Recently, I met two ladies while I was ride share driving who taught me a lot. They made me realize how far I’d come in changing my thinking and in stopping abusive behavior in my relationships.
The Case of Page
The first woman, “Page“, was an attractive girl who appeared to be in her early to mid 20s. After we got talking I learned that she had a college degree, a good job and was doing reasonably well in life. She was accompanied by a man who I will call Jimmy Joe. I had initially thought he was her husband or boyfriend as they appeared to be going out for the evening.
However, I quickly surmised that they were just friends. As the conversation ensued, Jimmy Joe spent much of his time talking about all the women he hoped to pick up that night. It was clear he was on the conquest–he seemed pretty arrogant and self-assured about this. What a terrible way to act, I thought, even if this woman was just his friend.
What surprised me next was to see how Page was practically begging for this man’s opinion and approval for a myriad of things. She asked him what she should wear on a date, how she should act, what she should say, etc. However, it was apparent that she was looking for romance, not a pick-up.
Page was wearing a lovely dress and had obviously taken time to attend to her appearance. I thought she was a very pretty girl. In his rather sly way though, Jimmy Joe basically let her know that everything she was doing was all wrong. More makeup, a sexier hairstyle, a better dress and also that she should wear something that revealed much more of her body.
What really floored me is that she was taking his advice seriously.
At that point my inner braking system failed and I couldn’t help but lend my two cents’ worth to the conversation. You look great, I said to Page. Wear what you want to wear and what you feel comfortable in. Wear it with confidence!
I also proposed the idea that she didn’t always have to do what other people wanted her to do. I wanted to add, especially from a man who seemed rather despicable to me, but I held my tongue there.
Luckily they were both good-natured about my sudden intrusion into their lives. I smiled and wished them a good evening as they left my car. I do hope some of my words sunk in with Page though.
I’m not saying this is an abusive relationship, but I felt that Jimmy Joe had the potential to easily fall into the abuser role while Page might just as easily fall into the roll of being abused. Case in point consider this next story.
The Case of Pam
The second woman, who I will call “Pam“, got into my car and was crying uncontrollably on the phone. When passengers aren’t talking to me directly I try my best to tune them out as I figure it’s none of my business. On this day though, I couldn’t help but overhear her conversation. I heard her describe what to me sounded like an abusive relationship.
Pam hung up the phone and we began talking more about what was happening to her. One thing she said stuck out in my mind: I don’t feel like I will ever be good enough for him. She told me she had worked her way up from being a waitress and had earned an MBA. She’d recently landed her dream job.
When she was a waitress, Pam said, her husband would often criticize her for being stupid, lazy and having a dead-end job. What a peach, eh? What’s really interesting is that now that she had an MBA and a great job, he had taken to criticizing her for being too smart, too busy with her career and for thinking she was better than everyone else.
When it comes to an abusive relationship the answer to: Will I ever be good enough? is: never.
Abusers will use anything and everything they can as fuel for their abuse. Too good, too bad, too fat, too thin, too smart, too dumb… too something.
We had arrived at Pam’s destination. All I could do in those few seconds was try to make her see something that she didn’t. I said: You are a smart strong beautiful woman. Do not allow your self-esteem to be dictated by anyone. Do not give anyone the satisfaction of being able to control you in that way.
I know, easier said than done right? If you’ve ever been in an abusive relationship you will know just how difficult it is.
The Sly Danger of Verbal Abuse
Verbal abuse can sometimes be just as damaging as physical abuse. Have you ever had a partner say something like this?: I’m not abusive. I’ve never laid a hand on you. Savvy abusers know that changes in law and public opinion make the consequences of physical abuse far worse than it was in the past. It’s my belief that many abusers have turned to using their words to inflict cruelty, pain, punishment, humiliation, manipulation, etc.
Abusers can be quite sneaky about this, too. They can be so very charming and endearing. They will buy you things, tell you that you are beautiful, listen to you, be supportive, etc. Then, as quick as you can smack a cat, they will turn on you. Suddenly, in that moment, you will be like the dirt under their shoes. You will be fat, stupid, lazy, worthless and seemingly unworthy of their love anymore.
What it Feels Like
I often describe it as being like a punch in the stomach because it happens so fast and makes you so feel so horrendously bad so quickly! You could also compare it to being swiftly knocked to the ground, much like a wrestler doing a piledriver. Essentially, that’s what they’re doing, but psychologically.
When you cry, get mad or do anything else to defend yourself, they will spin things around and make it seem like it’s all your fault. They will make you feel guilty for not being appreciative of all the things they have done for you. They will treat you like a crazy person to the point that you believe you just might be going crazy. If you dare point out that they are abusive, they will laugh at you and tell you that you are the abusive one.
Psychological manipulation is dangerous. It can make a person feel like a basket case. It can wreck self-esteem and even lead to suicidal behavior.
What to Do?
There are basically three things you can do if you’re in an abusive relationship. You can leave, which in some cases may be the best thing. You can stay, make no changes at all, keep putting up with it and be miserable.
Third, if you don’t want to leave, for whatever reason, you’re going have to change things. You have to learn to stand up for yourself and let it be known that they cannot treat you this way anymore. This third choice takes hard work and determination.
When someone knows they can’t push you around they tend to temper their behavior. Over time they may stop or come close to stopping (no one’s perfect.) It’s not always easy to facilitate the change though. You are probably the easiest and most convenient person for them to attack. For some f**cked up reason, you make them feel better about themselves. Picking on you makes them feel stronger, smarter and in control. They won’t be willing to give that up too easily.
I’m not going to recommend this third method to anyone as I don’t want to be liable for what happens in your relationship. I have enough of my own problems, thank you. I’m merely suggesting that it’s something you can try to do.
This third path is what I ultimately chose in my present relationship. It’s taken a lot of strength, hard work and dire frustration to get him to treat me better. It might not work for everyone. Some days I’m happy with my choice. Occasionally there are still bad days though.
Perhaps I will write about that in a future post as I feel like this post is already far longer than I intended it to be.