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Ask any survivor of any kind of abuse and this question circles in their minds. Most abuse that people think about jumps immediately to the physical side against women. The sad truth is that abuse takes many forms and degrees of severity. The abuse hardest to combat is mental with verbal abuse tying it for first place.
If you ran your own survey of people on the street and asked, “What is the most important part of a relationship?” and I bet the majority would gravitate to a response in the vicinity of compromise wrapped up with a good dose of understanding. This seems like a reasonable response, even encouraged. Everyone knows that each person possesses their own beliefs developed from their own experiences. I feel that most people would at the very least respond in thought with, “duh”.
What happens when person B in a relationship with person A does not agree with person A’s beliefs?
Anyone with children, who has watched people with children or watched a movie or TV show with children have a passing understanding of what someone testing their boundaries looks and sounds like. It’s the child in the checkout line asking the same question over and over again about getting a candy bar, hoping like heck that if they ask you just 101 times, you will say no only 100 times. It’s the screaming child in the cart because their parent just couldn’t hold the smallest child anymore and push the special racing grocery cart with the two oldest children pretending to drive like bats out of hell. It’s the eighteen month old stopping in their tracks, throwing their head back, letting their little body go completely limp so they drop to the ground and begin to wail for the entire store to hear (and no, I am not joking about that).
The parent now has multiple reactions racing through their mind but editing for your time and my need for sleep, we will limit the reactions to two. The first is sticking to your guns, holding your ground on whatever the issue is such as not having a third waffle in less than 2 hours or giving in to the child’s demand to get them to quiet down so you all can move on to the next task and live to fight later that day.
Sometimes, as the parent or adult in the situation, you fight the good fight and stick to your guns. Other times you decide to cave in because of any number of reasons (no judgement, been there done that, will probably do it again). Caving in means that you allow the child to think if they act that way all the time they will always get what they want. Abusers act in the same way. They test their partner’s boundaries by what they say and gauging their partner’s reaction. Too much fight to a comment and they find another way to abuse in the hopes of getting past their victim’s boundaries. The abuser’s testing can take a long time as they establish their pattern of abuse to get the most abuse for the least effort.
Now, imagine person B pouring out their heart and soul to person A. They share their thoughts and dreams and frustrations and everything in between thinking that the more they share of themselves, the more likely person A will see how person B feels and be willing to compromise or empathize on an issue.
Toxic relationships do not work this way and never will. Person A will never compromise. They will put on a good show and do any number of things in response to person B’s sharing. They will deflect, project, gaslight, isolate, demean, name call or even go silent. Either way, person A is left trying to figure out what went wrong, how better to explain their thoughts and feelings so person A understands because all person B can think is that if they explain it just a bit better it will get through to the person who claims to love them and support them.
Unfortunately, this is just a small piece of mental abuse and why it is tied so closely to verbal. It is also the hardest to pinpoint. As a survivor of a narcissistic abusive 11 year relationship, the verbal and mental creeps up on you without warning many times. It creeps in because the abusive partner issues the abuse but then turns around and acts like it didn’t happen or treats you as if you are the most important person in their life. When you don’t stick to your guns and hold them accountable, they find that important chink in your boundary. The next abuse hits that very spot. It sounds or looks different than last time and maybe it is couched in concern for you but it is abuse all the same. Confused and unsure, you think that maybe they really do care and you just need to change how you are acting or need to communicate better to your partner. The next wave of abuse hits. Your self doubt increases. The abuser continues to use the best verbal and mental tactic they find against you with increasing frequency.
You read up on abuse and at first think, none of those signs of abuse exist for you. You think you understand why the abuser says what they say and see the validity in their beliefs. The cycle of abuse, then doubt, then denial continues until as the victim you are left with no confidence in even day to day decisions like what you are wearing or the sequence with which you get things done at the most basic level like brushing your teeth and showering. Your world becomes myopic without you knowing it.
How does it start? Who can truly say because for every abuse survivor, their story is unique unto their experience but every survival story starts at the same point. Your survival story probably starts a lot like mine, “I left on _____” and you can provide the exact date of the day you left.
The choice to leave an abusive relationship / environment is not the start of your survival story. That began long ago with the start of the abuse. Each time you got up or kept on going during or after an abusive episode is part of your survival story. Never forget that.
Today’s Challenge: Trust your gut. Remember who you are and where you came from so that you can move forward to your future.