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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Survival Strategies

When a person lives in an abusive situation, there are a few classic ways to deal with it.

There are those few people who recognize it and find their way out.  Maybe there are more than a few, but from the amount of women I talk to who took years to find their way free it doesn't seem like it.  Yes, I know there are men struggling in abusive situations, too.  I have honestly not met many of them.  A few.

But for the most part the abuse stories I hear about are from women.  Who are victims of the men in their lives (or sometimes their mothers).  It always seems to come from someone who claims to love you or who is thought to love you.

As a child, I became a pleaser.  Anything I could do to make the abusers in my life happy I did.  I tried to be perfect, as defined by them.  Never arguing.  Never challenging.  After years of anger and yelling and punishing, I learned to read it and pre-empt it whenever I could.  Anything I said or did was done slowly.  That way, if I sensed anger or rejection anywhere along the way, I could back peddle.  I could find my way back to safety.  I didn't have an opinion unless it was given to me.  I was of the go-along-to-get-along club.  Make no waves.  This was not done because I thought it was proper behavior or to be polite.  This was done to stay out of trouble.  This was done to be safe.

Things got a little better in high school because I could be gone more.  I found some freedom that I hadn't known before.  I started to find myself.

I graduated, started college, and met a guy.

Our romance was a whirlwind.  Four months to the day after our first date we were married.  I would later learn that this is a big red flag.  A definite sign that the pursuer is a controller with instant gratification issues.  Someone who wants to win, to capture you before you find out who they really are.

Things were great for a while.  There were little things, little signs that showed it bothered him when I didn't do things his way.

When did it change?  Where along the way did he go from being my savior to my captor?  I wish I knew.

He pursued me.  It was nice.  It was so nice to feel wanted.  He said he loved me on our second or third date.  No one (almost no one) in my life told me they loved me.  My mom once or twice, maybe.  My grandma said she loved me.  Never my dad.  No one else that I can think of.

He loved me.  He told me he loved me.  I had no idea what that meant.  I wasn't sure what love felt like.  I knew I liked it when I was with him.  I knew I felt important to him.  Did I love him?

After a while I started to say it, too.  I said it because it seemed like I should.  It seemed like time.  I thought that maybe I meant it.  Before I knew it, we were married.  I was giddy, caught up in the event.  By the time we married I did love him.

We married in the temple, for time and all eternity.  I had finally found the dream that I had worked so hard for.

Plus, he took me away from my home.  I didn't belong to my dad anymore -- now I belonged to him.  A man who loved me.

And somewhere along the line things started to get ugly.  I don't know when it started.  It was such a gradual thing.  I didn't realize for a long time that he saw me as property.  When you feel something it's easy to believe that the other person feels like you do.

I adored him.  I did love him.  I wanted to be the best little wife anyone could have.

That meant that I did everything I could to fit into his mold.  Whatever he wanted me to be, I tried to be.

In other words I lost myself.  I surrendered myself.  Which isn't surprising considering my upbringing.  Being what the man in my life wanted was all I had ever known.  It's just that this time I felt I was doing it out of love instead of fear.

So subtle, so gradual.  And at first it was rare.  On those occasions I cried and cried, thinking I had done something wrong.  You see, my dad taught me that as well.  If something is wrong then it is my fault.  And my husband felt the same way.

Well, that's not totally true.  Sometimes he didn't blame it on me, he blamed it on other things.  Lack of sleep.  Stress.  Allergies.  Whatever.  But whatever it was, it wasn't his fault.  It was never his fault.  He didn't take responsibility.  Even after the blow up, when he had calmed down and was apologizing, he was sorry that he was so tired that it had happened.  He was sorry that he was so stressed that it happened.

And even in the apology there was justification.  A common theme throughout our marriage has been that if he doesn't feel well he can treat others any way he wants.  If people hurt his feelings or plans don't go his way he can be as angry and mean as he wants.  It's perfectly justified.

For a long time, I took it.  I didn't know what else to do.  I had seen it in my home so I didn't think it was that out of the ordinary.  I knew my parents wouldn't take my side; they wouldn't see anything wrong with it.  I doubted his family would do anything either if I told them, he was theirs.  I was an outsider.  Where would I go?  I couldn't go back to my parents.

And I was humiliated.  I was embarrassed.  My marriage was failing.  I was a failure.  I didn't want anyone to know.

One of the things that frequently happens in situations that are abusive is that the victim wants to strike back.  Not in any dangerous way, but they need to feel some sense of power.  Being abused or controlled is so demeaning.  I felt completely powerless so much of the time.  My life was not in my control. 

When someone works to control a person, the other person sometimes tries to counter-control.  I have done this many times.  Find anything and everything that I can control and use it against him.  Turn his tactics on him.

One of these things was the yelling.  It seemed to be the only way to get him to hear me, so I began yelling.  There was a time in our lives marked by screaming fights almost every night.  Each of us pushing for control over the situation.  The problem with this tactic is that he is more practiced at it than I am.  I almost always crumbled first.

To this day, angry yelling still makes me want to give in.  It makes me feel like a little girl in trouble who needs to be good and do what she's told.

Once I decided that I didn't want to be yelling all the time I tried to find another tactic.  I chose avoidance.  I would do everything I could to not be around when he was.  The kids and I would just happen to not be home when he got home from work, especially if there was something that I knew would upset him.  If the house wasn't clean or if dinner wasn't made, I would just be gone.  And I'd try to be gone until he went to bed in order to avoid the fight.  Otherwise I'd get in trouble.  And be punished.

I'd try so hard to go to bed long enough before him that I could pretend to be asleep when he came to bed.  Or stay up late doing something until he went to sleep.  Otherwise there would be confrontation when I was trapped in bed with him.

Being gone or pretending to be asleep were my best protective measures.  Were they noble?  No.  But they were what I could come up with at the time.  I felt avoidance was the better alternative because then the kids didn't hear us screaming at each other, or him yelling at me.

So my strategies over the years were basically yelling, avoidance, and giving him what he wanted.

I had no idea what I wanted.  I had no idea who I was.  Except that I was his.


Kazzy said...

I hope there has been at least some progress in this regard. And I love you. Just so you know.

Kerry Neville Bakken said...

I've given you a Blog with Substance Award. please stop by my blog to pick it up!