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114 Responses

  1. Aaron deOliveira
    Aaron deOliveira May 11, 2012 at 5:26 pm |

    Kudos on getting out. May you once again realize how strong and powerful you are.

    You mentioned a gut feeling at the beginning, kind like “The Gift of Fear”. Has this experience made you trust your gut more?

  2. Mxe354
    Mxe354 May 11, 2012 at 5:26 pm |

    I’m truly sorry to hear you went through that.

    Progressive political views mean nothing when one is a monster underneath.

  3. Lila
    Lila May 11, 2012 at 6:02 pm |

    @Mxe354 – thank you, but I still refrain from calling him a monster. I don’t think he is. He’s just a deeply disturbed individual.

    @Aaron deOliveira – I always trusted my gut feelings, even before I met him. I’m a very good judge of character. I KNEW he’s dangerous. I was just so in love with him that I told myself that it would be OK.

    Also, I sent Jill a correction which she’ll hopefully put up shortly: I think it’s important to make it clear that the escalation to physically hitting ME only happened at the very end of our relationship, and I got out about 3 months after that second time.

  4. Colin Reid
    Colin Reid May 11, 2012 at 6:52 pm |

    Actually, reading this it sounds like one of the most common patterns of psychological abuse, which works by attacking the victim’s self-esteem and by making them believe that their abuser’s judgement is better than their own. There are misogynistic groups who have embraced this kind of abuse, eg the PUA community’s ‘negging’, but otherwise it’s not particularly confined to a particular gender or political outlook of abuser or victim.

    That doesn’t make it any easier to spot, though – psychological abuse is by its nature insidious (and stereotypical portrayals of abuse focused on overtly threatening/violent behaviour don’t help matters), so nobody should feel bad for failing to escape earlier. Unfortunately, the damage done by the abuse makes it even more likely that the victim will blame their own poor judgement. The really horrible part of this kind of abuse is that essentially, the abusers train the victims to abuse themselves in the same manner, and the self-reinforcing pattern of negative thought can persist long after the external abuse has ceased.

  5. EG
    EG May 11, 2012 at 7:23 pm |

    Progressive political views mean nothing when one is a monster underneath.

    True fact. There’s a reason second-wave feminism in the US grew out of women of the New Left and Civil Rights Movements.

    I’m glad you got out, and sorry that you’ve taken shit from other feminists. Abusers are good at worming their ways into lives and souls; if they weren’t, they wouldn’t be able to abuse people. Being a feminist doesn’t make a person immune; it just means we have a special responsibility to help and support each other when an abuser turns up in a friend’s life.

  6. Geoarch
    Geoarch May 11, 2012 at 7:45 pm |

    Being a feminist doesn’t make a person immune; it just means we have a special responsibility to help and support each other when an abuser turns up in a friend’s life.

    Beautifully stated.

    Been there, done that, Lila. I can’t tell you how many people have said to me, “Oh, but I just can’t imagine how a strong woman like you, who’s such a committed feminist, could wind up in not one but TWO abusive relationships!”

    The assumption that being of any sort of political persuasion makes one more or less immune to being preyed upon by an abuser is an attempt, I suspect, to fool ourselves into thinking we have control over an abuser. It’s another form of victim-blaming, albeit much subtler than saying the woman deserved it.

    My ex husband is Mr. Progressive Democrat who claims to be passionate about women’s rights and LGBTQ rights and is anti-racist and all that. And of course, when I filed for divorce he claimed that I’d had 4 affairs and that I was an alcoholic with borderline personality disorder and WAIT FOR IT THIS ONE’S GOOD – that I was a bad housekeeper.

    I’m totally not kidding. He entered pictures of where the dog had an indoor accident as proof that I was a drunk, slutty, dirty bad housekeeper.

    He asked for and was granted custody of our son, too. The judge said that because I was in grad school I couldn’t take care of him adequately. Yeah. For real.

    Anyway, what I wanted to say is that while it’s true that often one can see red flags, often one doesn’t because they know what they’re doing, and so they hide those behaviors until you’re well and truly committed. In my case, my ex waited until we were on our way back from our honeymoon to subject me to a withering, hours long episode of verbal abuse. How was I supposed to see that coming? I couldn’t because no one could.

    I’m glad you’re out. I’m glad I got out, even though the price was high. You’re not alone, and it was never your fault. Ever.

  7. Robin
    Robin May 11, 2012 at 8:16 pm |

    This was my exact experience. My abuser was never physically abusive, but she was emotionally abusive throughout the entire time I knew her. She was also a self-proclaimed feminist who cared deeply about anti-sexual and relationship violence work. Sometimes it’s the last person you’d expect it to be. Thanks for sharing your story.

  8. Dienna
    Dienna May 11, 2012 at 8:33 pm |

    I’m glad that you found the strength to get out of that abusive relationship. It just shows that abusers come in many different shapes, sizes, and styles. This guy sounds like he’s a very damaged individual.

    Keep walking tall and don’t look back.

  9. GumbyAnne
    GumbyAnne May 11, 2012 at 8:56 pm |

    Indeed, being a feminist doesn’t make you immune to abuse. I was in a marriage with a man who was emotionally and borderline physically abusive, all while identifying myself as a feminist and having a thorough academic understanding of the dynamics of abuse. I could observe those concepts working in my own life but somehow I couldn’t break away.

    It’s like how a meteorologist understands the science behind a tornado, but that doesn’t mean it won’t flatten her house just like everyone else’s.

    And being a feminist even makes it harder in some ways. Coming out and saying “my relationship is unhealthy and it has been for a long time” is hard for everyone, but even more so when you run in circles where “I would never put up with abuse, I’d leave the second it turned bad” is such a common sentiment. The fact that I stayed so long made me feel more and more embarrassed and trapped. The “I’d never put up with abuse” sentiment is a good one, and it’s also a big part of what empowered me to leave, but it adds a strange dynamic to the mix for a feminist domestic abuse victim.

    So thanks, Lila, for sharing. You’re not alone.

  10. C
    C May 11, 2012 at 8:58 pm |

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!
    You’ve given me peace with my recent relationship and made me understand it better. The part where you said there were no red flags, really resonates with me and this past relationship. Society tells us to look for one type of abuser and it lets other ones slip through the cracks. Thank you for calling attention to the fact that there is more than one type of abuser and they can often go unnoticed. I feel like this has made me really stop blaming myself for the things and situations I’ve gotten into. Thanks for that.

  11. A
    A May 11, 2012 at 9:22 pm |

    Whoa. I just saw my current relationship in this post. I think I have some thinking to do…

  12. Dominique
    Dominique May 11, 2012 at 9:47 pm |

    I don’t know if anyone else who has been through abuse has had this reaction: even with the abuser long gone, if I do something like spill a glass of milk or print the wrong thing, I get really defensive and in my head, there’s this running dialogue with someone not just criticizing me but telling me I’m stupid, incapable, useless, etc.

    I had a boyfriend who delighted in tormenting me that way, although he never made any pretence of being of the same political persuasion. However, the bullies I encountered in school yards and at work seem to have done more damage, even without romantic involvement.

  13. Becca
    Becca May 11, 2012 at 10:20 pm |

    This was an amazing essay. Thank you for sharing this.

  14. Swoonie
    Swoonie May 11, 2012 at 10:33 pm |

    Lila, I resonate so deeply with your post, and want to express my hope and solidarity for your healing process.

    I am commenting, i think for maybe the first time here, because I have been through a similar thought process recently, when my brother abused his wife. As a feminist, and his sister, I had absolutely no idea how to deal with the situation. I wrote a bit about it on my tumblr (http://womenarepeopletoo.tumblr.com/post/16037968010/gettin-real), but still haven’t come close to mending, or even really wanting to mend, the relationship with my brother. How could he do this? What in the hell do I do about it??

    While being related to an abuser is in no way comparable to being abused, I just wanted to express my empathy for the confusion and uncertainty you face(d), and my feminist pride in your courage. You did good.

  15. ahmm
    ahmm May 12, 2012 at 12:07 am |

    @ Mxe354

    Progressive political views mean nothing when one is a monster underneath.

    Actually, progressive political views in and of themselves mean nothing at all. This may be an interesting situation in which the experiences of white feminists and feminist WOC vary dramatically. Speaking only as a black woman here: people can call themselves anything they like. I’ve never heard one person admit to being a racist. Yet, I’ve run into some much racism (and hipster racism) that all the Obama loving hippie afghanistan vegetarian brooklyn fleamarket schtick in the world isn’t gonna get past my bs detector.

    Same for self proclaimed male feminists. I’ve seen a LOT of Hugo Schwyzers so I’m just not impressed.

    In fact, this may be controversial but I truly don’t think screening for “professed feminist beliefs” is a useful way of excluding abusive a**holes. I don’t even think it’s a good way of screening for men who will behave like feminists. Seriously. Because I really don’t think that people just “overcome” patriarchy like that. You are best off screening for people who have natural instincts which will lead to feminist actions, like men who are naturally tidy. I’ve met a lot of couples who aspire to split 50/50 rather than the woman taking the 2nd shift. And some of them even do… after tears and counseling and misery. But couples in which the man is naturally tidy, no matter what their politics, seem to do fine. In fact, the one good thing I realized in law school (unhappy 3L here) is that being relentlessly and unnecessarily sarcastic (in a way that is horribly condescending and patronizing) is totally celebrated by liberal smart feminist minded men and women, as well as conservative ones. You know, because it’s what “intelligent people” do. I’m much happier dating a genuinely empathic conservative than a mocking, belittling, disrespectful guy, no matter how “feminist” his politics.

  16. anon
    anon May 12, 2012 at 2:06 am |

    I sympathize.

    The man I love is a brilliant, politically progressive artist – who has a dark side. His outbursts, complete with the destruction of property, used to be infrequent. Now they seem to occur every few days, fuelled, in part, by his heavy drinking. In those moments, I can do nothing right. Every little misstep produces an explosion of rage. I recently cut my finger in a restaurant to have him scream at me in front of all the patrons. I had an out-of-body experience, standing there, bleeding all over myself and watching him humiliate me.

    When it comes to physical abuse, it was I who has several times crossed that threshhold by slapping him. He’s much bigger than I am, and has military training under his belt. Analyzing my desire to hit him, I’ve come to the conclusion that at least a part of me wants a real, physical showdown. If he pummels me, I will have no choice but to leave. And at my darkest moments, I want to provoke him to go further. There’s a part of me that thinks that him killing me would be the best possible outcome. That way, there will be no more shame and regret.

    Our situation is particularly complicated because we have wonderful children together. Because of the peculiarities of the law in the country we live in, where I’m just a foreigner, it is highly unlikely that I would get even partial custody of them should we split. When he’s at his most normal, he says that he will not separate me from them should we part ways. When he’s at his worst, he tells me that I will never see them again – and I know he has the power to do that.

