I Wish You Would Just Hit Me

 

sorry not good enough

“I wish you would just hit me.”

Hearing herself say these words to her husband was a lightbulb moment for Sara. To the outside world, Sara and Paul were a fairy-tale couple, successful and married five years, with a beautiful home and lushly stamped passports. The truth could not have been more different. When Sara begged Paul to hit her, what she really was doing was pleading for the roller-coaster ride of his rages to stop. She wanted him to understand that his behaviour of bullying and intimidation was just as abusive as a punch in the face.

Living with a psychologically abusive partner is a complicated, surreal chess game that has you constantly trying to predict their next move, frantically clearing potential obstacles out of the path. You’re the sweeper in a curling match. Once the rage switch has been flipped-and it will be, no matter how carefully you try to avoid the triggers-it unleashes a dizzying storm of bizarre accusations, followed by a swarm of soothing apologies as the cycle resets and repeats. You find yourself thinking: “He never hit me.” “How could I start over with someone else?” “He’s actually pretty wonderful; this is his only flaw.” And so you stick it out.

Sara started dating Paul when she was 21, and they married five years later. The problems began with his family. The couple’s religious and cultural differences had his parents and siblings vehemently protesting their union. His mother frequently lamented Paul’s choice in a partner, referring to Sara as scum. “I never defended myself,” Sara says. “I assumed once we were married he’d stand up for me, but he never did.” Instead he sided with his parents, who constantly put her down in public.

Meanwhile, Sara began volunteering at Toronto’s Assaulted Women’s Helpline (AWHL), a crisis line that fields around 49,000 calls a year. It would be years before she would make a connections between her situation and that of the women using the service. In fact, Paul was by her side at AWHL fundraising events, just as outraged about the abuse that women suffer; his own sister had been in a physically violent relationship. Neither of them felt their presence there was ironic-neither would have labelled Paul’s behaviour as abusive. “I just thought we had a difference of opinions, that this was our clash to work through,” Sara says. “My mind never entered the abuse realm, because he didn’t hit me. I would chalk it up to ‘He’s moody.’ Every guy has his ‘thing’ and this is his. I justified it.”

One day, Sara asked him to try an experiment: Let’s just be happy for 24 hours, she suggested. They lasted 10 minutes before he descended into his usual behaviours: slamming his fist on tabletops, screaming, yelling, blaming her for their problems. “He would raise his voice to a very frightening level and use intimidating language that made me feel cornered and bullied. I was constantly on edge,” says Sara.

Over the years, Sara changed. Her parents commented on her diminished, meeker demeanour; her health suffered from the stress (she developed a stutter, and near the end she didn’t have a period for eight months); and her career in engineering took a back seat. “There was so much tension and time and energy spent trying to maintain a happy home. I would dread driving back at night, because I just didn’t know what would be waiting for me. I used all of my energy on my marriage.” Believing on some level that it was her fault, Sara underwent years of counselling to try to understand what she could do to stop provoking his anger.

But by year 5 of their marriage, her perspective began to shift. First, she realized that she’d been ignoring her growing desire to start a family because she was afraid to bring a child into such a toxic environment. And then there was the day she suffered a violent asthma attack while Paul was at his parents’ house. “I couldn’t breathe. I had lost sensation in my hands. I called him and said, ‘You need to take me to the hospital.’ Instead, he chose to stay and have lunch with his mom and dad.” Finally, there was AWHL’s “Names” campaign she was involved in, to raise awareness about verbal and emotional abuse. Suddenly, Sara realized just how bad her situation had become. “I thought, ‘Wait a minute. I’m advocating for all these women, and I’m afraid of going home!’ You should never be afraid to go home.”

One Saturday morning while they were still in bed, Paul launched into one of his rants, twisting reality into a scenario that cast her as a villain. “It was yet another psychotic moment of him blaming me for something unfathomable. I looked at him and said, ‘I can’t do this anymore. If I stay I will die young. I deserve more than this.”

She left for her parents’ house that day. Four years later, Sara is flourishing in her career, travelling solo all over the world and feeling strong. “I am independent and happy. That beats being caged in a marriage and just surviving any day.”

