NOTE: trigger warning. This post contains graphic discussion of violence in relationships..
An anonymous letter. Edited for clarity, anonymity, and gender-neutrality.
You’ve probably been told to leave many times. And you pretty well know that this is what you “should” do. But you haven’t left, and you’ve got your reasons. And even if other people think those reasons are horrible, they still count.
People will say that your partner can’t change, that abusive behavior doesn’t just stop. Whether or not that’s true, I’m not gonna get into right now. What’s obvious is that you love & care about your partner, and want to see them happy and be happy with them. That’s really the most important thing here. Your world, your feelings.
I’m gonna give you some insight from the other side of the coin. From the perspective of the abuser. Cause I know what that’s like. Cause I was one. And I’m not anymore. And I know what it takes to get to the other side, and why so many abusers never stop. And I know pretty well what it’s gonna take for you to be able to share love with your partner free of fear.
Even if they tell you that it’s impossible and it will never happen, I know you still hope you and s/he can get there. So I hope you’ll listen to what I have to say. It’s the least I can do to give back.
My abusive behavior started because I thought I was entitled to control what people thought and how they reacted. A lot of people fuck up there – even people who never hit anybody, they still think it’s ok to mess with your mind and make you feel bad so you’ll do what they want. That counts as abuse. Abuse is about putting someone down, not just physically hurting them.
So even if your partner doesn’t do anything physical to you, think to yourself: “is s/he making me feel bad about myself? Does s/he seem to feel better when I feel so bad I don’t even want to talk anymore?”
It’s not like I grew up thinking “yeah I wanna be an abuser when I grow up” but I would notice how, when the shit hits the fan, more intimidation helps to get things done. It always seemed like if you got mad when people fucked with you, usually they would give you what you want. That’s kind of how some people in my family worked. One of them would scare you, and another of them would make you feel like you owed them something, like you didn’t have a choice. Does any of this sound familiar? That’s what I learned.
I didn’t go around abusing people or anything. I was a normal person pretty much all the time. Nobody could hurt me, you know what I mean? I didn’t get close enough to anyone to get hurt. I was good. I had control.
And there it is. That word CONTROL. That’s what the abuse is all about right there – Control. And if the abuse is gonna stop, the abuser has to learn how to let go of control.
My abusive behavior didn’t stop till I got to the ROOT of my issues. Throwing things, grabbing my partner and screaming at her, calling her names, these were symptoms, but they were not the ROOT of the issue. The ROOT of it is the CONTROLLING MINDSET – the feeling inside that I was entitled to CONTROL things and people. Before the physical actions came the threats and name-calling. Before the name-calling came the raised voice. Before the raised voice came the snide comments. Before the comments came the feeling of entitlement to CONTROL my partner’s feelings, cause my comments were meant to put her down and put her in her place. That’s the ROOT of the problem. Without that CONTROLLING mentality, none of the other stuff happens.
Self-control and controlling behavior toward others are diametrically opposed to each other
Self-control is a good thing. Where things go wrong is when someone has to control other people. We all know deep down we can’t control other people. Not their thoughts and feelings, anyway. We can’t make people like us, right? But people who abuse other people forget that when they act on the impulse to control someone else, they are giving up their self-control, cause it’s all nerves and very little rational thought once you let your anger get the better of you.
You wanna know why we continue to abuse? Because getting your way with someone can’t be a one-time deal. If I abuse you once and give you time to really think about it, you’re probably gonna be better prepared the next time, more confident, with a plan. We gotta feel like we control you.
Many people who abuse their partners don’t like anything that reminds them that they don’t control their partner. They don’t like it because it makes them feel weak, and when you feel weak, you don’t feel in control at all. And like I said before, for folks who get abusive, that control is important.
Why does s/he take it out on you? I’ll tell you why. Because a close loving relationship by nature makes people more vulnerable, and people who like control too much don’t like being vulnerable. When you’re that close, sharing your body, your house, your life and everything, you have to depend on each other. Abusive people don’t like to think about that on their side. They’re fine if you are in a weak position and they are strong, but the minute you do something that shows how vulnerable they are or how much they depend on you, it’s like the rug got pulled out from under them. They thought they were good, strong, in control, and then you come and say [or do] something that they don’t know how to deal with, and the illusion of control has no leg to stand on anymore.
It’s never your fault when something shows your partner that s/he doesn’t have control. I know you might even try to make it your fault sometimes, even when you know it’s not, and I understand why you do it. It’s OK. I completely understand. But just remember that I told you – it’s not your fault.
Sometimes,for a little while the abuse takes a break, and you think things are getting better. But then it always comes back eventually. Even when nothing’s happening, you know deep inside that there are certain things you can’t say, certain places you can’t go. And it’s only a matter of time before something’s gonna happen, something’s gonna trip up your partner, and you’ll be back to square one.
How to tell if the abuse is really finished?
When you are able to tell your partner anything, and s/he simply accepts – even if s/he’s troubled about it. No raising the voice, no emotional manipulation, no retaliatory actions, no stalking, no blaming you for anything. That’s how you know.
When you’re no longer afraid to express yourself with your partner, in any way. When for example you can call your partner a jerk and s/he doesn’t jump. THAT is what it will take. That’s how you know.
When you don’t feel obligated or beholden anymore to your partner’s wishes. That’s how you know.
And if it sounds like your partner has a long way to go to get there with you, well, now you know why people say it’s pretty much impossible. Abusive people don’t just “stop abusing.” They have to change completely. They have to go through a transformation in which they completely leave behind many of the core values they had before, values that make it ok in their mind to act abusive.
Take it from me… I’ve made this journey. For me now, to be told No or be rebuked and even insulted? These are blessings. They are affirmations that the person understands they can be themself with me and not hold back, that at least I’m doing that part right.
Anybody worthy of your trust needs to get to where they can understand this. That’s what it’s gonna take for you to be able to really love your partner 100% without looking back.
If you want to be happy with your partner, they’re gonna need to do the necessary work on themself to be able to give you that happiness. This includes giving up the “right” to control you, guilt-trip you, and tell you who you can talk to and what you can do. And not only that: such a person has to want to truly change themselves, and work on it – saying that you’re gonna change doesn’t mean shit.
I hope what I’m saying helps somehow. I know things aren’t always so easy to figure out. But seriously, remember these things I’m telling you. Even if you can’t always take action, don’t ever let yourself forget. Reality in an abusive relationship is totally different from actual reality in the real world.