The Drip, Drip of Emotional Abuse
April 27, 2016 12:07 PM   Subscribe

"Why did I stay? I stayed because I was isolated; I was financially dependent on him; I was sleep deprived; I was told and I believed I was worthless; I was worn down from constantly being on guard for the next attack. I stayed because I was more afraid to leave."
posted by stoneweaver (61 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
 
Two lessons every child should learn, but especially daughters:
1. Always have your own money. Never be financially dependent on anyone.
2. Don't tolerate that shit from anyone.
posted by prepmonkey at 12:38 PM on April 27, 2016 [23 favorites]


Always having your own money is a lot easier to impart because it's concrete. "That shit" is kind of a moving target, boiling frog, or whatever similar metaphor you want to use. But yes: do not rely on anyone else for your entire livelihood if you can at all, ever, possibly help it. Personally, having to do that would terrify me, even if my partner were the nicest nice guy to ever nice (and he is--but I also work full time).
posted by soren_lorensen at 12:46 PM on April 27, 2016 [14 favorites]


prepmonkey, did you read it? No one thinks they will tolerate abuse, but it's the proverbial frog in the boiling pot. Especially emotional abuse. You don't even know it's happening for a long time.

Anyway, except for the kids, this was too real for me. I have also been diagnosed with PTSD although after two years it's gotten way, way better. I used to shake and get nauseous when I saw a vehicle like his!
posted by AFABulous at 12:46 PM on April 27, 2016 [31 favorites]


My wife managed all our finances and I get the sense some people still think I was deliberately keeping her dependent on me, so yes, but please don't jump to conclusions when judging people's lives from a distance.

I think she came to feel more dependent on me than she ever actually was, in part because people around her fed feelings of victimization and dependence she developed as a result of undiagnosed PPD and other issues. For the first half of our marriage, I was financially dependent on her, and somehow as our roles swapped to meet our life goals, she came to feel powerless and dependent on me. She never was, and I never meant to contribute to those feelings (and would have welcomed her becoming more financially self sufficient again, as it would have relieved pressure on me), but sometimes life is really complex and hard. Either way, it'd be great if people could just choose to be financially self-sufficient at will, but it's pretty privileged to think that's easy or available to everyone.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:53 PM on April 27, 2016 [17 favorites]


The always having your own money thing is right on, but then we have the calculation that causes many women to drop out of the workforce because it's cheaper for them to quit their job than it is to pay for childcare. I don't have an answer that is actually applicable immediately (there are governmental and structural things that can be done) and I wish I did.
posted by Hactar at 1:01 PM on April 27, 2016 [11 favorites]


But yes: do not rely on anyone else for your entire livelihood if you can at all, ever, possibly help it.

On this point, an interesting thing i've yet to see these articles delve into(but one i've seen first hand several times in the past few years) is that having your own income is not enough in some places.

There's many expensive cities now where it's possibly to have a halfway decent, but not high income job and simply not be able to rent your own place alone. Either you can't afford it, or you wont make the 3x the rent income or whatever that almost every landlord will require. So even if you do have your own income that you could theoretically support yourself on, you're still trapped.

Sometimes moving out means spending more than half your income on rent to get the cheapest place you can find, once you even find a place that will let you do that.

There's more to this now than simply having your entire livelihood reliant on someone elses income.
posted by emptythought at 1:03 PM on April 27, 2016 [30 favorites]


I really want to tell a long story here but this hits way too close to what my and my mother's life was like growing up for me to even begin. Parents, teach your boys right. This is just awful.
posted by amcevil at 1:15 PM on April 27, 2016 [12 favorites]


I am infinitely grateful to the people who come forward with stories like this. In my case the source of terror was my mother rather than a partner, but I hesitated for so long to ever use the word abuse to describe my experiences.

She didn't really hit me, I'd say. I didn't have it nearly as bad as some folks.

But then reading this story I found myself nodding along. Yes, the demeaning jokes about me in front of others. Yes, the being told I'm selfish. Yes, yes, yes.