If you or anyone you know is affected by abuse contact the Assaulted Women’s Helpline at 1-866-863-0511.

 


 

 

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“UN” Happily Ever After

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Unhappily Ever After Effects Of Emotional Abuse Can Linger Longer Than Physical Beatings, Experts Say

Experts on domestic violence agree on one thing: Control is a major issue in spousal abuse.

When a spouse gets violent, control usually is the crux of the issue.

And emotional abuse is the abuser’s main technique to get control.

Of the three types of abuse – emotional, sexual and physical – the physical “is usually an escalation of [the abuser’s] power and control tactics,” according to Suzette DeJarnette, a licensed psychotherapist in Fort Walton Beach, Fla.

Ironically, emotional abuse is the last straw that compels women to leave their battering husbands, according to a new book by University of Washington psychologists.

“When Men Batter Women, New Insights into Ending Abusive Relationships” by professors Neil Jacobson and John Gottman, is based on an eight-year study of 200 married couples, 60 of them with a history of physical abuse.

“Emotional abuse is harder to live with than being beaten,” Jacobson said. “It means something different to women when it occurs with physical abuse. It is a reminder and takes on some of the characteristics of the beatings experienced by battered women.

“Emotional abuse is more oppressive, particularly when it is frequent, and among the violent couples we studied it can be present every day, every waking hour, 24 hours a day. What men are doing with emotional abuse is almost like mind control.”

Ann Imburgio, a licensed mental health counselor at a women’s shelter, says. “Emotional abuse is worse [than physical]. Women can get over physical abuse, although it is horrendous to go through. Emotional abuse lasts for years afterward. Women are still dealing with the effects of emotional abuse long afterward.”

Repetition gives emotional abuse its power, Imburgio said.

“It’s done over an extended period of time, and said in such a commanding way that the victim starts believing it. The woman may have entered into the relationship with healthy self-esteem and be feeling good about herself, but after months and years of listening to the person whom she’s cared for, saying she’s stupid or lazy or a whore, she starts believing it and doubting herself,” Imburgio explained.

DeJarnette lists a whole range of behavior that falls under the category of emotional abuse: putting a wife down, calling her names, making her think she is crazy, playing mind games, humiliating her, making her feel guilty and isolating her from family and friends.

“When [the abuser] interrogates her on who she sees, what she reads, who she talks to and where she goes, the whole thing is an attempt to limit outside involvement,” DeJarnette said. Jealousy is a primary benchmark for this abusive situation.

“Another type of emotional abuse is making a person afraid by using looks, actions, gestures, smashing things, destroying property, abusing pets and displaying weapons,” DeJarnette added. “All efforts to display intimidation are a form of emotional abuse, an effort to control another person.

“Another way is by using coercion or threats,” she explained. “We have come a long way over the years, but there is still something called male privilege in our culture.”

A danger sign for domestic violence can be an insistence on a “traditional” patriarchal role that becomes overbearing, DeJarnette explained.

“In a majority of households, women are working now, but the male is still the primary breadwinner. He can use economic leverage as a means of controlling and abusing her emotionally,” she said. When the quest for control gets out of hand, the woman is vulnerable to abuse.

Emotional abuse is a learned behavior, usually seen by the abuser from childhood either directly or as he watched his own parents struggle through an abusive relationship.

“Most men who are emotionally or physically or sexually abusive deny, minimize and blame,” DeJarnette said. “They make the female responsible for their behavior, so they feel justified in their behavior based on what she does.”

Although Imburgio said men can be the target of emotional abuse, traditional gender roles and a male-oriented society make women the target far more often.

According to DeJarnette, in 95 percent of national domestic violence cases, “the man is the one who is arrested and is the primary aggressor.”

The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 2 to 4 million women are beaten every year by their husbands.

The fact that abusers rarely take responsibility for their actions makes any hope for a cure or change unlikely, experts warn. The best bet for women being emotionally abused is to get out before the relationship escalates into violence.

“Battered women do get out, and they get out at a high rate,” explained author Jacobson, citing increasing divorce statistics, including rates among his study group. For those who stay together, the prognosis is not good.

“Psychotherapy doesn’t work with batterers,” said Jacobson.