    We were both abused when we were little. Like him, I can be manipulative and vindictive, I can humiliate him if I so choose, he’s just bigger, stronger and more terrifying. Any serious conflict results in an unleashing of brute force, coupled with threats. He’s tried to pick fights with policemen to make me “pay” (as in – “I’m going to wind up in jail or worse because of you, you stupid bitch, watch me!”), has threatened to destroy public property, to kill himself, etc.

    Neither of us is exactly unknown, so any public outing of ours involves me silently praying that things don’t explode in my face. It’s very important for him to “discipline” me in public, should he find my behavior wanting – taking it doesn’t help, kissing him and trying to calm him down doesn’t help, getting angry in return doesn’t help. When it happens, it’s like a storm. You just take cover and wait for it to pass.

    I’ve grabbed a knife and tried to harm myself during an argument. I’ve burned myself with cigarettes after getting pissed off at him – as a kind of “statement” (see what a bad husband I have? He’s drven me to this!). I flirt with other men in his presence as a means of asserting whatever power I have left.

    I come from a more economically privileged backrgound – which has also played its part. As the person with more earning power, I can and have used money against him. As the one who is more cosmopolitan, I have made him feel inadequate – both accidentally and on purpose.

    We go to counceling, both separately and as a couple. He’s gotten far enough to admit to himself that his drinking problem is out of control. I don’t know if he will be able to deal with it, however, though I can hope. Maybe eventually both of us can face the childhood abuse that has shaped our lives – either together or separately.

    We love each other, but our love is a twisted and charred thing now. We don’t know how it will affect our children down the road – and both of us feel trapped, when we’re at our most honest with each other. Once again, I’ve discovered that there are no guarantees in life – the most wonderful person, with the most wonderful values, someone you love, someone who is closest to you, someone who is the father of your kids, can make you feel so worthless that you’d rather die than go on. And when we talk about it calmly, he says I make him feel the exact same way.

    Everyone says we’re a beautiful couple – and we are. We’ve done a lot for each other, over the years. He would never be as successful if it wasn’t for me, and the same goes for my work. We’re passionate and smart, and if we weren’t so busy destroying each other, we would probably do even more. I’ve never loved anyone like I love him. He says the same things about me.

    I guess I have no answers as to why these things happen sometimes. I think the pressures of work and kids certainly play a part. I’m glad the author of the post has been able to sort her life out – I’m not so sure about my husband and me. It seems that we’re in a lose-lose situation now. I guess miracles do happen, but I don’t know if we’ll be granted one – either as a couple, or as two separate individuals.

  17. Anon for this
    Anon for this May 12, 2012 at 5:43 am |

    I told myself that he’s just going through a hard time (he actually did, but that’s no excuse).

    This part hits really close to home. I was in a nearly 8-year relationship that wasn’t exactly abusive, but it’s clear my ex had no respect for me and never did–there was nothing I could have done to “deserve” better treatment. I made so many excuses for his hurtful behaviour–he’s young, he’s going through a hard time, he’s a guy (LOL), etc., and it turned out he’s just the kind of person who would throw away 8 years on Christmas Day and imply that it’s all my fault because I accidentally snapped at him once and didn’t “support” him in a career move that is clearly not a good idea. (And for the record, this was NOT a case of the stereotype of the evil girlfriend telling the poor henpecked boyfriend with big ambitions that he’ll fail at his dreams. He did not once say that this career move was his dream. He wants to go into it because he thinks it will be a fast track to getting a permanent job, even though it doesn’t work that way for the majority of people in the field and he clearly has no passion for it.)

    Adding another layer of complications–There were a lot of signs that he’s probably gay. I know damn well that his family does not approve of the “homosexual lifestyle”, so this became another thing I struggled with while trying to understand why he would have treated me like he did during the relationship. But that’s not a valid excuse any more than the others–I did not owe him an unsatisfying relationship because of his family’s homophobia.

    I think a factor into why many of us put up with hurtful, abusive, or disrespectful behaviour is that mentality of “if you love someone, you don’t try to change them”. My ex used that against me when I tried to explain that some of his actions (or lack thereof) hurt.

    It’s true we can’t always tell when a relationship might escalate into abuse since, as evidenced from the stories here, people are unpredictable, but hopefully we can learn from each other’s experiences and be able to spot the more subtle signs in the future. I definitely learned from this past relationship that there are a million things I am absolutely not obligated to tolerate for the sake of love.

  18. Geoarch
    Geoarch May 12, 2012 at 8:37 am |

    Dominique, that’s pretty normal, in my experience. I’ve been out for 7 years and I still have trouble seeking appropriate health care for myself when I’m sick or hurt because my ex used to tell me that I was just “looking for attention”, and wasn’t really hurt or ill. It does get better, I promise.

  19. Lila
    Lila May 12, 2012 at 8:52 am |

    Whoa. I just saw my current relationship in this post. I think I have some thinking to do…

    Get out. Now. Don’t let him/her get the best of you.

  20. Lila
    Lila May 12, 2012 at 8:53 am |

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!
    You’ve given me peace with my recent relationship and made me understand it better. The part where you said there were no red flags, really resonates with me and this past relationship. Society tells us to look for one type of abuser and it lets other ones slip through the cracks. Thank you for calling attention to the fact that there is more than one type of abuser and they can often go unnoticed. I feel like this has made me really stop blaming myself for the things and situations I’ve gotten into. Thanks for that.

    Your comment literally made me cry. Thank YOU.

  21. AW
    AW May 12, 2012 at 8:56 am |

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I too am a feminist who was in an abusive relationship. It took me a long time to realize that things weren’t right, and I was embarrassed that I had chosen to be with someone so horrible for so long. But it’s not always obvious, and it’s easy to write certain things off when you are in love. You are not alone. I hope you can heal and one day be as confident in yourself as you were before.

  22. Lila
    Lila May 12, 2012 at 8:58 am |

    I don’t know if anyone else who has been through abuse has had this reaction: even with the abuser long gone, if I do something like spill a glass of milk or print the wrong thing, I get really defensive and in my head, there’s this running dialogue with someone not just criticizing me but telling me I’m stupid, incapable, useless, etc.

    Yes.

    I had a boyfriend who delighted in tormenting me that way, although he never made any pretence of being of the same political persuasion. However, the bullies I encountered in school yards and at work seem to have done more damage, even without romantic involvement.

    The bullies from my childhood are reason for the aforementioned borderline eating disorder.

  23. Angie unduplicated
    Angie unduplicated May 12, 2012 at 9:01 am |

    Lila and Dominique-Glad you are out and well. Emotional abusers destroy self-confidence in order to take the relationship hostage. The scripts they used were learned early and they repeat them to scapegoat you and others. I catch myself echoing their deprecations from time to time, and have to remind myself not to repeat someone else’s lies.

  24. Lila
    Lila May 12, 2012 at 9:03 am |

    @Geoarch – Wow. I can’t believe the judge actually supported that creep.
    As for my own experience – I don’t think he was hiding it on purpose, but I do think that the more I committed I became the more liberty he took. Both hitting episodes were at points that signified major steps forward in our relationship.

  25. Lila
    Lila May 12, 2012 at 9:15 am |

    @Swoonie – Wow. I can’t even imagine how hard it is for you. I sometimes try to imagine what his sister, who idolizes him – and who got every single bit of his side, BTW, and really disliked me – would think, if I told her what really went on between us.

  26. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable May 12, 2012 at 10:30 am |

    Lila, I can’t relate to what you went through, but I wanted to comment on you becoming yourself after that jerkface broke you down. After I had the audacity (!) to stand up for myself to a guy who assaulted me, my community turned on me. I was stuck there for grad school, but have been far away for over a year now.

    It’s a slow process, and is still ongoing, but I am slowly coming to love myself the way I did before. I have so much faith you’ll heal in this way too.

    Thank you for this beautiful piece.

  27. may
    may May 12, 2012 at 10:32 am |

    It has been 20 years since I got out an emotionally and physically abusive relationship. It was very much what you describe, and I was already very much a feminist then. The emotional abuse was by far more damaging (and I had bruises sometimes). When I managed to end it, I had many people support me when I told them what had really gone on. But there were lost friends who just wouldn’t accept that I had stayed, and therefore they considered me to be to blame. Even recently in my life so removed from that time full of anguish, I go out of my way to tell people what happened. I have to. Too many people blame the victims.

    A, get out now! Talk to people you trust about what is going on.

  28. Lila
    Lila May 12, 2012 at 2:27 pm |

    @ Mxe354 – men who are naturally tidy is not a good way of screening. My bastard was a neat freak – which, of course, gave him more reasons to lashed out at the naturally messy me.

  29. Lila
    Lila May 12, 2012 at 2:28 pm |

    * lash out

  30. Yonah
    Yonah May 12, 2012 at 2:29 pm |

    @ahmm:

    Yes to everything in your comment—so true. Like you I recently realised that one of the only legit determiners of what men get to call themselves feminist allies is whether or not they actually do half the housework.

  31. Lila
    Lila May 12, 2012 at 2:29 pm |

    Oh, and he also liked cooking (and was very good at it, too).

  32. Lila
    Lila May 12, 2012 at 2:36 pm |

    Sorry, that was aimed at @ahmm.
    Like I said, relying on feminist actions can be a false indicator as well. It certainly was in my case. I didn’t choose him because he SAID he was a feminist – I don’t trust men who do – I chose him because he ACTED like one. When he wasn’t abusing me, that is.

  33. Lila
    Lila May 12, 2012 at 2:51 pm |

    Thank you for this beautiful piece.

    I think your calling it “beautiful” may be what I needed most. Thank you.

  34. anon for this
    anon for this May 12, 2012 at 3:15 pm |

    @ anon whose husband’s the artist — you guys sound a lot like my parents. A lot of love and a lot of anger, and neither of my parents had good coping skills. Both are alcoholics, both have struck each other, called each other every name in the books. And they’re still married.

    I find conversations about “abusers” extraordinarily baffling because both of my parents “abuse” one another – my mother is a vicious, angry drunk (and a binge rather than constant drinker) and my father is an icy-cold emotionally manipulative gaslighter who for years was in complete denial about his own alcoholism and blamed my mother for his depression. My mother has said the worst, most hurtful things I’ve ever heard to my father; my father has hit her (and she’s hit him, although there’s a hundred-pound difference).

    And their marriage was wonderful for fifteen years. This wasn’t a situation where after a period of months or years one person revealed themselves to be a “monster”. It was two people who loved each other, who raised two good kids, who did their best. And then my mother became depressed, and started drinking, and became extraordinarily emotionally abusive of everyone around her. And my father started drinking, and his natural type-A personality flared into manipulative, controlling, gaslighting behavior – and he’d hit her when she was drunk. They’ve had “counseling” for what it’s worth, but the habits of misery are so, so ingrained by now.

    I’ve often wished they’d divorce; I left for college at 16 to get away from them. I love them to death, and they love me, and we all love each other. We try so hard to make it work; we’re all in a nasty codependent triangle at this point — I’m the only one in the house who speaks to both of them, so I often relay messages and get an earful from one parent about the other. I have my own sins; I’m bipolar and for a while I was as miserable and vicious as I’d raised to be, although my temperament is naturally more conciliatory, kinder.

