Sunday, November 9, 2008

Abuse can be subtle but destructive none the less

Lesson on Subtle forms of abuse
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?

He seemed to be such a nice guy

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 you are with an abuser and you won't let them abuse,
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.)

Differences between a normal relationship
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.

How did this really nice guy "abuse"?

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.

Name the types of non-physical abuse in these 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.
Example 2 (Name the four types of emotional abuse) When he tried to get me to stay in a rat and bacteria infested 1973 motor home with raw sewage underneath (his 'home' in Nevada), I stayed two nights, worked on his projects non-stop for 2 days, then woke up on the third day and asked myself why I was allowing him to do this to me a second time. I mentioned the sewage and he remarked sarcastically, "What do you think? The sewage will crawl up the wheels and the axels and get you?" I asked to go to a motel. He refused. So I took care of me and decided to go home.

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)
Example 3 (Name the three forms of abuse in this example): In every argument between Jim and I, he threw up things he did for my family and continually said no one appreciated him—most especially myself. I would get confused because he did do wonderful and kind things for others—I could not understand why he continually felt unappreciated because my family did so much for him too. I began to feel inadequate as he constantly told me how good he was and how unappreciative me and my family were. He let me and my family pay for most everything until I insisted he begin paying while he lived with me. He didn't feel he should have to—because he could live for "free" in his Quonset hut. He reluctantly agreed to pay for our food and gas. From January to October, Jim, for the most part, lived with my mother, me, or my brother—he accepted my family's generosity without shame, yet constantly threw up in my face what he did for them.

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
Example 4: (Name four main types of abuse in these examples) Jim took a day off work to drive me to the airport (200 miles) and a week later pick me up. He threw this up to me frequently claiming I didn't appreciate him losing two days work. What he "forgets" is me driving him to the same airport so he could fly to Connecticut to visit his parents and I, too, had to take off work. He "forgets" me picking him up at the Kalispell airport when he flew to the lower 48 (because of a DUI, Canada won't let him drive through the country so I drove our stuff 2000 miles while he flew on a plane—then he asked me not to pay for the trip with his money!) He "forgets" me driving him to his property in Nevada (another 1,000 miles) where we worked on his projects for 2 ½ days. What he "forgets" is that I gave up 10 days of my work for him.
  • Answer: Guilt, twisting facts, selective memory, financial abuse
The above examples are not relevant except in his attempt to make me feel "less than" with his selective memory. Doing things for each other—driving each other places, him working on my property or me working on his--I didn't think a thing of it—except in retrospect. His driving me to the airport was wonderful, but why wasn't I afforded the same acknowledgement for the same favor? The only point there is to mentioning these everyday things people do for each other is to point out his subtle abusiveness—"I'm wonderful for what I do, you do nothing, you are nothing."

Was any of this Jim's fault?

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 Millionaire Miser

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.


  1. Loved your blog about subtle abuse. When you are first abused, usually as a young woman, it can be a life or death situation. What happens after this???? So we find someone and go to happy La La Land? Maybe some do (would love to hear from you!!!) but I didn't. Would also love to know what keeps me running into abusive men, homicidal or subtle? Is this my life? Oh Well, at least I leave now.

  2. sometimes helplessDecember 3, 2008 at 7:07 AM

    the thing that gets me is that they try to "prove" what good guys they are--this Jim guy was kind? Yeah right. I just read this on a blog that applies:

    Lots of you have written about the endless favors that your abusers do to prove what "good guys" they are. This article reminded me of a classic abuser -- he killed for control, just like he 'gave' for control. He does not reach out to make a difference, he reaches out to make demands. If you've lived this phenomenon, you are not crazy!

    The same you you!!! thank you so much for sharing these things with us.

  3. If you are with an abuser and you won't let them abuse,
    if they don't want to change they will leave you,
    you don't have to leave them!

    SO TRUE, Shelley

    Problem is - many women do not know when they are being abused. Example: someone brought up by a narcissistic parent will have little to no boundaries and a pathological will exploit that as much as they can before the victim figures out what's going on.

  4. "If you are with an abuser and you won't let them abuse, if they don't want to change they will leave you, you don't have to leave them!"

    I like this, and it is so true.

    One of the big moments for me was the realization that he wanted me to change so much about me, but wouldn't let me leave. It just didn't make sense: If I was such a horrible person to be with, then why do you want to be in a relationship with me? Why won't you let me leave? Why do you hold on to me so tightly?

    It was a big shift for me, and really helpful in learning what is healthy.


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