It's important that these experiences get retold as a warning to those who have not had them; but they are infinitely validating to hear as someone who has.
posted by The demon that lives in the air at 1:19 PM on April 27, 2016 [19 favorites]


Not being dependent on someone else is a privilege, in our culture. It requires being employable, physically and mentally able to work, with the hard and soft skills and education/training to get a job that pays enough to cover expenses, with benefits, in an economy in which one person can reasonably support themselves, if applicable with accessible trustworthy childcare (or elder care, or sibling care, or spouse care, because not all people are physically and mentally able to work) that is affordable. And on and on and on. (You're still dependent on the employer, economy, benefits, housing market, etc...)

And then you have to not be manipulated into tolerating mistreatment. There are so many factors of privilege necessary to even provide moderate protection against abuse they're impossible to enumerate. And still, it takes so little to start the ball rolling. All it takes to start breaking someone is to make a tiny crack. Almost everyone has been there at some point or another: a shitty job, a life event that leaves you sleep deprived, illness, hormones, boot camp/basic training, hazing, peer pressure, trust in the wrong person. A tiny crack.

"Just don't be abused!" is not a thing. That's not how it works.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:21 PM on April 27, 2016 [124 favorites]


Where I live, the market doesn't really support the income I need to manage all our structural debt without a really large commitment of time and energy, and if you have kids, you need some kind of help. Large college loans (both mine and my wife's), home mortgage debt that far exceeds the value of the home, etc. My wife basically had no option but to dump me with an unmanageable level of jointly accumulated debt in order to leave me. I've been trying to figure out some way to avoid bankruptcy, but work that will keep that at bay just isn't available to someone in my situation (and I'm not willing to relocate and abandon my kids), so I guess I'm just going to end up being classified a dead-beat. But I swear I'm trying as hard as I can not to be!

I kind of wish I had kept my own financial independence intact, but I never would have taken on so many responsibilities on my own because I've always known my ADD/organizational disabilities require me to keep things as simple as possible in my personal affairs.

Independence is ideal, but when you and someone else share dependents, it's still very messy. And the laws in many states definitely advantage taking joint financial responsibility for most forms of major debt. I may not be helping here. I'll shut up now.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:27 PM on April 27, 2016 [5 favorites]


Two lessons every child should learn, but especially daughters:
1. Always have your own money. Never be financially dependent on anyone.
2. Don't tolerate that shit from anyone.


Hey, I learned those lessons. I really, really did. I was raised to provide labor in exchange for paychecks and give no fucks. But my full-time job, my money, my self-sufficiency, my street smarts, my self-anointed role as a person who would never tolerate despicable treatment... goddamn, my pride? None of it was any kind of a shield against being psychologically flattened by someone I loved and trusted with my life. "Humbling" doesn't even touch the hem of the garment of that experience. It was a real trip.

Everyone on the planet hopes they're wise enough, supported enough, proud enough to escape a would-be abusive relationship before shit really goes south -- women especially, because we know we're going to get blamed for anything that's done to us, so it's definitely in our best interest to be as calculated as possible (but never too calculated that we fail to appear sufficiently nurturing/maternal), then pour the rest of our effort into downplaying the painful reality on the ground (because so many facets of female socialization discourage drawing a "no more!" line in the sand under any circumstances, up to and including getting beaten up). Specifically when it comes to gendered violence, men and more than a few women are always going to want to argue that no matter what happens, you must have done something to deserve it. You must not have wanted to get out enough. You must not have been smart enough, driven enough, well-connected enough, desperate enough. Even if your partner literally kills you.