    So, feminists: who’s the “abuser” in this family? Who’s the “monster” who must be fled? Can’t we all just be people who are scared and hurt and who lash out and then become defensive, and do it all over again? Who love one another, and try?

  35. ahmm
    ahmm May 12, 2012 at 6:56 pm |

    @ Lila

    Sorry, that was aimed at @ahmm.
    Like I said, relying on feminist actions can be a false indicator as well. It certainly was in my case. I didn’t choose him because he SAID he was a feminist – I don’t trust men who do – I chose him because he ACTED like one. When he wasn’t abusing me, that is.

    I understand.

  36. Mxe354
    Mxe354 May 12, 2012 at 9:31 pm |

    Sorry, that was aimed at @ahmm.
    Like I said, relying on feminist actions can be a false indicator as well. It certainly was in my case. I didn’t choose him because he SAID he was a feminist – I don’t trust men who do – I chose him because he ACTED like one. When he wasn’t abusing me, that is.

    True. That even judging by actions isn’t entirely reliable is disconcerting to me, to be honest. At the end of the day, I’m not really sure how one could screen others in this regard. I’m inclined to say that sincerity is something to look for, but I’m not even sure about that. I just feel confused.

  37. EG
    EG May 12, 2012 at 9:47 pm |

    But couples in which the man is naturally tidy, no matter what their politics, seem to do fine.

    Off topic, but I can’t imagine that working with a woman like me, who is just naturally extraordinarily disorganized and messy. Or, I guess it could work for me, but I’d just feel so sorry for the guy, and then I’d feel guilty all the time, and…ugh.

    More importantly:

    At the end of the day, I’m not really sure how one could screen others in this regard.

    Honestly, I don’t think we can, at least not perfectly, maybe not even mostly. There are just too many things we don’t have control over, and trying to find a perfect, or even a consistent, screening mechanism is another way of trying to believe in a just world–that if we just learn the right rules, bad things won’t happen to us. But the world is not just, and the way other people are is out of our control, and we will all make mistakes. And I don’t think anyone should ever blame herself for not having been able to spot the abusers before they’d sunk their claws into her.

  38. Lila
    Lila May 13, 2012 at 1:31 am |

    I think the best you can do is just trust your gut feeling. Most of the time you can just tell by the look in his eyes, by the way he makes you feel, by your instinct. My mistake was not trusting my initial sensations.

  39. Fat Steve
    Fat Steve May 13, 2012 at 2:50 am |

    I think the best you can do is just trust your gut feeling. Most of the time you can just tell by the look in his eyes, by the way he makes you feel, by your instinct. My mistake was not trusting my initial sensations.

    Lila, you are NOT AT ALL to blame here, I don’t say that to contradict you, just to affirm this obvious fact. There really is no way for screening out this sort of person. Plenty of abusers give off an aura of trustworthiness. Even after abuse, plenty of women accept apologies and make their own apologies. I just really hope that you don’t think you were abused because you made a ‘mistake.’

  40. Caperton
    Caperton May 13, 2012 at 9:29 am | *

    Just a note to everyone who’s commented/e-mailed/etc. about why their comments haven’t come through: We don’t always know. Comments will get sent to the moderation queue if they use certain words, if they’re by first-time commenters, if they have too many links, or, lately, if the filter thinks they looked at it funny. We try to get in and clear out the mod queue regularly, but that doesn’t always happen. If you don’t see your comment, it probably hasn’t been rejected, just stuck until one of us comes around to unstick it, which we do as soon as we have the chance.

  41. Weekly Feminist Reader
    Weekly Feminist Reader May 13, 2012 at 11:27 am |

    […] powerful story about when feminists face domestic abuse. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops is launching an “official inquiry” into the […]

  42. Survivor(?)
    Survivor(?) May 13, 2012 at 4:26 pm |

    Thank you.
    I’m a crisis counselor and feminist activist, and 10 months after my abusive relationship ended (not on my terms), I’m only just starting to unpack what happened.

    It is the feminist part that I cannot get beyond – that he was my first partner who identified as a feminist, who actively encouraged my work, who bragged about it.

    Thank you for sharing this. I wish I had been able to leave before he left me, so that my breakup could be a part of a healing narrative, and not just another cruel thing he did to me.

  43. bpbetsy
    bpbetsy May 14, 2012 at 1:39 am |

    “I don’t know if anyone else who has been through abuse has had this reaction: even with the abuser long gone, if I do something like spill a glass of milk or print the wrong thing, I get really defensive and in my head, there’s this running dialogue with someone not just criticizing me but telling me I’m stupid, incapable, useless, etc”

    ALL THE TIME. If I trip and fall, or drop something, or make any type of mistake, or if someone is upset with me, I immediately think “this just proves you’re worthless, incompetant, helpless, bad, etc” I don’t know how to get rid of that voice. And with the abuser gone, I have started self-harming because it feels like, someone needs to do it, I need to be “punished” because there must be something wrong with me.

  44. Norma
    Norma May 14, 2012 at 4:40 am |

    bpbetsy:

    I don’t know how to get rid of that voice.

    This is just my personal experience, FWIW. But I’ve found cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and related practices (like mindfulness) helpful. I’ve learned some techniques to help me acknowledge the voice without responding to it in panic or despair. Instead it’s more like, “Ok, there’s the voice again. I hear you. Moving on.” The voice doesn’t go away, but it has less influence over me.

  45. aboat
    aboat May 14, 2012 at 6:04 am |

    yep. yep yep yep and yep. my abuser was politically alternative man who supported women’s rights on the surface (would not actually use the term feminist, but i neither did my teen self when we met) – which was actually a major part of his control. withing a few months of us meeting he had me convinced i had to do whatever he deemed necessary to prove myself to be a strong and capable woman. he would passionately condemn acquaintances who had abused their partners even though he had been physically abusive on and off to me for several years. the key point is always the need for control. gah, i can’t even say anything else, i am so over how widespread all this bullshit is. we need to get real about employing some seriously different methods to prevent this from occurring.

  46. Andie
    Andie May 14, 2012 at 9:07 am |

    I think the best you can do is just trust your gut feeling. Most of the time you can just tell by the look in his eyes, by the way he makes you feel, by your instinct. My mistake was not trusting my initial sensations.

    In some cases, I think (and this may not be the case for you), when people have already suffered abuse or mistreatment or something that affects their ability to trust others, then it becomes harder to go with your gut instinct.

    It’s harder to listen when your gut says not to trust someone, if your gut ALWAYS tells you not to trust people. It sometimes results in trying to rationalize people’s behaviour.. you end up telling yourself “No, no.. I’m just being paranoid..”

  47. Fat Steve
    Fat Steve May 14, 2012 at 10:04 am |

    In some cases, I think (and this may not be the case for you), when people have already suffered abuse or mistreatment or something that affects their ability to trust others, then it becomes harder to go with your gut instinct.

    It’s harder to listen when your gut says not to trust someone, if your gut ALWAYS tells you not to trust people. It sometimes results in trying to rationalize people’s behaviour.. you end up telling yourself “No, no.. I’m just being paranoid..”

    I just finished Jon Ronson’s book ‘The Psychopath Test,’ and am starting to think that a large portion these abusers fit into the psychopath category. A psychopath is generally better at playing to ‘gut insticnt’ and giving off a good first impression than someone who isn’t a psychopath, because they’ve polished their technique. Subsequently, gut instinct can be highly deceiving.

    Great book, highly recommended (was able to read it in 6 hours on the plane as well, so it’s not a huge commitment.)

  48. Lillian Hanson
    Lillian Hanson May 14, 2012 at 12:59 pm |

    Lila, found your original article after reading it on Alternet.
    Seems the “feminist abused woman” phenomenon is more common
    that I understood. I posit that some women, no matter where they are on the political spectrum, suffer low-self esteem and are prey to certain men who see their flaws and go in for the kill.

    I have a friend who’s also a feminist who has stayed with her abuser, and a traditionally minded sister who did also. Both women displayed galloping low-self esteem and echo virtually the same sensibilities as the other. By contrast, I left my husband, who, not an abuser, had numerous problems which eventually ruined our marriage. I walked a balance of having a traditional outlook as well as an eye for feminist ideals, but the keyword is “balance” here.

    If you sway too much in either direction, you may find yourself your own worst enemy, making it impossible to see where one fits in in this dilemma. I hated giving up the pretense of having a “traditional” marriage, but had just enough of the feminist ideal to see that I was getting the short end of the stick.

    Feminist women ask and analyze to no end “why does he do that”, and expend countless brain cells trying to “figure him out”, etc.
    and feel they have an obligation to “give him a chance” a la some new “oppressed group” cause. Walking away from a situation is admitting defeat for something they’ve invested a good chunk of their life in.

    Ironically, I came from a very traditionally oriented background, escaped my abusive father, left home straight to my husband, had no education, and had two children (one a newborn) by the time I left. Someone like me could have been a Republican poster girl for traditional marriage. My feminist friend was ten years my senior when she met her abuser, had college background and had previous relationships.

    When you scrape away the trappings, feminist women don’t necessarily hold any unique status on being abused, per se. It takes peeling away that insidious top layer to see the problems that created the issue in the first place. My friend has even told me she saw some warning signs, but chose to ignore them, thinking she could “fix things”. Being a feminist doesn’t give one any special category, it just provides a different perspective within the same problem.

  49. Steve LaBonne
    Steve LaBonne May 14, 2012 at 1:00 pm |

    I would like to put in a plug for The Verbally Abusive Relationship by Patricia Evans. It was recommended to me by a female friend who had been in an emotionally abusive marriage, when I was trying to understand why my sister was unable to leave a marriage to a man everyone but her could see was a bad ‘un. The book was a real eye-opener.

  50. spideyj
    spideyj May 14, 2012 at 2:06 pm |

    This sounds almost exactly like my abuser, down to the “I only want you to be happy” statement, except he never hit me. He confined me in our bedroom or bathroom, he pinned me down, he physically intimidated me, but he never struck me. I was the one who hit him, because I would get upset and try to walk away and he would confine and terrify me.

    Mostly his weapons were words, and it’s so hard to explain to anyone else, because it was words of apology and what should have been words of love and support, but he twisted them so they were anything but. Even saying “All I want is for you to be happy” was an encoded message about how I should never be displeased with him or disappointed by anything he does. Meanwhile the backhanded compliments and the criticism under the guise of ‘helping me’. Before him I loved to cook; now I feel like a rank amateur every time I step into a kitchen. I did all the driving; now whenever there is a man in the passenger seat of my truck I feel like I’m on the edge of a panic attack because I’m anticipating fights about any ‘mistakes’ I make while driving.

    We were friends with a lot of the same people. Some of those people stopped talking to me after we broke up and I’m not sure what he told them. Some of them I still talk to but I’m afraid to talk about him or to go to any parties they host because I’m afraid he will be there. Some of them are close enough that they know and are supportive, although they are still friends with him. Some of them know and no longer talk to him. I don’t really care whether people talk to him or not but I wish I could explain to some of them why I can’t be around him. Some of them got kind of mad at me when I started talking about some of this in public and tried to help me ‘see his side’. I don’t want to see his side – I saw enough of it during the 3 1/2 years we were together.

