“It Could be Worse”

If I heard this one more time during my relationship, I might have become apt to levitate.  At the same time, it is one of the many methods abusers use to keep their victims at ease about the relationship they are experiencing, and effectually keep victims from raising standards or building healthy boundaries.

“You think you have it so bad…”

“I could be worse, a lot worse.  Do you want me to go back to the way I used to be?”

“I could be more like [insert name of known abusive family member or friend]… Would you like that?  I could do that.”

“I think you want to piss me off. Keep pushing…”

“You act like I beat you, do you want me to start?”

All of these, which so many victims hear regularly, serve to normalize the behavior of the abuser.  I used to find myself thinking, “Well, I guess it could be worse.”  My mind slipped and teetered immediately back and forth into all of the ways it could be worse, and all the good times we did have.  In conclusion, and in fear, I accepted what I had as reasonable enough.  After all, it could be worse.  A lot worse.

This is no excuse though.  As we explore domestic violence, even the word violence seems to indicate that there must be some physical component.  We forget how malicious emotional abuse is, and how it serves (among other things) to push the line where physical abuse starts.  There have been many cases of women and men who are berated, coerced, stricken, and terribly injured, who do not accept that they are being abused, because it could always be worse.  This might be a good place to review indicators of abuse.  The following behaviors are not acceptable, and even if your relationship does not hit every point, as I just discussed, there is no meter to determine how “bad” an abusive situation is, and you deserve better.

The following information is directly from The Hotline, a fantastic resource for men and women exploring abuse, safety, and recovery: http://www.thehotline.org/is-this-abuse/abuse-defined/.  Remember that the abuser may employ a combination of tactics, and it is not uncommon for him or her to be relatively “well behaved” in one aspect, in order to remind you that it could be worse.  I will be going into these more throughout the blog, in detail, but for now, please read and remember: the point here is that abuse is abuse.  Respect should be mutual, and given willingly, not coerced.

