Enforcing your boundaries ensures you won't be with an abuser
—at least for long
Ok--I haven't done anything really personal on this blog for awhile. But I've recently learned a valuable lesson about abuse and I have to share it. It's long, so don't read it unless you want to understand how you don't have to be their emotional target, unless you want to.
I was involved with a man I thought was "the one"—Jim McGirr (yes I use real names because I advocate for NOT protecting or enabling any type of abuse—however unconsciously it is done). Jim and I seemed to be completely compatible in lifestyles, values, and even sex! So I ignored the red flags (a DUI, PTSD symptoms, miserliness) because it seemed God had brought this man into my life. Jim and I prayed together every morning, we seldom argued, we believed in service to our fellow humans, and we both had spiritual programs. What could be better?
Jim is known as a really nice guy and it appeared as if we were a match made in heaven. I was crazy about him and decided to do whatever it took to stay in the relationship (except allow abuse!).
Anyway, remember our abuse tutorial? Dr. Marshall and myself have told you that if you take care of yourself and don't allow yourself to be a victim, that the partner who wants to control, abuse, and manipulate will simply blow themselves out of the relationship--you don't have to do it!
if they don't want to change they will leave you,
you don't have to leave them!
Well, my relationship with Jim was just such an example. I still picked a guy who would have been an abuser if given the chance--but I took care of me--he didn't get much of a chance to abuse. (for the record, Jim thinks he is a really kind person--and he is, until he isn't. I, too, believed he was kind—so the abuse was initially hard to spot.)
and a subtly abusive one
Bare in mind, we are not talking about normal relationship mistakes or inconsiderations — both Jim and I were guilty of these. Emotional abuse is not the occasional forgetting of an anniversary, common relationship disagreements or occasional shouting matches. Abuse is not the heat of the moment name-calling, accidental slip of the tongue that hurts feelings, or even a deliberate zinger...we are all human and not perfect. Emotional abuse is the characteristic ongoing pattern of denigration and vilification of your partner in order to gain control. Abuse is a control and power thing.
Some abusers don't know they are abusing and when they find out, they change. Some abusers don't know they are abusing but are so far in denial, they can't change. Others know it and don't care for various reasons. I believe Jim is in the second category—denial.
His subtle forms of abuse included asking me to live in unhealthy conditions to save him money (although he is practically a millionaire), belittling me when I objected, selective memory to demean me, using humor and sarcasm to put me down, using fear and guilt to try to control me, twisting facts to make me look unreasonable, financially abusing me by expecting me to pay for all his living expenses while he only paid for his own food and personal expenses.
I want you to learn from my experience and so created a few exercises based on Jim and I. It is sometimes easier to see abuse in other relationship then our own. See if you can pick out the subtle abuses in these 4 examples.
Example 1 (Name the four types of emotional abuse) Jim took me to his "cottage" in Alaska, which was a converted Quonset hut, no electricity, no running water, a filthy outhouse with no door and visible to pedestrians. There was rat shit in the drawers, black grimy, greasy cook ware, and furniture literally pulled out of the dump, so slimy that I didn't even want my dog to lay on it. He had washed the mold off the walls and vacuumed the rugs (to little avail) and was "hurt" when I didn't find this charming—he told me that! When I explained it was not only the shabbiness that bothered me but the health hazards, like the rat turds and mold spores, he replied that it wasn't really mold growing on the walls but mushrooms and they weren't rats but voles. After expressing his disappointment in my "attitude" he jokingly called me "sterile," and "clinical" claiming my "standards" were too high and I, unlike him, was not flexible. (This made my mother crazy who told me that the Motel Eight he once took me to could not be considered "high" standards. And Mom can attest to the fact I am in no way "sterile" or "clinical" in my living standards.)
- Answer: Financial abuse (Unhealthy lifestyle to save money), belittling, degrading humor, twisting facts.
Before I left, he began cursing and throwing things around and shouting at me to leave and then begging me to stay with him--he was out of control and so rather than scramble to fix him (my old co-dependent behavior) and rather then give in to fear, I took responsibility for me. Later, Jim tried to say I "abandoned" him (ie, I am an evil unloving person) when he in fact, created the situation he knew I could not tolerate. The accusation of abandonment is actually funny as it was his home, he is practically a millionaire, and he had five cars there, all of which he claimed ran.
The good thing is, I left without belittling him, or judging him—I didn't even raise my voice. I just simply took care of me and encouraged him to take care of himself.
- Answer: Financial abuse (Unhealthy lifestyle to save money), sarcasm, fear and guilt (to try and control my behavior)
Eventually I had to write a list (for my own clarification) of everything he did for my family and everything they did for him—turns out my family did much more for him than he did for them, not that my family cares, they liked Jim and don't mind doing things for family friends (see my list here). Problem is, Jim clubbed me with his 'generosity' while ignoring our generosity with him.
- Answer: Guilt, selective memory, financial abuse
- Answer: Guilt, twisting facts, selective memory, financial abuse
How I live is my responsibility—not Jim's and I know that. So even though I spent a few nights in his places to appease him, I quickly snapped to and took responsibility for myself. If I didn't want to be in hovel, I had to leave. That is healthy. When he tried to manipulate me to feel guilty about who I am and how I choose to live—I did not allow it. I have learned at least some of my own lessons. Only 7 ½ months into the relationship and just 10 days after "abandoning" him in Nevada, Jim drove to my home, (ostensibly to start our life together), told me he was "unhappy" and left (surprise, surprise, he asked for all the money back that he had spent on me too!). Whew—can you imagine if he had stayed what my life would have been like? Protecting my boundaries protected me!
The thing that made this all the more striking is that this man is close to being a millionaire if not already. So his niggardliness has no financial basis. If he were poor, disabled, uneducated, --it might be more understandable. I told myself it was alcoholism, depression, and PTSD that caused his behavior, but in the end it doesn't matter—what matters is that I know who I am, what I want—and although I can and do compromise in a thousand ways with the people in my life, I don't apologize or feel guilty for being me.