    When I tell new people about the abusive relationship I was in, they assume he was a monster, and I feel stupid for dating a monster, although I know they would be friends with him if they knew him. They probably are friends with someone like him. I’m always afraid that maybe they *are* like him themselves and maybe I just don’t know it, like my/his friends don’t know it, like I didn’t know it until too late.

  51. armillaria
    armillaria May 14, 2012 at 2:32 pm |

    It’s harder to listen when your gut says not to trust someone, if your gut ALWAYS tells you not to trust people.

    yeah.

  52. DonnaL
    DonnaL May 14, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
    “I don’t know if anyone else who has been through abuse has had this reaction: even with the abuser long gone, if I do something like spill a glass of milk or print the wrong thing, I get really defensive and in my head, there’s this running dialogue with someone not just criticizing me but telling me I’m stupid, incapable, useless, etc”

    ALL THE TIME. If I trip and fall, or drop something, or make any type of mistake, or if someone is upset with me, I immediately think “this just proves you’re worthless, incompetant, helpless, bad, etc” I don’t know how to get rid of that voice. And with the abuser gone, I have started self-harming because it feels like, someone needs to do it, I need to be “punished” because there must be something wrong with me.

    I’m embarrassed to admit that except for the self-harm, I sometimes still find myself doing similar things, even though it’s now been more than 12 years since my separation from my former spouse — who verbally abused me *a lot* for the last 6 or 7 years of the 10 we were together. I even sometimes say awful things to myself out loud (things I would never say to another human being) if I break something or spill something or lose something, just like my ex used to do for things as seemingly minor as not tightening the cap of an open bottle of soda enough, causing it to go flat. I have been making a very conscious effort, for years, to stop talking to myself like that, and it’s certainly gotten much better, but it still happens once in a while.

    And I did engage in self-harm — hitting myself really hard, on my arms and legs and even my face — for some time after the separation, trying to punish myself for being such an awful, worthless person, because there was nobody around anymore to do it for me (not that my ex ever hit me). And because I hated myself back then for being trans and not having been able to stop being trans, no matter how hard I tried. Fortunately, that part of it ended a very long time ago, as I gradually began to accept myself. But the verbal self-chastisement still happens more than I would want. Which would be not at all.

  53. Kathy W
    Kathy W May 14, 2012 at 5:11 pm |

    It is important that you shared your experience with abuse. As other commenters have said, psychological abuse can be difficult to identify. I have been through this myself, and I wanted to let you know that you will get yourself back again. There will be a time when you’re confident about your talents. I didn’t think I get myself back either at the time, but I did…and looking back, it took a lot less time than I would have predicted.

  54. Fellow Survivor
    Fellow Survivor May 14, 2012 at 9:18 pm |

    This:

    At the end of the day, I’m not really sure how one could screen others in this regard.

    Also:

    Honestly, I don’t think we can, at least not perfectly, maybe not even mostly. There are just too many things we don’t have control over, and trying to find a perfect, or even a consistent, screening mechanism is another way of trying to believe in a just world–that if we just learn the right rules, bad things won’t happen to us. But the world is not just, and the way other people are is out of our control, and we will all make mistakes. And I don’t think anyone should ever blame herself for not having been able to spot the abusers before they’d sunk their claws into her.

    As a feminist who ended an abusive relationship one year ago and has read nearly every book on the subject since then, I highly recommend Lundy Bancroft’s “Why Does He Do That?” Lundy outlines several common red flags that one can look for early in a new relationship, including things that are very easy to overlook and things that are not necessarily intuitive. He also thoroughly explains the mindset, motivations, and numerous common tactics of abusers — all things which, once you know them, help you to hone your radar for the subtle red flags that many abusers wave while going about their attempts to charm you into trusting them.

    I also grew up with a violent abuser as a father, and my ex was the worst kind of emotional abuser (the physical violence was limited to gun waving and fists thrown through the air – i.e., threats), and both of their abuse styles were thoroughly fleshed out in this book. Looking back, I can clearly see that if I could have a do-over with my abusive ex, I would have sussed him out pretty early on.

    FWIW, I acknowledge that there is no way to ever be 100% sure about someone, and by no means do I mean to imply that a woman who reads a book such as this one is somehow to blame if she subsequently finds herself in an abusive relationship. Anyway, I didn’t see it mentioned here, and I would have felt irresponsible if I didn’t add this to the discussion.

  55. Fellow Survivor
    Fellow Survivor May 14, 2012 at 9:21 pm |

    Ack! Amateur commenter here. I didn’t realize the “Link” function required me to manually add a close tag. I’m sorry.

    [Not a big deal. Happens all the time. -C]

  56. bpbetsy
    bpbetsy May 14, 2012 at 11:58 pm |

    comment 28: Sorry, but I resent the explanation that women in abusive relationships must have “low self-esteem” and that is why they stay or are drawn to abusive partners in the first place.

    In my experience, the abuse is what causes the low self-esteem, not vice versa. In a situation with an abuser and a victim, it is the abuser’s behavior that should be pathologized, not the other way around.

  57. bpbetsy
    bpbetsy May 14, 2012 at 11:59 pm |

    Sorry, that was for comment 48, NOT 28.

  58. JLOsm
    JLOsm May 15, 2012 at 4:45 am |

    Interesting. I had not thought about the effect of one dimensional picture of an abuser before.

    However it is only to be expected that women, feminist or not, brought up to believe it is their job to make relationships work and whose experiences are routinely denied and dismissed by the patriarchal society we suffer under would not immediately be able to identify abusive treatment. It really is not surprise that we ignore our instincts and are confused about how we should be treated by our significant others.

    But in my experience it is about developing and trusting your instincts: I am the person who trusted no-one and therefore did not trust myself either, but this can be turned around. Now, when I get a certain feeling when I meet an abusive man – a feeling I used to call attraction/love – I know is the recognition of a dysfunctional man which relates back to my childhood abuse by a stepfather. So when I get this feeling, I run a mile.

    Another tactic I use is to imagine what a un-traumatised woman would expect from a relationship – for example, if a man verbally abuses me (and this includes putting me down when I express an opinion) I think ‘what would that emotionally healthy woman think to that comment?’. And, even better, I think ‘how rude’.

    Finally, it would be good to have more representations of healthy emotionally fulfilling relationships to measure our own by – but when you look at the media portrayal of women, and the relationships of the women around us, they are few and far between. This is why we need feminism – to keep us questioning what we are expected to put up with – and also to keep fighting towards equality for women so we have the authority that demands respect.

  59. Andie
    Andie May 15, 2012 at 7:09 am |

    I have to agree with BPbetsy. As a kid I watched my confident, outgoing sister turn into a introverted self-doubting mess at the hands of a guy who was controlling and abusive. I, on the other hand, have always had crappy self-esteem and yet I’ve never been in an abusive relationship (or I’ve run at the first signs… Maybe I lack the confidence to think I can “fix” anyone).

    Abuse is the fault of the person committing the abuse.. Most abusive partners are very good at manipulating and tearing people down, bit by bit… So much so that even people who know “the signs” can find themselves saying “how the hell did I get here??”

    That’s kind of the point of the article, #48.

  60. Steve LaBonne
    Steve LaBonne May 15, 2012 at 8:22 am |

    In my experience, the abuse is what causes the low self-esteem, not vice versa.

    Exactly. This is very well explained in Evans’s book (and I gather, in Bancroft’s as well.)

  61. roymacIII
    roymacIII May 15, 2012 at 11:04 am |

    And being a feminist even makes it harder in some ways. Coming out and saying “my relationship is unhealthy and it has been for a long time” is hard for everyone, but even more so when you run in circles where “I would never put up with abuse, I’d leave the second it turned bad” is such a common sentiment. The fact that I stayed so long made me feel more and more embarrassed and trapped. The “I’d never put up with abuse” sentiment is a good one, and it’s also a big part of what empowered me to leave, but it adds a strange dynamic to the mix for a feminist domestic abuse victim.

    I know several people who’ve had this exact feeling.
    And the feeling that there was nobody to turn to because they feel like they “should have known better” than to stay with the abuser, or because they felt like they’d betrayed their friends/families by lying about the abuse and hiding it. Even if you know on a strictly logical level that it’s not true.
    It’s definitely a strange dynamic.

  62. rox
    rox May 15, 2012 at 12:02 pm |

    You know there are certain signs I ignored that in a sense are kind of unfair. For example, past history of child abuse. I believe in giving people the benefit of the doubt, but my experience is that men with histories of childhood abuse, and verbally or physically/sexually abusive family dynamics are very likely to repeat these behaviors. (I’ve never dated women but in my life women tend to act out the passive role from what I have more often seen, though I HAVE seen verbally abusive females in action and know females can be abusers as well)

    I tend to be very understanding about listening to people’s life history and understanding and unfortunately I have literally watched how a person goes from talking about how their family was abusive and how hurt they were by that behavior to acting that behavior out full force– AND being in denial about it because it was “less” bad than the worst they experienced.

    The line behind “verbal abuse” and “legitimate criticism” and “self expression” can get very muddled. One person might say rather calmly, “I find it totally unacceptable how filthy the house is. You’re being pathetic and I want to see it change now” and feel like they are simply requesting a legitimate change in their partners behavior. In figuring out how to respond to that request, it leaves the person being insulted confused about whether the rest of the world will see them as pathetic and unacceptable– and they better either fix their behavior or grovel in self hatred approcpriately realizing what a sacrafice it takes to be with someone who is so awful as themselves.

    The person who requested the behavioral change might even later leave the relationship and talk about how they were being abused by having to deal with such a yucky house and how their partner was pathologically messy and truly a despicable unacceptable person who should never be accepted by society.

    Really– it can very hard to determine who is abusing who when you get down to subtlies of “emotional abuse” between adults.

  63. rox
    rox May 15, 2012 at 12:07 pm |

    My biggest thing is that if there is a behavior I struggle with that my partner thinks is despicable or hates– we just need to end it. It’s almost impossible to make positive change from a place of being hated and not accepted by someone else.

    So even if it’s a behavior I would agree should change, it pretty much means the relationship should end immediately because my partner has expressed they are truly unhappy with being with me the way I am. Change takes time and often love and acceptance– which simply don’t manifest well in such a situation.

    The one thing I am happy I learned is that even if someone has found a legitimate fault with who I am and how I behave– I do not have to agree to change if I don’t feel able or competant to do so. I can only be who I am able to be. Soemtimes that might be pathetic by many people’s standards but as long as I do not break the law, I don’t think anyone should have the right to stand in my face and attempt to make me feel ashamed and inferior, even if I have failed at many things.

  64. rox
    rox May 15, 2012 at 12:16 pm |

    For example- I found that in gently understanding and coaching myself to learn how to organize and clean despite my executive dysfunction- I have a usually pretty clean house.

