What is emotional abuse anyway?

Disclaimer: This post is weighed down with emotion. Read it only if you want to truly see what abuse looks like. 

**As you read this, don’t feel sorry for me. I  see it now and I am walking away from it with confidence…shaky confidence, but confidence nonetheless.**

Oh goodness. Even as I begin to formulate my thoughts on this topic, my eyes well up and tears threaten to spill over. This continues to be very sensitive and it even causes my breathing to become irregular and rushed. It strikes fear into my core. I continue to wonder if there will be some sort of consequence for voicing my truth.

These thoughts are the very essence of abuse. These feelings remain present at all times. Sometimes they are tiny feelings, like when the abuser is far away; but sometimes they are BIG feelings that cause the recipient of abuse (notice that I didn’t say victim) to “perform” with the hope of escaping the consequence.

5 years ago, I was seeing a therapist because I was suffering from anxiety. As we talked about my life, one day she looked at me and asked if I was being abused. I laughed. And said no. And stopped seeing her. About a year later, one of my kids was seeing a different therapist that eventually requested a family session. After explaining her observations to us, Code Red determined her to be crazy and “we” agreed that we wouldn’t be going back. But I was curious and secretly made another appointment. She asked if I was abused. Seriously? I immediately believed that these counselors must have both gone to the same school…can you believe that all they did is look for abuse?! You already know that I didn’t go back, right?

As I write this now, I wonder how could I have been so deceived? Of course, our home was full of emotional abuse. The children and I lived in fear and perpetual stress.

The cycle of abuse is filled with incessant anxiety and the never-ending presence of fear. The insane part of it is that as the recipient of abuse, you convince yourself that you exaggerate everything and that you must be crazy. Then there is the explosion and you realize that you didn’t exaggerate and you aren’t crazy. And then…it’s all good. There is calm. There is a lot of attention and affection, sometimes even gifts. You convince yourself that “He didn’t really mean to do that” or “If only I had…”

The first time that I knew something wasn’t right, we had been married for about 2 weeks. Code Red got angry about something and threw a chair that hit the sofa right before it got to me. After a few hours, the apologies were abundant. The promises started to come. I forgave him and all was well in our world. Until the next time I did something wrong or asked for an extra hug. (Putting his arms around me was a big deal…when I asked for what I needed, I was told that I was demanding and needy. Over time, I didn’t need anything from him…or from anyone else for that matter. Do you know that even now, I sometimes flinch when someone hugs me? Especially if it is a man. If I see it coming, I can breathe and put on my “happy face” to handle it but oh.my.goodnes. it is so hard.)

A few months after the chair incident, a close friend told me that she and I could go to lunch or dinner; but she would never, ever come back to our house with him there. She said that she didn’t like the way he spoke to me or how he treated her. She said that she couldn’t handle it. I was embarrassed but understood exactly what she was saying.

So I began to keep my close friends away from my marriage. It became too risky for my people to just drop in like normal friends do. I never knew from moment to moment what might set him off. Although I needed friends, I couldn’t handle the fear of his anger, so I kept them as separated as I possibly could. I tried to rush them out the door before he would come home from work. I was extremely anxious about people coming to dinner. I told him that it embarrassed me when he expressed his strong emotions in public. He told me to get over it, that I exaggerated everything, that no one thought anything about his sarcasm or outbursts.

I began to doubt myself. I began to question if maybe I was overly demanding. I wondered if I was insensitive to his needs. I had never in my life been called demanding before. I had always been one of the most responsible, thoughtful people around and I didn’t know how to handle it. I began to withdraw into my mind. I would mentally examine and journal about absolutely everything I did or said. I studied Scripture about being a better wife. I wrestled with God because I couldn’t understand why I was so bad. Why couldn’t I ever do the right thing? And when it was WAY too much, I buried myself into books, hundreds and hundreds of books.

And then. I began to cook and bake. I could disappear into a safe world that appeared to be with people but prevented me from fully engaging with others. I didn’t realize it at the time (actually, I didn’t realize it until this very moment) but cooking became my safety. I was good at it…really, really good at it. It became my identity. It was literally the only safe place where I could hide in plain sight. I became known for it. Code Red began to use my talent to connect with people. And that was a win for me because it made me feel valuable. Worthy of something. I could finally do something that was right. And when I cooked for people, he was affectionate and supportive and encouraging. Finally, a win of some sort.

Until I did something wrong again.

That’s enough for today. I’m exhausted! And I didn’t even talk about the psychological abuse. Honestly, I’m not sure that topic will be discussed here…I cannot seem to grasp or process the magnitude of it yet.

For more information on the topic of abuse, visit this link (although it says violence against women…the cycle can go either way): https://www.whiteribbon.org.au/understand-domestic-violence/what-is-domestic-violence/cycle-of-violence/

2 thoughts on “What is emotional abuse anyway?

  1. Thank you, amy. Thank you for sharing so deeply and vulnerably. Thank you for articulating such a sacred part of your story and for giving voice and clarity to the parts that are so hard to name.

    Liked by 1 person

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