He did me a world of good. After my one night stand with the actor, who praised me by saying ‘your eyes are like my eyes’ I realized that even ‘the greatest sex ever’ part of my relationship with my abuser was a lie. But at the time, I believed it was so special of course.

    So let me correct myself, by good sexual chemistry what I mean is intimacy coupled with love in the initial period of the relationship. Abusers often go overboard with impressing women in the initial phase of a relationship, I later read. In the first two months of our relationship he would ask me while having sex to be his, which to me at the time sounded a silly demand/request. I now know it had a meaningfor him. I indeed yielded ‘yes, i’m yours’ after two months.

    Another issue related to sex is masochism. What abuse does to you in any form within an intimate relationship is the mixing of pain and pleasure. And this makes a person unstable. I think it’s different from other traumatic experiences in this way. You may end up sleeping with the person who hurt you by saying you the unkindest remarks that same night- even if you don’t feel like it that much. He would also manipulate with his words you to open up legs or go on top of him. I think my verbally abusive ex boyfriend taught me one thing, it is to refrain from situations that make pleasure inseparable from pain.

    After two months of no contact with my abuser, I started catching myself repeating the unkind words that hurt me on purpose to myself. I would repeat them, and think that maybe he was right. He was not right. But what happens is that my experience of pain and pleasure/happiness was so intertwined that I was probably hurting myself with these words because I missed feeling pleasure/happiness. I was undergoing therapy but it was still a very lonely and difficult period in my life.

    One last comment I want to make is about intervention by friends. When I shared a house with him, I had moved with him halfway across the world with a ten hour time difference form my hometown where we met. He let me know we would be living according to his rules in his town and those rules were there to reduce me and abuse me. I did not have a support group, I had some new friends but they were reluctant to interfere. Although I understand their position, I also think there should be more insistent watch and intervention and clearly saying that you can’t allow him to treat you like that. But the fact is, you are also not ready to break free and even if someone tells you and you initially respond you then get manipulated again back into relationship and you then pretend nothing is wrong. Both the abuser and the abused cover the abuse in front of others, if I screamed in front of my ex’s friends that he was abusing me I think we would have broken up, he would be to ashamed because of his normal social life. And I never found that voice to do that, I came home and yelled at him in private, which made him claim I was crazy. I was not. I was being abused.

    My heart goes out to all those who suffered abuse whether they were independent and educated women or not. Abuse intensifies what you feel during sex, but the claim that you have the best sex in the world with your abuser is a lie he tries to make you believe. There’s some actor from Paris or some other guy who will give you more pleasure than you’d imagine possible- and without the pain and the loss of dignity. The one night stand I had with the actor was out of this world, if someone showed me a tape of it before it took place, I would not believe I would be making those moves and coming so many times and having sex all over the hotel room like that. I wouldn’t think it was possible for me to interact that way. Believe me girls, there’s hope, even if it comes after a difficult and lonely time. We have stamina if these suckers have manipulation and abuse.

  72. E.B. Cummings
    E.B. Cummings August 19, 2011 at 1:21 pm |

    Thank you for talking about this. I just wrote my own bit about this very thing, albeit not nearly as eloquently as you have. (after having to change my online identity and start a new blog due to my abusive ex finding it and using it to torment it.)
    Victims of abuse too often don’t realize how bad it really is while they are in it. We lie to ourselves. More people that have been through this need to break the silence and to talk about this very real issue. And we need to speak up for those who are still living this. We need to take our friends hands and tell them we KNOW and help them face it and deal with it now mater how uncomfortable we are or how independent they are.

  73. E.B. Cummings
    E.B. Cummings August 19, 2011 at 1:22 pm |

    Torment ME. darn autocorrect.

  74. E.B. Cummings
    E.B. Cummings August 19, 2011 at 1:24 pm |

    Now mater=”No matter.” Sheesh. Spelling fail much?

  75. Susanlc
    Susanlc August 20, 2011 at 2:07 pm |

    Strong women can be like SUV’s: with 4 wheel drive we just get stuck further “in”.