    Wheras when my son’t father would barge into my house at random times screaming how pathetic and desgusting I was and how no one would ever want to be near me or date me or be my friend and I was the most vile horrible person and different than everyone else and a despicable rape victim who would always be damaged goods— it actually did not help me clean better and exacerbated my PTSD-wanting to shut down- and the difficulty with taking on more tasks.

    Just something I observed.

  65. EG
    EG May 15, 2012 at 12:17 pm |

    The line behind “verbal abuse” and “legitimate criticism” and “self expression” can get very muddled. One person might say rather calmly, “I find it totally unacceptable how filthy the house is. You’re being pathetic and I want to see it change now”

    I don’t see how that line is muddled at all. The line between “I find it totally unacceptable how filthy the house is” and “You’re being pathetic” is pretty damn clear. If you don’t want to be abusive, you make “I” statements: “I find it totally unacceptable how filthy the house is,” “I cannot live like this any longer.” The minute you move from that to insulting somebody, you’ve crossed a line.

    You don’t get to tell me that I’m pathetic; you don’t even get to tell me to change. You get to draw and communicate your boundaries about how you’re willing to live.

  66. EG
    EG May 15, 2012 at 12:30 pm |

    Wheras when my son’t father would barge into my house at random times screaming how pathetic and desgusting I was and how no one would ever want to be near me or date me or be my friend and I was the most vile horrible person and different than everyone else and a despicable rape victim who would always be damaged goods— it actually did not help me clean better and exacerbated my PTSD-wanting to shut down- and the difficulty with taking on more tasks.

    Good God. That is despicable behavior and couldn’t help anybody change. Nobody would clean better under such circumstances.

  67. rox
    rox May 15, 2012 at 12:30 pm |

    EG- because I have executive dysfunction and cognitive/memory impairment– I constantly make errors that people find unacceptable and face a lot o negative feedback and criticism in school/work place/homelife. I’ve learned a lot about my disabilities and in general they are still not considered legitimate disabilities by many people who think there is “no excuse” for struggling with many things I ahve struggled with.

    It’s very hard in a relationship for me to figure out when or if it’s fair for me to figure out how to respond to people legitimate requests that I change- sometimes stated very nicely “This is unacceptable, I don’t find you good enough”– and sometimes abusively “You’re pathetic, no one will ever like you”. I have finally realized I AM constantly seeking to master new skills and I have to work at my own pace. People are free to leave, but I really can not become someone I’m not. It’s a bit lonely and sometimes it’s honestly sort of comforting to have anyone– even though it seems like the abusive people are more often willing to “tolerate” someone like me; wheras nice people will just very nicely and non-abusively- leave.

    Also the symptoms I have associated with executive dysfunction are HIGHLY reactive to stress. So unfortunately being around yellers and insulters makes it harder to perform– not easier. Yeah, my gut tells me to avoid everyone because no one find people like me acceptable and the people who will tolerate me probably have reasons that are not so nice for being willing to tolerate my existance in their life. It makes the world feel really scary.

  68. M-C
    M-C May 15, 2012 at 12:34 pm |

    Agree that #48 is totally off the mark, and merely victim-blaming about the resulting lack of self-esteem. If you’re meeting a woman after she’s been abused, you basically have no idea how her self-esteem was before.

    Lila, I’m glad you left so quickly when he shifted to hitting you, and thanks so much for this article. I too was mostly emotionally abused by a guy who was the first overtly feminist man I met, whose mother and grandmother were such strong and wonderful women… And he was so liberal politically, so anti-war and ecological and all those good things. I left after he punched the wall, luckily. And just as luckily I realized that I didn’t want to have him be a father to any child of mine and had an abortion. I could not have told you why at the time, it was purely instinct. But 10 years later his wife looked me up, and asked me whether I had left because he was also beating me. He’d started when she was pregnant. And was now molesting the 4-year-old. Turned out both the mother and grandmother had been beaten too, that there had been childhood rapes among the siblings, that this had been going on a long while. But he was a good liar and he never ever breathed a word of that family history to me.

    I think some guys you can see coming, especially if you’ve been warned about cutting you off from your friends etc. But I think the most dangerous ones are just that, good liars. I’ve had experiences with other liars on other topics, and really, when they’re good there’s NO way you can tell, they know just what you’re looking for, and they know how to lead you on. Most people who meet my father think he’s absolutely charming for instance.

    Some of those people look for women with low self-esteem. Some of them look for women with high self-esteem, as a fun challenge. I’ve seen the latter in action, and I really believe it’s almost as common. I think also that they know that once you’ve been abused, even if you’ve gotten out, it’s easier to get you back in that position. And I truly believe all the talking about the issue that feminists have been doing for decades is really good, that being silent is deadly, and that talking has changed society deeply. But I’m also coming to believe that you should personally be really careful who you tell, as it could very well be used against you.

    So, girls, watch your step! And watch out for other women too, because some of them are as bad as those men we’re watching out for. Whoever you’re with, listen carefully to your guts. Do you really feel good around this person (beyond the first 6 weeks, which are usually the best you’ve ever had in your life)? Pay attention, be true to yourself even if you can’t explain it or are not certain. You should be giving yourself the benefit of the doubt, not someone else.

    And A, please please get out now.

  69. Kristen J.
    Kristen J. May 15, 2012 at 12:42 pm |

    One person might say rather calmly, “I find it totally unacceptable how filthy the house is. You’re being pathetic and I want to see it change now”

    Wow, I can’t see either of these statements as kind expressions towards someone you love. I suppose the former could be meant kindly, but I rather doubt it. Its still extremely hostile and blaming. The whole “When you…I feel” is somewhat cliche, but it really works.

    “When the house is messier than I prefer, I feel frustrated and stressed…Would you be willing to help me maintain it so that I don’t get so stressed?” is a way of saying the same thing that is respectful of the that the other person who is not required to change to accomodate you and acknowledging that they are loved and accepted the way they are.

    I’m big on self expression, but you know sometimes in a relationship its not all about you and what you need to say. Sometimes what you want to say can be hurtful and unkind even when its not abusive.

  70. rox
    rox May 15, 2012 at 12:45 pm |

    PS- Sorry for writing so many posts– That guy claims to be a feminist and progressive– although he’s pretty much a libertarian and hates social assistance. “People with disabilities and illness fill me with rage”

    um. ok. It was really scary to discover what was underneath the hippie, women’s right’s supporting, organic food eating, philosophy major who I thought was gentle and kind.

  71. rox
    rox May 15, 2012 at 1:08 pm |

    Lila- I want to more specifically thank you so much for writing this. I’m not always thinking clearly on these issues and went straight to “Ah! My own experience!” but what you are writing about is SO IMPORTANT for people to understand. People who get abused in relationships take so much flack for it- when in reality they might have been very happy and non-abused had they wound up with a nice partner and abuse almost always worsens self esteem and mental health and other areas of functioning. Peope don’t realise how much chance factors into it and LOVE the just world hypothesis because it feels so much better to live that way. But it can result in extremely false concepts about others- and in fact make the world a worse place, as ignorance often does.

  72. spideyj
    spideyj May 15, 2012 at 1:25 pm |

    @BPbetsy Yes, I had what I would consider to be very high self esteem before I was in an abusive relationship and it’s taken a few years after the end of that relationship for it to return. People want to think of ways to categorize victims of abuse, I think so they can tell themselves that they’re not at risk, but I honestly think it’s a risk everyone takes when they enter a relationship, especially women.
    @rox Interestingly, from the reading I’ve done, being a victim of childhood abuse isn’t actually a good indicator of whether someone is an abuser or not. I agree with the other commenter that recommended Lundy Bancroft’s book (‘Why Does He Do that?’) for what he considers warning signs, and he asserts that the idea that abusers were themselves victims of abuse is actually part of the myth that protects them from detection and punishment.
    @EG I grew up in a household that practiced “I” statements and I tried to get my partner to use them as well. I found out that even those can be twisted by an abuser. Abuse isn’t about rage or poor communication – it’s about a systematic attempt to control and belittle a person’s partner. Almost anything can serve as a tool in that attempt and I agree with Lila that gut instinct is the best indicator. If you feel like you’re being harmed by your partner, emotionally or otherwise, you probably are.

  73. catfood
    catfood May 15, 2012 at 2:08 pm |

    @spideyj:

    Abuse isn’t about rage or poor communication – it’s about a systematic attempt to control and belittle a person’s partner.

    Excellent point. Abusers know damn well what you mean and they tend to have very good communication skills. It’s what they communicate that’s the problem.

    “I” statements are fabulous for when you’re dealing with someone in mutual good faith. They’re not especially useful for dealing with an abuser.

  74. rox
    rox May 15, 2012 at 2:12 pm |

    I statements from an abuser;
    “When I see you shut down emotionally it makes me want to physically harm you.”
    “I feel manipulative and cruel and your lack of assertiveness brings out those traits in me”
    “When you refuse to respond to my accusations I am filled with rage and desgust”
    “I feel completely repulsed when I see that you are afraid and believe that makes you deserve anything coming to you.”
    “When I see human need it makes me repulsed as I believe all humans can be completely self sufficient.”

    I realize a big part of what made me realize what I was getting into so slowly was that he DID communicate in a very “neutral” calm way, really messed up things as if it was normal conversation fodder and int he same way he would discuss how these are difficult emotions he faces. It made it feel like this was something I should try to understand and figure out– mostly by becoming what he wanted (impossible), but also by looking at all the “reasons” which came along with these conversations. It was really confusing and scary as it slowly trickled into actual fits of rage.

    I really believe in trying to have compassion for where people are- especially because I struggle so much with being who I want to be and being able to do well in school or life. So these things presented as his “issues” to be discussed wound up on the table as things to be understood about him. And I really did want to understand. I also want to be safe and these were scary things to hear someone say- especially in that they involved a lot of hatred and disdain directed at me and were fitted in with his abusive apbringing “I am cold inside as a result of the abusive ubpringing. You are damaged from sexual abuse and I can’t help being desgusted by that so we can both understand each others faults and that’s the way it is.”

    Really… um confusing as hell. I didn’t particularly have much self esteem going into it (which is not the case for everyone), but I had far less than none going out. I am interested in the suggested reading, haven’t read them.

  75. matlun
    matlun May 15, 2012 at 4:57 pm |

    Abusers know damn well what you mean and they tend to have very good communication skills.

    Not in my experience. Abusers are often rather sad people who fail due their own flaws when it comes to communication and general social skills. This does not help the abused person, though.

    The fact that they may be abusers due to their own victimization (and the perpetuating circle of abuse across generations) is not an excuse. It may be an explanation for why they are abusers, but it does not change the fact that they are.

    (I see that I am disagreeing withSpideyj’s statement that the “circle of abuse” theory is a myth. Interesting. The above is just my own anecdotal experience of cases from my immediate family, so perhaps I am incorrect in the general case)

  76. EG
    EG May 15, 2012 at 5:48 pm |

    I found out that even those can be twisted by an abuser. Abuse isn’t about rage or poor communication – it’s about a systematic attempt to control and belittle a person’s partner.