Abuse Indicators

You may be experiencing physical abuse if your partner has done or repeatedly does any of the following tactics of abuse:
  • Pulling your hair, punching, slapping, kicking, biting or choking you
  • Forbidding you from eating or sleeping
  • Hurting you with weapons
  • Preventing you from calling the police or seeking medical attention
  • Harming your children
  • Abandoning you in unfamiliar places
  • Driving recklessly or dangerously when you are in the car with them
  • Forcing you to use drugs or alcohol (especially if you’ve had a substance abuse problem in the past)
You may be in an emotionally abusive relationship if you partner exerts control through:
  • Calling you names, insulting you or continually criticizing you
  • Refusing to trust you and acting jealous or possessive
  • Trying to isolate you from family or friends
  • Monitoring where you go, who you call and who you spend time with
  • Demanding to know where you are every minute
  • Trapping you in your home or preventing you from leaving
  • Using weapons to threaten to hurt you
  • Punishing you by withholding affection
  • Threatening to hurt you, the children, your family or your pets
  • Damaging your property when they’re angry (throwing objects, punching walls, kicking doors, etc.)
  • Humiliating you in any way
  • Blaming you for the abuse
  • Gaslighting
  • Accusing you of cheating and being often jealous of your outside relationships
  • Serially cheating on you and then blaming you for his or her behavior
  • Cheating on you intentionally to hurt you and then threatening to cheat again
  • Cheating to prove that they are more desired, worthy, etc. than you are
  • Attempting to control your appearance: what you wear, how much/little makeup you wear, etc.
  • Telling you that you will never find anyone better, or that you are lucky to be with a person like them
Sexually abusive methods of retaining power and control include an abusive partner:
  • Forcing you to dress in a sexual way
  • Insulting you in sexual ways or calls you sexual names
  • Forcing or manipulating you into to having sex or performing sexual acts
  • Holding you down during sex
  • Demanding sex when you’re sick, tired or after hurting you
  • Hurting you with weapons or objects during sex
  • Involving other people in sexual activities with you against your will
  • Ignoring your feelings regarding sex
  • Forcing you to watch pornography
  • Purposefully trying to pass on a sexually transmitted disease to you
Sexual coercion Sexual coercion lies on the ‘continuum’ of sexually aggressive behavior. It can vary from being egged on and persuaded, to being forced to have contact. It can be verbal and emotional, in the form of statements that make you feel pressure, guilt, or shame. You can also be made to feel forced through more subtle actions. For example, an abusive partner:
  • Making you feel like you owe them — ex. Because you’re in a relationship, because you’ve had sex before, because they spent money on you or bought you a gift
  • Giving you drugs and alcohol to “loosen up” your inhibitions
  • Playing on the fact that you’re in a relationship, saying things such as: “Sex is the way to prove your love for me,” “If - I don’t get sex from you I’ll get it somewhere else”
  • Reacting negatively with sadness, anger or resentment if you say no or don’t immediately agree to something
  • Continuing to pressure you after you say no
  • Making you feel threatened or afraid of what might happen if you say no
  • Trying to normalize their sexual expectations: ex. “I need it, I’m a man”
Even if your partner isn’t forcing you to do sexual acts against your will, being made to feel obligated is coercion in itself. Dating someone, being in a relationship, or being married never means that you owe your partner intimacy of any kind.
Reproductive coercion is a form of power and control where one partner strips the other of the ability to control their own reproductive system. It is sometimes difficult to identify this coercion because other forms of abuse are often occurring simultaneously. Reproductive coercion can be exerted in many ways:
  • Refusing to use a condom or other type of birth control
  • Breaking or removing a condom during intercourse
  • Lying about their methods of birth control (ex. lying about having a vasectomy, lying about being on the pill)
  • Refusing to “pull out” if that is the agreed upon method of birth control
  • Forcing you to not use any birth control (ex. the pill, condom, shot, ring, etc.)
  • Removing birth control methods (ex. rings, IUDs, contraceptive patches)
  • Sabotaging birth control methods (ex. poking holes in condoms, tampering with pills or flushing them down the toilet)
  • Withholding finances needed to purchase birth control
  • Monitoring your menstrual cycles
  • Forcing pregnancy and not supporting your decision about when or if you want to have a child
  • Forcing you to get an abortion, or preventing you from getting one
  • Threatening you or acting violent if you don’t comply with their wishes to either end or continue a pregnancy
  • Continually keeping you pregnant (getting you pregnant again shortly after you give birth)
Reproductive coercion can also come in the form of pressure, guilt and shame from an abusive partner. Some examples are if your abusive partner is constantly talking about having children or making you feel guilty for not having or wanting children with them — especially if you already have kids with someone else.
Economic or financial abuse is when an abusive partner extends their power and control into the area of finances. This abuse can take different forms, including an abusive partner:
  • Giving an allowance and closely watching how you spend it or demanding receipts for purchases
  • Placing your paycheck in their bank account and denying you access to it
  • Preventing you from viewing or having access to bank accounts
  • Forbidding you to work or limiting the hours that you can work
  • Maxing out credit cards in your name without permission or not paying the bills on credit cards, which could ruin your credit score
  • Stealing money from you or your family and friends
  • Using funds from children’s savings accounts without your permission
  • Living in your home but refusing to work or contribute to the household
  • Making you give them your tax returns or confiscating joint tax returns
  • Refusing to give you money to pay for necessities/shared expenses like food, clothing, transportation, or medical care and medicine
Digital abuse is the use of technologies such as texting and social networking to bully, harass, stalk or intimidate a partner. Often this behavior is a form of verbal or emotional abuse perpetrated online. You may be experiencing digital abuse if your partner:
  • Tells you who you can or can’t be friends with on Facebook and other sites.
  • Sends you negative, insulting or even threatening emails, -- Facebook messages, tweets, DMs or other messages online.
  • Uses sites like Facebook, Twitter, foursquare and others to keep constant tabs on you.
  • Puts you down in their status updates.
  • Sends you unwanted, explicit pictures and demands you send some in return.
  • Pressures you to send explicit video.
  • Steals or insists to be given your passwords.
  • Constantly texts you and makes you feel like you can’t be separated from your phone for fear that you will be punished.
  • Looks through your phone frequently, checks up on your pictures, texts and outgoing calls.
  • Tags you unkindly in pictures on Instagram, Tumblr, etc.
You never deserve to be mistreated, online or off. Remember:
  • Your partner should respect your relationship boundaries.
  • It is ok to turn off your phone. You have the right to be alone and spend time with friends and family without your partner getting angry.
  • You do not have to text any pictures or statements that you are uncomfortable sending, especially nude or partially nude photos, known as “sexting.”
  • You lose control of any electronic message once your partner receives it. They may forward it, so don’t send anything you fear could be seen by others.
  • You do not have to share your passwords with anyone.
  • Know your privacy settings. Social networks such as Facebook allow the user to control how their information is shared and who has access to it. These are often customizable and are found in the privacy section of the site. Remember, registering for some applications (apps) require you to change your privacy settings.
  • Be mindful when using check-ins like Facebook Places and foursquare. Letting an abusive partner know where you are could be dangerous. Also, always ask your friends if it’s ok for you to check them in. You never know if they are trying to keep their location secret.
You have the right to feel comfortable and safe in your relationship, even online.