    I’ve been thinking about this problem for a long time. It’s the answer to the question:
    Q: Why have I and some of my strongest friends hung out in relationships that, while perhaps not even abusive, did not make us happy?
    A: Because we’re like SUV’s, with 4 wheel drive we just get stuck further “in”.

  76. cmh
    cmh August 20, 2011 at 4:33 pm |

    Before Sick came on and posted I was reading the comments and about to say that one can be a feminist and be an abuser, one can be a lesbian or a gay man or a straight woman and be an abuser. I’m a lesbian who has been in two verbally abusive relationships. One of them became physically violent when I tried to leave and then attempted suicide. 10 years down the road and a lot more mature, the other left me after squashing my strength and belief in myself in all the usual ways (infidelity, blame shifting, discounting, countering, competing)

    Both relationships left their mark and I’m very keen to any slight shift or weirdness in a person at this point in my life. But abuse is very complicated you start off strong and in the meantime the other person is figuring out your underbelly and where to strike at your empathy, guilt, weakness, strength.. all of it will be used against you in one way or another. At some point you aren’t strong any more and you haven’t the energy to even continue to fight. Abuse is a war of attrition that you will always lose. It is hard to accept that someone you love has a completely different agenda from you. You tend to ascribe to others the qualities that you possess. Projection is a huge part of this problem. The abuser keeps reflecting back to you a huge distorted version of yourself with the goal that you believe it.

    I think gay people in general feel an added burden to somehow represent our relationships well, particularly with all the rhetoric about how spiritually and psychologically diseased we are. Somehow our relationships have to be ‘better’ than that. And on a personal note it is easy to say to one’s self well we are two women or men so its even. This is such obviously foolish thinking. Men are emotionally abused in far higher numbers than they or we care to admit for the same reasons just fill in the blank. I can’t be abused because ____ I’m a man, I’m a feminist, I’m in a lesbian (read egalitarian) relationship, when we are all subject to the same cultural influences and more to the point family of origin influences. No one is immune from abuse and even feminist lesbians can be abusers.

    Emotional abuse can be far more scaring and damaging than physical abuse and I’ve taken a few hits to the face from two different women. Sure physical abuse goes hand in hand with emotional abuse but most would rather have been hit than suffered the insidious slide into acceptance that emotional abuse exacted from us.

    I have to tell a story here because it shocked me when I heard it. My college girlfriend took Kempo martial arts. The head of the school and style she learned was from a Filipino man in his late 70’s (this was back in the early 90’s). He told my gf a story about how his daughter had gotten married to a man who abused her. This was back in the 60’s before there were any DV laws, divorce wasn’t as common or easy, and also a time when immigrants tended to keep things and handle things within the community. Anyway his daughter came to him for help, her husband refused to quit hurting her and she was beside herself. He told her take a bat and when he was sleeping break both of his legs and then each arm and then he showed her how. So she did. He went to the hospital and had to be there for several months as he couldn’t walk or use his arms. Every day she came to the hospital and fed him and nursed him back to health. Of course he told no one and she said nothing. They stayed married, apparently happily, and he never touched her again because he figured she would touch him back.

    I don’t advocate anything about this story but there was appallingly funny about it namely that human nature is bizarre.

  77. Hugo de Toronja
    Hugo de Toronja August 21, 2011 at 1:49 pm |

    Of course feminism is not the problem.

    But at least part of the problem can be found in the author’s internal mantra, “I went to college, I went to college, I went to college.”

    For almost fifty years, feminism has been gradually transformed from being a practical tool for understanding the world and attaining tangible advances in justice and equality, to being a body of theory of greater and greater abstraction.

    It’s no wonder that when an intelligent well-educated young woman was physically abused, she couldn’t immediately perceive the connection between feminism’s core values and precepts and the actual empirical experience of her own life.

    In other words, when a woman learns to apprehend her life by means of theory, it naturally follows she comes to understand her experiences as theoretical, as what if as opposed to what is.

    Perhaps feminism ought be exiled entirely from the humanities and taught instead as a required freshman course on “The Rights of Women in the Home, Workplace, and Family.” A rigorously practical and thorough course grounded in criminal and family law that explains how civil society defines and defends in the rights of women, and outlines the punishments and penalties when those rights are violated or denied.

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