    Yes, and I did not mean to imply that they could not be. It was a response to the idea that there is a muddled line between expressing oneself and abuse that could be crossed unknowingly by saying “You’re being pathetic.” The point I was trying to make is that such a line would not be crossed by somebody who was expressing oneself in good faith and trying not to be abusive.

  77. EG
    EG May 15, 2012 at 5:49 pm |

    That does make the world frightening, rox, and I’m so sorry.

  78. pheenobarbidoll
    pheenobarbidoll May 15, 2012 at 6:42 pm |

    I have fantastic self esteem and I met up with my share of abusive assholes. Evidently, my self esteem is so fantastic that I left them with an even better sense of self esteem. (ie- I’m fucking fabulous, what the fuck was his problem)

    So self esteem doesn’t really play into it. Are there abusers who seek out those they can easily manipulate? Of course. Predators often do. The sole responsibility for this lies at the feet of the person actively choosing their targets. There are also abusers who will abuse anyone that comes within 5 feet , regardless of the self esteem going on with them.

    The common denominator is the abuser, not the self esteem of the abused.

  79. Rainface
    Rainface May 16, 2012 at 8:53 am |

    Thank you for helping me continue to define my experience of my previous relationship. I have been unable to completely let it go (and it’s been almost 3 years since the last gasp) because I turn the events over and over in my mind and try to make them fit. He was emotionally abusive. The beginning of the end of our relationship was the night I had to remain in the hospital overnight to receive a blood transfusion for a miscarriage. He stayed with me that night and wouldn’t let me sleep. He kept me up all night haranguing me about how I had been “flirting” with the male nurse in the emergency room during my earlier admit, and continuing his previous attack on me regarding his belief that I had cheated on him and it wasn’t his baby that I’d just lost. I have PTSD as a result of that miscarriage, and I don’t think that it’s just because of the physical and medical experience.

  80. Ismone
    Ismone May 16, 2012 at 2:18 pm |

    I think another way to help people avoid abusive relationships is to have a norm that the other person doesn’t have to be doing something wrong for you to leave them.

    It doesn’t matter why he or she makes “I” statements about disgust or what have you. It doesn’t matter if he or she is doing things that “aren’t wrong.” It doesn’t matter whether you have flaws, too, or not.

    What really matters is whether you function as a couple. Do you meet eachother’s needs? If he/she says things that make you feel bad or feel the need to change, maybe that is reason enough to walk. I think in a relationship, there can be legitimate discussion about things that one partner does that hurts another person’s feelings–but to sharpen up the blurry line a little bit, I think there are two questions to ask. (1) Is the complained-of behavior something I feel guilty about and wish I did not engage in, either with regard to my partner or the world in general? (2) Is the amount of effort necessary to address all of the complained-of behaviors requiring so much effort that the relationship is no longer enjoyable?

    I do think it is important that we be kind to eachother, and in relationships, sometimes we do snap or get unfairly impatient or fail to compromise. But at the end of the day, even if what the other person wants is totally reasonable, that doesn’t mean you have to do it–but, if you don’t, the answer is really to walk away.

    For example: I couldn’t be with someone who wasn’t very into hugs or physical affection. I also couldn’t be with someone who didn’t like discussing politics. Having to excise the debating part of my personality wouldn’t be fun for me. In college, I met a guy I fell for who just really couldn’t stand to discuss anything contentious. He was (and I’m sure is) a great guy, but we couldn’t have made eachother happy. And that doesn’t reflect poorly on either of us. And I bet he is now happily with someone who doesn’t like to debate.

    The thing was with him, he saw our differences in needs as an incompatability, not as a mandate to change me.

    If we (as a culture) stopped making breakups a matter of moral failure, I think it would be easier for people to leave abusive or troubled relationships without having to take the step to call them that. We just need a lower threshhold for “this isn’t working for me.”

  81. rox
    rox May 16, 2012 at 4:16 pm |

    “We just need a lower threshhold for “this isn’t working for me.”

    I agree with this so much. I know it sounds strange but I really don’t think that my ex’s needs for a fellow Vulcan with No Love inherently makes him abusive. I think there are things he did that were abusive in relation to trying to destroy my self esteem or belief that anyone in the world could ever like me and threaten my personal safety and scream obsenities and insults and tell me I’m the most desgusting and vile person he’s ever known….

    ok.. What I mean is– it’s not wrong to want a partner that has no emotional needs, doesn’t like attention or affection, is efficient and succesful at navigating the world etc. It’s just when you project on to someone who is not those things, very hateful and violent sentiments about their existence that is when it can get abusive. I would say the majority of my ex’s behavior that was the most abusive actually happened after we broke up and it was just in no way justified to rail against me just for existing and being myself and dealing with the difficulties I face and not being a “good” partner for him. We were/are broken up! It’s so not relevant! Especially considering he knocked me up on purpose when I was passed out drunk! Like.. DUDE maybe don’t purposefully impregnate people who aren’t good enough for you/your future children while they are passed out drunk? Something to think about? So in that context of something that most people would classify as sexual assault and coparenting from there– it’s pretty crummy to do everything in your power to psychologically destroy someone you hurled a pregnancy on on purpose. But– I guess, consistant with being a predatory and cruel person.

    But I think because I WAS viewing the situation prior to getting pregnant as a situation of him simply expressing how he feels and not taking offense- I think I overlooked that what he feels is inherently a lot of hatred and rage and that without very firm statements that he is interesting in handling that with awareness and compassion for others– that IS concerning and I should have been concerned much sooner. As soon as the “I am filled with darkness and cruelty and coldness and have no love” statements started happening. I think I was so worried about being judgemental that I forgot it’s ok to have certain things you are concerned about being around EVEN IF it’s not the person’s fault. Because I knew he had big issues and decided to interact with him anyway, I feel like he’s subsequent behavior was my fault, because clearly I should have known better. But that gets confusing because what is the point I should have known better? When he said he had an abusive family? When he said he a lot of internal coldness? I think the other problem for me was that we were trying to “be friends” and then wound up hooking up. So accepting who he was as a friend– I didn’t have on my “would this be a good romantic relationship” hat on, but had my “be an understanding friend” hat on. Which apparently requires a lot more recognition of red flags as well, than I had at the time.

    But I have been rejected for some many things I can’t change about myself, it was just really hard for me to reject anyone for issues I could see them struggling with internally. It felt like if I rejected him, it meant I was saying no one should be around me either, because I have a lot of internal pain myself. However I also have a really strong drive to make sure that doesn’t harm others (I don’t know how good I am at succeeding at this but I know I try really hard). So we were coming at it from different places. I guess. Um.

    Honestly I still find it all very confusing.

  82. Schmorgluck
    Schmorgluck May 16, 2012 at 10:44 pm |

    I’ve skimmed the comments, I am male, and it took me some days to be able to word what I find especially scary in this post. I’m not sure I’ll word it quite right. Of course you’re free to retort, rebut, everything I’m about to say (I mean, of course you’re free to do that). Don’t feel obligated to be gentle. I am myself puzzled by these thoughts of mine. Shake me if you must.

    What I find scary in this post is that it pictures a man who seems to have sincere feminist convictions, but also seems to be unable to live up to his own principles. What scares me is the possibility of me being this man. I have pretty high quality standards when it comes to relationships. But I’m quite aware that I have a huge baggage of psychological issues (mostly due to school bullying). And that in a relationship, people are very vulnerable to each other.

    I’m afraid of all the toxic memes that could take control of my actions, despite my ideals. I’ve been afraid of this since Bertand Cantat beat up Marie Trintignant to death. That event traumatized me more than 11/9.

  83. martine votvik
    martine votvik May 17, 2012 at 2:18 am |

    Schmorgluck – a lot of us have good valid reasons for being afraid of how we will function in an intimate relationship. This does not mean that we are unlovable and should stay away from intimacy.

    How ever, the way you say you’re worried about memes “taking control” of you… Please be careful about assuming that there are forces of behavior to which you have no defense. If you know something might become a problem you have the responsibility to seek treatment and support to make sure that it doesn’t happen.

    There are support groups and therapies out there to help you. And if you know this there is really no excuse for not seeking them out if you know that the consequence of not doing so is that you might abuse your partner in the future.

    And if you didn’t know that there is help out there, you know it now, so hop to it ;)

  84. Travis
    Travis May 17, 2012 at 7:37 am |

    @ anon whose husband’s the artist — you guys sound a lot like my parents. A lot of love and a lot of anger, and neither of my parents had good coping skills. Both are alcoholics, both have struck each other, called each other every name in the books. And they’re still married.

    I find conversations about “abusers” extraordinarily baffling because both of my parents “abuse” one another – my mother is a vicious, angry drunk (and a binge rather than constant drinker) and my father is an icy-cold emotionally manipulative gaslighter who for years was in complete denial about his own alcoholism and blamed my mother for his depression. My mother has said the worst, most hurtful things I’ve ever heard to my father; my father has hit her (and she’s hit him, although there’s a hundred-pound difference).

    And their marriage was wonderful for fifteen years. This wasn’t a situation where after a period of months or years one person revealed themselves to be a “monster”. It was two people who loved each other, who raised two good kids, who did their best. And then my mother became depressed, and started drinking, and became extraordinarily emotionally abusive of everyone around her. And my father started drinking, and his natural type-A personality flared into manipulative, controlling, gaslighting behavior – and he’d hit her when she was drunk. They’ve had “counseling” for what it’s worth, but the habits of misery are so, so ingrained by now.

    I’ve often wished they’d divorce; I left for college at 16 to get away from them. I love them to death, and they love me, and we all love each other. We try so hard to make it work; we’re all in a nasty codependent triangle at this point — I’m the only one in the house who speaks to both of them, so I often relay messages and get an earful from one parent about the other. I have my own sins; I’m bipolar and for a while I was as miserable and vicious as I’d raised to be, although my temperament is naturally more conciliatory, kinder.

    So, feminists: who’s the “abuser” in this family? Who’s the “monster” who must be fled? Can’t we all just be people who are scared and hurt and who lash out and then become defensive, and do it all over again? Who love one another, and try?

    Just out of curiosity, how come this post above went completely unquoted and ignored, despite being one of the most thoughtful contributions to the entire conversation?

  85. EG
    EG May 17, 2012 at 9:42 am |

    It’s clearly a plot. A conspiracy, if you will.

    Because ultimately, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter who, in that situation is a monster and who is a victim. It matters that there is a gruesomely unhappy relationship, and neither person is making any changes. What does “trying to make it work” mean? Fucked up family dynamics don’t go away as a result of will power. Either there is an intervention of some kind–family therapy, AA, whatever–or somebody gets a divorce, or everybody continues to be miserable. What else is there to say?

  86. Travis
    Travis May 17, 2012 at 9:53 am |

    @EG

    That, more often than we like to admit, it takes two to tango. While I would certainly not deny that there are some awful men out there (and awful women too) who are abusive by nature and should be avoided, I think the post I quoted aptly shows that a lot of the time it is far from ‘just that simple’.

