Words are potent and dangerous; they can both save lives, heal, offer hope or kill and bring about despair and change our lives forever.
I have had three long term relationships to date and only one of those men told me I was beautiful. The third one whom I married and the only one I ever truly loved used many negatives to describe me both to friends and family and to me directly and indirectly.
I am by no means a doormat nor a shrinking violet; yet this insidious drip drip effect of putdowns disguised as a joke and teasing at my expense made me very unhappy. I could not pinpoint the reason nor the cause. I was confused. On the one hand we shared everything, had a beautiful daughter and was in the ultimate committed relationship as I saw it, marriage yet I sensed an emotional unavailability, lack of support and even brutality at times. I couldn’t reconcile the two.
This confusion and frustration led to clinical depression which I fought on and off throughout my marriage. In the end he held it up as the final straw that breaks the camel’s back or the final nail in the coffin, the corpse of our relationship which had been rotting for some time, though I refused to face it or give up on resurrecting it.
Things came to a head when in a fit of anger he threatened to kill me. Whether he meant it or not I was scared enough to run out barefoot in the early hours with nothing on me. I ran to a friend’s in the village, rang the bell but being 1am they were asleep and I didn’t want to bang on the door, so I went home. I ran up to the spare room upstairs, closed the door and tried to call the police but he pulled out the connection downstairs. After a few minutes he had a change of heart and shouted up that I could call them now, which I duly did.
It took them an hour to arrive and they persuaded him to stay with a friend for the night to calm things down. No doubt he sold them the story of me as the hysterical over-reacting crazy woman.
In a roundabout way I am getting to the point of this story. A couple of days later through the post box I received a leaflet on domestic violence from the police. Now he has never been physically violent towards me and if he had I would have been the first to leave with my child. I had witnessed it happening in my family and swore I would never put up with it myself.
Yet the questions on the cover of the leaflet caused the penny to drop, you know that light bulb OMG moment when it all makes sense. There was a whole series of questions along the lines of does he make fun of you in public, does he put you down, does he constantly criticise you etc. Tears rolled down my cheeks as silently I answered yes to every one of them.
Now I could put a name to it: emotional abuse.
The man I loved was not my pillar of strength, my mentor who pointed out my faults in an attempt to better me but a control freak who was always right and had to have things his way. Far from being the man I could turn to in a crisis and be the last man standing, he was a very weak and small man, because he needed to belittle me to feel big.
Never in a million years would I have seen myself as a victim of emotional abuse, a form of domestic abuse, little known.
Love is never about control, humiliation and destroying the spirit of the person you claim to care about. If anything you would want to protect her/him from harm and hurt, never mind inflict it yourself consciously or otherwise. Whether intentional or not it hurt like hell and was extremely damaging to my mental health and physical. I would go as far as to say that it contributed to my cancer although I have no scientific proof.
I will never forget when he told me that he was pulling the plug because now he realises I would never change and that he had been standing by me and waiting all these years for me to change. Quite into what, I don’t know. When we met and fell in love, that was me and that was who he married, so I don’t really get it. I am still me, even now, after everything. I will always be me and being me ain’t so bad.
They say that the first step to solving your problem is to admit you have one in the first place but I think it is also vital to be able to name accurately what it is. How can you begin to fight something if you don’t even know what you are up against?
I spent an obscene amount of time figuring out why my marriage failed, the what ifs we all torture ourselves with, because let’s face it rejection sucks. Those immortal words ‘I don’t love you anymore’ resound still; they are the words you never want to hear, ever. I have been on both sides, the rejecter and the rejectee. In all the three long term relationships it is only my ex, the last serious lover who ended it. Karma? We can all come up with justifications but nevertheless hurt was inflicted, intentional or not; certainly I know the rejection caused a lot of pain to my first boyfriend. But I thought it would cause him even more if I went through with the wedding unsure if I really loved him, enough to want to spend the rest of my life.
Now I have progressed to thinking about why I put up with the emotional abuse. The tragedy and irony are I would still be in this soul destroying marriage if the abuser hadn’t got bored and pulled the plug. In other words why did I settle for crumbs when I could have had the whole cake and ate it and the most delicious of cakes at that.
I am not a stupid person. I am not a genius but I can think for myself and I do have opinions and am articulate. I am a professional who has always been in education and I love that moment when you are explaining something to a kid and the penny drops and he gets it. I am a feisty person, if I know I am right and you are taking the mickey I will fight you and get what I am entitled. I am a very fair person, I believe in justice and I will even fight for others, strangers, for their rights.
So how was it that I ended up a doormat, a silent and depressed one lacking self confidence and esteem? To shut me up is virtually mission impossible but he managed so you can imagine how awful the putdowns and constant criticism in private in public were. The drip drip drip effect is very powerful especially over a long period of time and because the doses are so minute but frequent you are not even aware. It’s a form of brainwashing. Why did I allow it? After all I wasn’t held hostage and chained or locked in a room. Love. What I thought was love but was only crumbs thrown my way now and again so that that light bulb moment would not happen. No road to Damascus epiphany for me.
I was grateful for the crumbs, it was better than nothing. Freud would be proud. Yes let’s talk about my childhood and my mum and dad and siblings, because that is where this settling for crumbs started.
