D. How I Felt

How did I deal with all this? I became afraid of you. I felt like I was constantly walking on eggs. I felt that as long as I went along with everything you said, it would be okay, but this turned out not to be the case, because I was still frequently yelled at. [Note: The following section borrows heavily--in many cases, word for word--from Susan Forward's excellent book Men Who Hate Women & The Women Who Love Them. This is the only section of the site which is not my original material (other than appropriately quoted text). I have placed all of Susan Forward's material in red. I don't want to get in trouble with the copyright attorneys...]

I rationalized your behavior. I did this by granting you acceptable reasons to snap at me ("Sheís just in a bad mood because she... Had a bad day at work. Isnít feeling well. Is angry with her mother. Has a headache"), or in other situations, granting you good intentions for snapping at me ("Sheís just concerned about the environment and doesnít want me to waste that napkin.")

Early in our relationship, you casually chalked up these episodes of snapping at me to just being "grumpy." I realize that people do normally become irritable at times. For example, occasionally I become very irritable at work. However, there is a difference here. If I snap at someone, I will feel bad about it later and will almost always apologize. I take responsibility for my outbursts and feel genuine remorse. On the other hand, you basically seemed to feel no remorse for your snapping and outbursts. I found myself justifying and trying to explain them away more and more frequently. I found myself excusing your unacceptable behavior on a regular basis, needing increasingly to rationalize just to be able to cope.

If you were angry/critical all the time, this rationalization would have worn thin. However, you were charming and lovable in between, which encouraged me to continue hoping that things would be wonderful from then on. But there was no way of knowing how you would react to anything. I felt like I was on an emotional see-saw, constantly being bounced between your loving behavior and your unpredictable snapping. This created enormous tension in me because I never knew what to expect. It was like being addicted to gambling--you get what you want some of the time but not most of the time. Your anxiety level is sky high, but the promise of "the good stuff" keeps you hanging in there and playing. Your loving behavior reassured me that your bad behavior was only temporary and not the "real" you. This kept me hooked in and off balance.

Most of the time, I did not get any apologies. In fact, most of the time, there was not even any acknowledgement at all. For example, that night I was upset that you had yelled at me over not getting out of the way fast enough for you to catch a bug. On the way home from the movie you were abusive toward me, and when we got back to your place you basically threw my stuff out on the porch. Then, the next morning you called me and acted as if nothing had happened! This was just so typical. It seemed that you viewed any apology as a "defeat" which you were not willing to acknowledge. The times you did apologize, it seemed shallow. These apologies did appease me, because I hoped/believed that they were expressions of genuine remorse. And perhaps for the moment, you were sorry. If your future behavior had supported this, I wouldnít have had a problem. But your remorse lasted only long enough to "rehook" me. Another outburst or incident was sure to follow.

Once I had accepted this--attack to apology, rage to charm--I set myself up for an even more painful phase. I blamed myself. I thought, "If she has the capacity for being so wonderful, then it must be something Iím doing thatís making things go so wrong." This new attempt to make sense of the confusion I felt in our relationship, was, I realize now, a giant leap in the wrong direction. I had gone from recognizing that there were troublesome aspects about your behavior, to attempting to justify it or explain it away, to now internalizing and accepting responsibility for your abuse.

I was convinced if I could just find the "magic key," the "right" behaviors or attitudes that would please you, I could get you to behave more lovingly toward me. "Maybe if all I have to do is listen to what she says and try to act accordingly, everything will be fine." I began berating myself for being "too sensitive," for not being able to "be like Rachel" (Mike yells at her all the time and she doesnít even seem to notice or care). I really tried to change my attitude. As an example, there was a neurosurgeon at the hospital, Dr. Williams, who was frequently irritable when things werenít going his way. He would scowl and snap at his resident, "More suction, willya?!" or "Cut that knot shorter, willya?!" The way he spat out "willya?!" reminded me a lot of you. I tried to tell myself, "Now when Terry snaps "willya?!" after an order, just try to think of it as Williams talking to his resident. Itís no big deal. So what." But what I forgot, was that theirs was a teacher-student relationship, not an intimate partnership which should involve mutual kindness and respect.

I blamed myself in ways that were absurd. For example, for a while I thought that it was simply the "bad karma" that I was contributing, merely thinking about you snapping, that made you snap! Now I realize that this makes no sense at all!

As you can see, I really tried to be forgiving of your moods and outbursts. But unfortunately, your signals were always changing. What pleased you one day wouldnít please you the next. There was no way of knowing what would set you off. I was always figuring that I must have done something terribly wrong, because nobody gets that mad over nothing. But you did get mad over virtually nothing, exploding over the most insignificant things.

This whole process was very insidious. You donít have to be hit to be abused, which is why I didnít realize what was happening for such a long time. I used to think, "Well, at least she doesnít hit me." But the end result was the same--I felt just as scared, helpless, and in just as much pain. What difference does it make whether the weapon is your fist or your words?

Verbal abuse, by its nature, is overt. But there are other forms of abuse which, although more subtle, can be every bit as hurtful. A prime example of this is the withholding of communication as punishment ("the silent treatment"). As I mentioned, frequently when you were angry with me, you simply refused to talk to me. Another frequent scenario: A verbal attack being immediately followed by seething silence--what I will refer to throughout this letter as "attack-withdraw" behavior. You would suddenly attack, and then when you had me engaged and I tried to respond, you would simply withdraw. Not only would you literally stop speaking with me, but your body language (facial expressions, etc.) would beat home the message that you were disgusted with me and were deliberately choosing not to interact with me. In this situation, silence is used to punish, intimidate, and control. It speaks just as loudly as words.

In a way, I feel that this deliberate withholding of affection/communication is even more emotionally abusive than overt snapping and yelling. It is the deliberate exploitation of the other personís desire to be close to you, that makes it so hurtful. I felt that I was on the receiving end of this behavior over and over and over again, throughout the entire course of our relationship.

Besides frequent snapping, unrelenting criticism, and using silence as a weapon, I believe your emotional abuse of me also included blameshifting. For example, if you were behaving badly, it was only because you were responding to some crime of mine. By doing this, you could avoid having to consider the possibility that you yourself might have some serious shortcomings. By shifting blame to me you could protect yourself in two ways--1) absolve yourself of the discomfort of recognizing your role in the problem, and 2) convince me that my inadequacies were the real reason we were having trouble together. Any criticism or questioning of your behavior was immediately turned back on me as further proof that it was all my fault.

Furthermore, if I cried or got upset when you were abusive, your response was to get even angrier. No matter how much distress I was in, you seemed to view my pain as my fault. I wasnít allowed to say "ouch" when you hurt me, especially when my pain was a reaction to your behavior. It was as if you saw my reactions as an attack on you. You would then angrily snap back, "Youíre just turning it around to make it my fault!" By switching the situation around, you could make me the villain and you the victim. I think you simply turned the tables to deflect blame from yourself. You never seemed to take any responsibility for the pain you were causing me. This happened over and over again throughout our relationship, right up to the very end.

Previous | Next | Index | Home