    Anyways. It just seemed, to be honest, a little damning that not a single person paid any attention to it — possibly it wasn’t reinforcing the trope that everyone wanted to hear?

  87. rox
    rox May 17, 2012 at 10:18 am |

    Travis- I think it really is potentially dangerous to assume that “it takes two to tango” is the norm; meaning that while it may ring true in some percent of relationships; it results in judgement of anyone who admits being with an abusive partner ever when there is no proof that they were equal or at all to blame.

  88. Travis
    Travis May 17, 2012 at 10:47 am |

    I can appreciate that, Rox. However, I hope you’d appreciate that the reverse is just as plausible, and can be damaging in its own regard. While I am sure this next statement will not be popular: there is also no proof of any of the claims in the first place.

    That said, I am not attempting to belittle or hand-wave the topic at hand. Abuse is a serious issue, I wholeheartedly agree, and precisely because of that seriousness I believe it warrants a great deal more introspection than is commonly appreciated. There is a reason why there are many people (naturally, men making up the majority of them) who do become dismissive of the subject because they’ve seen or heard about truly frivolous cases.

    Far from helping the cause, this does an enormous disservice to women (and men) who ARE suffering from an abusive partner, by automatically assuming that any given case is a one-way street, or is even being represented accurately. Credibility is central to this issue, just as it is central to the issue of rape, and if credibility across the board is given any cause to come into question, it hurts everyone who is undergoing legitimately appalling abuse.

    This is, of course, to say nothing about the insinuation running rife through this conversation that ‘abuser’ is a ‘type’ or a subset of the male population, to wit: “I figured out he was one of those men, and so get the heck out of there!”

    Please try to understand how this is not only a) insulting to men in general, but b) also something which can actively reduce sympathy within the male population for the plight of female abuse victims.

    To put it bluntly, though I realize it is going to be unpopular: if we duck away from considering all angles to any given relationship problem, then we not only cheapen the issue for people who are truly suffering, but also alienate the very group that needs to severely become more responsive and alert in this regard: other men.

    Because, y’know, we know assholes when we see them too. We’d like to help. But we do also overwhelmingly get the automatic blame in the case of dispute, and it pays to remember that it’s not always the fault of one person when relationships turns nasty.

    It’s not always just a victim and an ‘abuser’.

  89. DonnaL
    DonnaL May 17, 2012 at 10:50 am |

    That, more often than we like to admit, it takes two to tango.

    I’m sure you realize that historically, that exact phrase has been commonly used to excuse rape. I suggest that your use of it here, together with your unfounded assumption of bad faith on the part of the other commenters, was astoundingly inappropriate. As well as a conclusion apparently based on one single person’s story of their parents’ marriage. I could tell a dozen stories I’m familiar with in which it’s very clear that it took only one to “tango.”

    All of which gets us nowhere, as EG points out.

  90. rox
    rox May 17, 2012 at 11:08 am |

    The societal belief that “it takes two to tango” is also something that can work in a sinister abusers favor– knowing that if they are able to succesfully abuse someone it reflects poorly on the person who GETS abused when people find out.

  91. Travis
    Travis May 17, 2012 at 11:15 am |

    I’m sure you realize that historically, that exact phrase has been commonly used to excuse rape.

    Sure. That, however, is not how I used it.

    I suggest that your use of it here, together with your unfounded assumption of bad faith on the part of the other commenters, was astoundingly inappropriate.

    I’m sorry if it seemed insensitive, but I respectfully reject your suggestion. This is not a topic to treat with kid-gloves, in my opinion. I believe that little is solved by refusing to confront circumstances which do more damage than good, because it might seem callous to mention them. Indeed, it seems to me that is in itself a very dangerous road to tread, because it denies us the chance to discover other pitfalls which might be contributing just as greatly to the very thing we collectively abhor.

    I suggest that your use of it here, together with your unfounded assumption of bad faith on the part of the other commenters, was astoundingly inappropriate.

    I’m sure you could. I could provide counter examples, no doubt. It’s not a competition; I’m merely highlighting something that I believe should be taken into account.

  92. Travis
    Travis May 17, 2012 at 11:18 am |

    Also, another post which answered your first, Rox, and may well have pre-empted yours, DonnaL, is still awaiting moderation, for some reason.

    Possibly because I referred to an abuser as an a-hole, but didn’t mitigate my spelling? Dunno.

    It might make my feelings/position clearer.

  93. DonnaL
    DonnaL May 17, 2012 at 12:29 pm |

    Sure. That, however, is not how I used it.

    The fact that you admit knowledge of the implications of that phrase renders your deliberate use of the phrase even more inexcusable.

  94. Niall
    Niall May 17, 2012 at 12:55 pm |

    I just wanted to elaborate further on something that a few others have pointed out so far; that men who grew up being abused and / or witnessing abuse very often carry this behaviour into their own relationships, be it their partner, their (step)children or anyone else close. While true, it is far from being written in stone or some kind of certainty. I know that in my particular case, growing with disabilities or being a ‘special needs’ child as they often called it, I endured a lot of abuse, physical, emotional, sexual and psychological. – a sad reality for in the lives of many people from marginalized groups.

    For so many years, I didn’t even recognize what I was experiencing was abuse. My experience definitely filled me with a lot of rage and anger that still lingers, to some degree. Although therapy, counselling as well as knowing a few great and very empathetic people have definitely helped.

    But as angry as I was, the experience left me with a firm resolve never to become that kind of person myself. A resolve that’s as strong as it is now as it was then. So I’ve made it a point to educate myself about the dynamics of abusive relationships as much as possible. It’s like the adage of the two twins, both of whom grew up being raised by alcoholic abusive parents. Someone asks the first twin “Why are you such a mean, nasty anti-social drunk?” the twins answers “with parents like mine, who wouldn’t be?” someone asks the other twin “Why AREN’T you a mean, nasty anti-social drunk?” to which that twin replies “With parents like mine, who WOULD be?”

    I never had any kids of my own, and I don’t think I will. But I have worked as a counsellor for children and pre-teen kids. They could be very difficult and trying and I for sure felt the rage and the impulse to do something bad, but I always stayed in control. I remember the actor Patrick Stewart saying the same thing about his father’s violence towards his mother, and how it affected his relationships. It had an effect on him, and that there were times when he felt angry to the point of hitting someone, but he never lost control and hit anyone.

    And this is another reason why I don’t buy into the bullshit that abusers lack self-control, because I know first hand that this is a crock.

  95. Travis
    Travis May 17, 2012 at 12:56 pm |

    Not really, DonnaL, though if you’re more interested in defaming me rather than having an adult discussion, that’s your deal.

    And pretty much proves my point. Go you.

  96. Niall
    Niall May 17, 2012 at 1:17 pm |

    @Travis #93

    Oh how very passive aggressive of you, Travis.

    And you accuse Donna of not being able to have an adult discussion? Pot, meet kettle.

  97. rox
    rox May 17, 2012 at 1:31 pm |

    Travis– I’m not sure where you’re coming from, but as someone who has taken others insults/violence/sexual assaults and been often unable to escape or in difficult circumstances where caring for myself and being on my own was beyond my capacity and I relied on the generosity of others– accepting their faults and behaviors–

    I really am not sure what you think is important about your “point” that abuse can sometimes come from both sides. I AGREE with you, that abusive people can sometimes find each other and react off of and worsen each others behavior. However how does acknowledging this change when someone says, “You know I wasn’t abusive my partner and they abused me”

    How would your proposed response differ? I’m trying to understand what is important to you about ensuring that people who state they have experienced abuse are viewed suspiciously. Are you worried about the false accusations phenomenon and that men might be unfairly blamed when the female in the relationship is the more- or equal- abusive one? I agree with you, that can happen. But I think we can acknowledge that can happen without assuming anyone who admits they experienced abuse is inherently playing tango.

  98. Travis
    Travis May 17, 2012 at 1:40 pm |

    Oh how very passive aggressive of you, Travis.

    And you accuse Donna of not being able to have an adult discussion? Pot, meet kettle.

    Well, I fail to see how, to be perfectly honest. If the moderators would approve the lengthy explanation of my stance which I have attempted to post twice now, then it might be a little clearer what I was getting at.

    But, to paraphrase my attempted post: there is a tacit undercurrent to this thread which is a) implying that there is a sort of subset of the male population known as the ‘abuser type’, which is frankly insulting and often results in alienating people who would otherwise be eager and valuable allies, and b) also implying that the abuse is automatically a one-way street, with the victim and the abuser already cast into their roles.

    To be blunt: this is not reality.

    Men can spot a-holes too, and we’re more than happy to help point them out, or help deal with them when they reveal themselves in the harshest of ways. But tropes such as the one being reinforced by much of this thread honestly do not help, nor does the attitude which DonnaL appears to be trying, which is to manufacture outrage at my expense simply for ‘inexcusably’ not buying the trope hook, line and sinker.

    This ends up actually hurting the poor women (and men) who ARE being abused.

  99. Dan_Brodribb
    Dan_Brodribb May 17, 2012 at 1:46 pm |

    My heart goes out to the people who have experienced or are experiencing the abuse talked about in this post.

    I’ve never been on either end of this specific type of abusive situation, but I have ended up in some relationships where some unhealthy things were happening and I can relate to the shock of finding yourself in a situation that you thought you were too smart/well-informed/experienced/or educated-from-having-worked-in-the-field-ed to end up in.

    Thanks for coming out with your stories. For what it’s worth, you’re in my thoughts.

  100. rox
    rox May 17, 2012 at 1:57 pm |

    Travis- genuinely, how does repeatedly mentioning it takes two to tango help people who really are being abused? I remember when I first told some I had been in a two year abusive relationship- in fact as I was in the hospital with serious panic attack/dissociative trauma symptoms; I told a mental health worker I had been in an abusive relationship and they said extremely accusitorily “Well why did you stay? I think you wanted to create drama”

    So when I feel sensitive to your words, it’s because I think you may not realize that outside of protective feminist communities, the fault of the victim is more often assumed than their innocence.

  101. Niall
    Niall May 17, 2012 at 2:06 pm |

    there is a tacit undercurrent to this thread which is a) implying that there is a sort of subset of the male population known as the ‘abuser type’, which is frankly insulting and often results in alienating people who would otherwise be eager and valuable allies, and b) also implying that the abuse is automatically a one-way street, with the victim and the abuser already cast into their roles.

    More of the same old MRA pedantry we’ve heard many times before. It also comes straight out of Derailing for Dummies (look it up if you’re unfamiliar) ie “You only hurt your cause by being so angry!”

    Men can spot a-holes too

    Really? I had no idea. I’m so glad you enlightened me!

    But tropes such as the one being reinforced by much of this thread honestly do not help, nor does the attitude which DonnaL appears to be trying, which is to manufacture outrage at my expense simply for ‘inexcusably’ not buying the trope hook, line and sinker.

    Derailing accompanied by mansplaining. Well at least you kept if relatively short.