I am the baby of the family, you’ d think I’d get all the attention, be spoilt rotten, no chance. All that was given to the sister above me who was a sickly child with asthma and they were terrified of her falling ill and forking out for doctor’s bills. It didn’t help either that my birth heralded the poorest time of their lives and I’m talking about sharing a bowl of rice between all the kids and Mum going without kind. And I’m not exaggerating.
Bless my cotton socks I was a perfectly healthy, robust, contented baby; I never cried or demanded anything so they basically forgot about me. I assume they fed me now and again and did the necessary. Apparently when I was old enough to walk they tied me to a post in front of the ancestral home so I wouldn’t wander off and drown in the stream and they could get on with the business of putting food on the table. That is how I got the nickname. ‘Little Crocodile’. Every time someone passed by I lifted my little head, that was the highlight of my day.
Perhaps that is why I didn’t expect much and was prepared to put up with a lot of shit during my marriage. I’d never been showered with love, made to feel special and finally there was a man who was willing to marry me and start a family, my own happy family which I have always craved. It all seems to make sense now but none of this was conscious at the time.
I swore I would marry by the time I was 30 and I did. I fell in love with K at first sight and knew this is the man I’m going to marry and I did. Tall dark handsome over-rated. What you really need is a man who will go the distance, who will stick by you not just once through cancer but twice and as many times as it takes. Now if I ever have a relationship, and that is a big if, all I want is a a good man and one who will treat me well and think I’m the best thing since sliced bread. One who accepts me warts and all, honest and faithful. I can share everything but not my man.
I’m learning not to settle for crumbs because I deserve better. We all do. Don’t accept second best out of fear: loneliness, rejection, abandonment, old age, not being able to cope, make it on your own,
Anyone who knows Mama G. knows she loves to talk, she loves to reach out, communicate … In fact you can’t shut her up and she has this annoying habit of butting in mid-sentence.
So when Mama G is silent, lost her voice, this is not a good sign. It is bad, very bad. Either she is clinically depressed and has withdrawn into her own safe shell behind the invisible barricades in her head or worse still she has been silenced. Sounds rather alarming and dramatic as if my tongue had been cut off or a gun is put against my head or my family threatened if I dared breathe a word.
Silence like a thief in the night crept upon me unawares; being ignored, my opinions, feelings dismissed, unacknowledged, worse still ridiculed and so the brainwashing began, the drip drip daily effect convincing me I was not worth being heard. Later it became that I was paranoid, over-anxious and quite possibly insane. How I felt and thought were not based on reality, truth. I suffered from depression, a mental illness, so could my emotions, opinions and concerns be rational and valid.
The man I was married to and loved, the father of my child kept pointing out my faults, imperfections in an attempt to create a better me. He was doing it for my own good. If he didn’t care why would he bother? After all he wasn’t doing it to his friends or family. He must love me so much and what he said must be true otherwise why would someone I trust with my life and for whom I would take a bullet for without hesitation do that?
So I shut up. I swallowed my true feelings, what I wanted, what I needed and never opened my mouth to express them because I was thinking and feeling wrong. In fact I was wrong; there was something very wrong with me and it was his job to save me, to show me the error of my ways.
It was also too much of an effort, exhausting to have to fight your corner every single time over the most trivial of things and of course there was also the harmony of the family, keeping the peace to consider. I was always the one to say sorry first whether I believed I was right or wrong. The family was my world, was what gave meaning to my life and what made me; wife and mother above all else. It could not be broken at any cost, even if it meant losing my identity in the process, although it was never such a conscious decision or thought.
The need to fill the bottomless void of a sense of belonging, of loving and being loved, being accepted, being validated and having a specific role in life that gave meaningful to my existence superseded everything. Yes in the end without realising I lost my entire self not only my voice.
In spite of my superhuman efforts the family was demolished and matters were taken out of my hands. Loss registering on the Richter scale.
But everything has a flip side, everything, no matter how dire. The opposite of loss is gain. Stripped of everything and I mean everything there was nobody but me. I found me again because there was nothing else. I rediscovered the use of my voice because now there was no one to tell me to shut up or mock what I had to say. Nobody to make me feel stupid for feeling the way I did or that my emotions were somehow wrong, irrational, invalid. That I was being paranoid, crazy, difficult, sick.
I gained freedom. I could sing at home, out of tune, it didn’t matter, it made me happy. I gained happiness, freedom, a rare feeling of being comfortable in my own skin, of not feeling on edge, on permanent defensive mode, ready to do battle against verbal attack and put downs.
Finally I could give it a name: emotional abuse, a form of domestic violence. I never in a million years thought I was a sufferer. I was never punched, kicked, slapped, had my hair pulled or knocked to the ground. Nevertheless abuse it definitely was just not physical but it poisoned my mental and emotional well-being and affected my health. Frustration and anger turned within became clinical depression. We all know mind-body spirit are interconnected. Maybe it weakened my immune system too and allowed the cancer cells to run riot not once but twice, who knows.
With huge loss comes tremendous gain and a tough old bird is born, broken wings healed ready to soar the heights beyond the clouds into yonder blue.