 

On Victimization and Semantics

I am a linguist, so words mean a lot to me.  When we use the word victim, we imply that there is, somewhere, a direct object doing the victimizing.  Typically, we refer to the abuser as this object.  My issue with this, however, is that subscribing to this notion only further solidifies the control an abuser has over a victim.

So, while I will use the words abuser and victim, I never mean to imply that the two are inherently objective and subjective, respectively.

We are victims of our own demise as much as we are in control of our own future.  The first step to healing and to empowerment rests on the ability to self-identify as a victim of one’s own behaviors and decisions.  Only then can you begin to make the changes necessary to not only escape, but to ensure that you remain in control of yourself going forward (including in future relationships).  (See On Happiness)  As a survivor myself, I know that escaping is not as easy as simply choosing to leave.  In my situation, I physically could not leave my house most of the time, and the notion of actually considering leaving would trigger a series of fights and rage, and the consequence would mean even further control over my ability to leave for short periods of time in the future.  There is a lot to consider, and safety is paramount.  However, identifying and believing that you are capable of changing your environment is critical.  Try as my might, we cannot change others.  Many of the topics on this blog will explain how to identify controllable aspects of our environment, and I will go over methods and precautions to taking control back, even in small ways.

I will talk about this concept a lot on this blog, because realizing that there is always a way out is a critical part of regaining control.  Understanding what is really keeping you gripped tightly in the hands of an abuser (be it fear, love, or lack of confidence) is what needs to first be addressed before finding the path out.

 

I am not a licensed therapist or psychologist, but I am always available to help.  Consider me an automatic friend.  Please feel free to contact me (anonymously if you wish) for support and guidance.  Having been through this, I have a wealth of resources and scope that I have been sharing with others and want to share with you.  Frances Meres  fbrulee@gmail.com  

 

 

Introduction

Six months ago, I sat on my bed, heart pounding, tears hidden behind fear and a relentless cognitive dissonance.  I was lost somewhere between repulsion, guilt, apathy and confusion while my husband stood in the doorway of our bedroom again, his red face twisted somehow with a look of both disgust and pleasure.  What are you going to do? It seemed to say. When I tried to reach for my phone, he took it.  When I asked if I could leave to use the bathroom, he told me to piss myselfYou can leave, go ahead, try…but you have to get by me first.  When I ran to the window to yell for help, he wrapped a single arm around my neck, picked me up, and slammed me, face down, onto the bed.  As I laid there on my stomach, I wailed.

He kept going on, about what I don’t remember.  Over and over in my head, I recited to myself the self-talk I had been practicing for the past few months, since I realized what was happening.  You are worth more than this.  You do not deserve this.  You need to leave; your life depends on it.  I knew that shortly after this incident, I would be subject to wifely duties, the fight would be over, and I could sleep.  Normalcy would return if I could stick it out until the morning.  The scariest part of this midnight violence was that I knew I would forget.  I knew I would make excuses for him, and I would justify why he did what he did.  I knew this, because it wasn’t the first time.

I received a call from the Court Administrator’s Office the day I wrote this post, just before stepping into a meeting.  My divorce was signed.  In the last 6 months, I have shattered every negative perception he ever made of me.  Every fear I had about my ability to survive without him, I have crushed.  I feel empowered and unstoppable, confident and proud.

The most tragic part of an abusive situation like this, is that victims love their abusers.  They are dedicated husbands, wives, girlfriends and boyfriends.  They are people passionate about wanting to fix everything and make things work because they honestly believe the issue is themselves.  Abusers condition victims to continue to feel this way, which is what makes leaving so hard, and abuse so easy.  I promised myself that when the divorce was over, I would do everything in my power to keep others from experiencing what I and so many others have.  I would help families and friends look for signs of domestic violence and abuse, and most importantly get information to victims in creative ways.  Abusers serve as master filters to their victims, because often it is not until victims realize their experience is not unique, that they see the reality of their situation.

This portion of the blog will serve as a repository for articles, interviews, and vignettes centered around awareness, healing, and support.  What I found in my research thus far, is that many people leave abusive environments and never look back or share stories.  In my fear to leave, I wanted to hear stories of successful women and read about their lives after they made the decision to no longer be a victim.  I will share my story openly, as well as use my experiences and the experiences of other contributors to illustrate concepts and raise awareness.

Much, much more to come.

 

I am not a licensed therapist or psychologist, but I am always available to help.  Consider me an automatic friend.  Please feel free to contact me (anonymously if you wish) for support and guidance.  Having been through this, I have a wealth of resources and scope that I have been sharing with others and want to share with you.  Frances Meres  fbrulee@gmail.com