    This ends up actually hurting the poor women (and men) who ARE being abused.

  102. Niall
    Niall May 17, 2012 at 2:09 pm |

    Gah.

    Screwed up with the blockquote tags. The last quoted paragraph should be mine directed toward Travis.

  103. Niall
    Niall May 17, 2012 at 2:12 pm |

    Oh and this part of the last blockquote “This ends up actually hurting the poor women (and men) who ARE being abused” were Travis’ words. The first part of it is mine

  104. Travis
    Travis May 17, 2012 at 2:16 pm |

    Travis- genuinely, how does repeatedly mentioning it takes two to tango help people who really are being abused?

    Well, because I didn’t say it always takes two. What I was saying was what the lengthy post I was quoting was highlighting, and that’s: not every case of a relationships turning nasty is so cut and dry as the victim + abuser model, and unless we acknowledge this, we’re doomed to never fully tackle the problem.

    “Well why did you stay? I think you wanted to create drama”

    Well, that’s certainly not what I was trying to say, so if you felt that was my argument then I apologize, and can appreciate your sensitivity.

    All the same, I do disagree with the assertion that it’s only within the feminist community that people assume the victim to be telling the truth. In part because I know so many people whose blood literally boils at the thought of (as the most traditional example) a man hitting a woman. I have never, in fact, in my life, run into someone who felt it was just the victim’s fault for them being beaten.

    I am truly sorry to hear your experience differs from mine, but that’s partly why I am trying to say: you’re not alone, and your movement is not alone either.

    We just cannot fool ourselves that it’s so easy to pare it down to what I feel has been the main thrust of this thread: that abuse is pre-determined by a certain ‘type’ of person, and that just explains everything bad.

  105. Travis
    Travis May 17, 2012 at 2:21 pm |

    Derailing accompanied by mansplaining. Well at least you kept if relatively short.

    Mansplaining? Really? *eyeroll*

  106. Revolver
    Revolver May 17, 2012 at 2:28 pm |

    Ick ick ick. Travis, the harm that could come from insisting that a female victim may in fact not be a victim is huge. Much bigger harm, in my opinion, than swinging the other way to say that all abusers = men. (Which of course is false, and I’m not suggesting that this idea is promoted). Because statistically, women tend to be the victims, and tend not to be the one believed. Honestly, I’d rather scare away a couple of male allies than lay the groundwork for decreasing victims’ credibility.

    It brings to mind Hugo Schwyzer, when he, by his own admission, attempted to kill his ex-girlfriend, then undermined her credibility with the police by saying it was a suicide pact. He was believed, not her. As DonnaL and rox have pointed out, “it takes two to tango” and similar train of thoughts are really damaging for victims and their available courses of action.

    Besides, there are many, many other ways to engage men in domestic violence advocacy, other than coddling them and making sure to say “We know you’re not that kinda guy; in fact, women are abusers too!” Give them more credit than that.

  107. Travis
    Travis May 17, 2012 at 2:47 pm |

    Because statistically, women tend to be the victims, and tend not to be the one believed. Honestly, I’d rather scare away a couple of male allies than lay the groundwork for decreasing victims’ credibility.

    Well, see, this is where it gets tricky, because sources differ. For example:

    There’s also, if you go to the home page on that site, analysis of the rise of drug addiction being linked as a primary cause of domestic violence, as well as clinical depression. Of course these are not catch-alls in any sense, much less some kind of claim that plain-old misogynists are not the main instigators of domestic abuse. But it can illustrate that there are other issues at work here, and unless we’re clear-eyed about them, then ultimately this problem will never truly go away.

    other than coddling them and making sure to say

    Well, speaking as a man: I don’t need your coddling. I know perfectly well the person I am, and that, in fact is the root of the frustration.

    How, exactly, would you feel if I said that contraception is the woman’s responsibility, and therefore any unwanted pregnancy is down to some women not being careful enough, and how all us guys should avoid listening to any women on the subject?

    You’d explode, rightfully so. I think, to be honest, you’re underestimating how large a contributor this ‘pushback’ is to a general lack of sympathy amongst certain portions of the male population.

    It’s not just a couple of allies. It’s the very demographic you need to wake up.

  108. Travis
    Travis May 17, 2012 at 2:48 pm |

    Er, total fail on the link part. >.<

    It is the intended one, though. I just didn't mean for it to take up the whole post!

  109. Revolver
    Revolver May 17, 2012 at 3:12 pm |

    How, exactly, would you feel if I said that contraception is the woman’s responsibility, and therefore any unwanted pregnancy is down to some women not being careful enough, and how all us guys should avoid listening to any women on the subject?

    Not sure how that relates…

    No one is denying the existence of male victims and female abusers. No one has said that all or even most abuse cases are straight out big misogynistic dudes abusing frail helpless ladies. In fact, I’m pretty sure that the opposite is a large factor in the OP’s intent. There are men that don’t fit the “abuser” type, but still abuse. The abuser may be a progressive feminist. He may be that nice guy that you just couldn’t imagine being abusive, so clearly his partner is exaggerating, or she must have brought it on herself. The victim may be a strong woman with loads of self-confidence that you just can’t imagine allowing herself to be abused, so really, she must be smearing his good name for her own purposes.

    When forced to choose, I think you’ll find more people will believe a male before they believe a female. And that is largely because of the harmful underlying sentiments like “it takes two to tango” or “she asked for it” that pervade our society.

    And please note that I am not saying never listen to the men in abuse cases, in case that was your point in the quote above. But trying to shift the focus to “what about the menz?!” denies the very real existence of our culture’s tendency to blame the [female] victim.

  110. Chiara
    Chiara May 17, 2012 at 4:29 pm |

    Well Travis I would agree that generally there are two people that start up an argument. But IMO even if the woman is starting it by being annoying or whatever I don’t think this justifies physical violence from the man. First of all men are in general much larger and stronger than women so having a guy be like he’s going to hit you can be really scary. And maybe this is sexist or whatever, but I think it’s much more scary for a guy to hit a woman than a woman to hit a guy.

    So yeah, maybe it takes two to tango like they say, but if a woman is nagging or annoying or something and a man hits her, then sorry but she is still the victim in that situation…

  111. anon
    anon May 22, 2012 at 1:21 pm |

    Travis, the reason why the “anon for this” comment was probably ignored has to do with the fact that the OP is about a pretty specific situation. The author, a woman, was abused. She, thankfully, left the relationship. This is the main topic of the conversation.

    Also, for people who have relationships that can descend into mutual abuse, and for people who decide to stay in those relationships, at least for the time being, there is no clear-cut advice to be given. If you know your friend is being abused, you can at least say, “Leave. Or at least consider the option. I’ll be there for you.” If you know your friend is in one of those relationships where the abuse pretty much goes both ways, you’re often at a loss for words. And when children are involved, it becomes even harder.

    From my own experience, I can say that nearly all of the people who know just how bad things can get between my husband and me have had the absolutely “wrong” reaction at some point. Their shock and confusion has lead them to humiliate me and make me feel very alone. I knew then that I had no real allies. No one to ask for advice. A more feminist-minded friend immediately alleged that my husband was the monster, and that I’m just not enlightened and progressive and “secure” enough to see it. A more patriarchally-minded friend immediately decided that my husband’s displays of rage were totally cool and appropriate, since I’m a woman who “just won’t listen.” Neither one of these reactions gave me any comfort or aid whatsoever, as you can imagine.

    I’m wary of the “it takes two to tango line,” because, as it has been pointed out, it has mostly been used as a means of shutting down any meaningful discourse on rape. I will say that in a relationship that suddenly turns mutually abusive – there is no single ideology that will help one see it through. Those who have been through the same thing may know what I mean.

  112. As feminists we resist violence and control | domestic violence diary

    […] some feminists feel when they fall victim to violence and abuse from intimate partners. The first, by Lila, describes how perplexed she felt when she realised she was in a relationship with an abusive man, […]

  113. Same in "super-equal" Sweden...
    Same in "super-equal" Sweden... May 30, 2012 at 8:06 am |

    @Lila, @Geoarch, @Survivior(?), @spideyj
    Thanks. You have put words to my feelings, experiences and despair today. I share your experiences of beeing psychologically abused by a man. Not from the start, no – my ex kind of succeeded with hiding his worst behaviour for nine years. Then we had kids. And I started to wonder what devil I had let into my house…

    He never hit me. But the words, oh those verbal scouldings I got… Both in public, among friends, my family, our kids. Around his own family he always behaved well, and with a few of our friends.
    Last year of our marriage, he abused me sexually (with kids sleeping in the same room…) – him lacking words, that was his last possible way to de-humanize me…

    I blamed it on his serious sleeping problems and I did not want to wreck the family – the kids were small and we had just bought an old house… I felt ashame. I did not charge him or even report the abuse. “Me, a strong, happy feminist with such a good guy?”
    I stayed on. And on, And shrinked… He complaining about me becoming boring… So – finally he wanted a divorce, “so he could fuck around with som interesting bitches” (quote from him)

    I did not tell my family, or even my closest dearest friend about what he had done to me. Out of shame.
    He though started to immidiately tell his family and some friends what an unbearable bitch I had been and that I was a big liar. I did not understand a thing. I had not spoken a word about what had happened, and only told a few trustworthy friends about what he said around the divorce (a lot of stupid BS…)

    After about 1,5 yrs, settling a new home for me and my kids, everythings started to pour over me… For me, abuse was “status quo”. Being told being worthless, normal. Finally talking with my wise aunt, told to “what wasn’t talked about when in marriage, should never be mentioned afterwards” = double punished…

    I spent 15 yrs with the guy, and the last three were pure hell. Family tried to – without knowing what actually happened, but still knowing I felt rotten last yrs of relationship – to “explain him”, asking me to “move on”. I was trapped between keep shutting up – in the end mostly to protect myself – and wanting to shout the truth at them, risking being seen as the big liar he had called me…

    It takes long to heal… To build up that confidence again, wondering if you’ll ever let someone in… It so sad to see so many more sharing the same story. At the same time, its time to talk about it. To help others that are still in the same situation to be stronger and to move out sooner. Love to all of you!

  114. SydneyKait
    SydneyKait June 3, 2012 at 1:47 am |

    Lila, I cannot begin to thank you for sharing this. This describes my abusive relationship almost to a T. Except that I stuck around long after the physical abuse started. He called himself a humanist and seemed very respectful towards women. We had similar political views and religious (dis)beliefs. He was the opposite of what you would think an abuser would be. I was very young. No one would help me, not even my mother or the police. Once I finally got away I went to consoling. I somehow felt like it was my fault because he didn’t fit the profile the therapists were describing. There was never any red flags. Through reading your experience, I feel empowered and understood. Thank you.

    Looking bad I wasn’t perfect either. I could be cold and careless with his feelings. I was emotionally abusive but that doesn’t justify what happened. We just recently talked. We both apologized and thanked each other. The biggest thing I learned is to be more careful with people feelings while realizing that their is never an accuse for hitting someone.

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