Still, I get it. I understand the sentiment. I know that "first, be smart from the very beginning" sounds like common sense to a lot of people, even when it comes to something as frankly nonsensical as interpersonal relationships. But it still hurts like hell to hear, because even if you're already on the other side of the proverbial river, it sounds a lot like being told that if only you had learned your lessons well enough -- not 'if only your abuser had learned not to be abusive,' but 'if only you had learned to refuse to let yourself be abused' -- you could have avoided the whole debacle. And as the second bolded sentence in the OP says, "Your judgment only further shames abused women. It shames women like me."
posted by amnesia and magnets at 1:41 PM on April 27, 2016 [115 favorites]


Yeah. Of course it's good advice to make your own money, yada yada. But it's also shaming. Like "Just stop being depressed and you won't be depressed any more!"
posted by litlnemo at 1:48 PM on April 27, 2016 [15 favorites]


Financial independency is kind of a derail here, though I agree it is important.
I was the breadwinner in our family when mental abuse turned to violence. And because I am independent and strong, I have yet to find the help I need to treat the trauma I experienced. One statement I've met which has been comforting, if not healing, is: the women who are abused are strong, not weak. They know they are stronger than their abusive husbands, and they stay on to protect him. But they are broken down in the proces. (Maybe it said in the article, but I couldn't read it all, it was like a trigger-fireworks).
posted by mumimor at 1:50 PM on April 27, 2016 [13 favorites]


"Stop. Just stop asking why a woman is so stupid and so weak when she stays in an abusive relationship. There's no answer you can possibly understand.

Your judgment only further shames abused women. It shames women like me."
posted by stoneweaver at 1:57 PM on April 27, 2016 [21 favorites]


Okay I'm so confused by this, because this all sounds so generalized. I've been in a physically and emotionally abusive relationship before where the other person did create a system where I was dependent on them, but I've definitely seen some of these things in previous partners of mine and have done these myself and none of us would ever consider our relationships emotionally abusive.

"It begins like a little drip you don't even notice — an off-hand remark that is "just a joke." I'm told I'm too sensitive and the remark was no big deal. It seems so small and insignificant at the time. I probably am a little too sensitive."

Huh? I've both been the person who's done this and the person who this has been done to, and it's never come off as abusive in any situation. I got invited to the Governor's Ball once and, not having anything super nice to wear, tried to put together a good outfit from thrift store finds. My partner cracked a joke about me being led out by security. It was funny, it WAS a joke, and if I had taken it the wrong way it still would have been a joke. I'm sure a conversation would have arose in that case, but I wouldn't have thought it was abusive.

"When a playful push was a little more than playful, I tell myself he didn't really mean it."

This same partner and I once were jokingly poking fun at each other and she slapped me in the chest hard enough to knock my breath away. I told her that was a little too strong for a normal silly slap and she apologized and that was the end of that. I was a little angry, and this was something that ended up recurring a few times, but I know it was her intention to hit me, she's always use to being around guys and doing those things and not having it be an issue and in those cases she actually did hurt me (I'm really skinny, for what it's worth), but I never held it against her and I know they were accidents.

The other stuff makes a lot of sense, like the being yelled at to make dinner after throwing it out, but those first two things scare the hell out of me. I mean, am I being abusive in relationships without realizing it? I frequently make self-deprecating jokes about myself but I'm not doing so in order to elicit pity. These things are so confusing.

For what it's worth, the abusive relationship I ended up in was built around excessive paranoia on the other person's part, me being financially and housing dependent on them (especially when they wouldn't let me go to job interviews); them rummaging through my private journals, text messages, Facebook messages, etc.; and many other things. It was obvious AFTER I got away from them that they were deeply abusive toward me, but there were absolutely no red flags. There was nothing that clued me in to them possibly being abusive, and if there was then I totally missed them. Even to this day I can't think of anything.

Things like this are so confusing. I've read a lot of things like this they scare the hell out of me because I imagine there are just as many people out there who are harmless while still displaying some of these qualities. I've gone on dates with people who have these sorts of attributes and still are friends with them and I don't think there is anything abusive about them, but then again I don't know everything about their relationships. I mean I think a lot of people would say my self-deprecation is a red flag, even though it's just how I joke around (a lot of my friends are the same way. Sometimes depressed people make depressing jokes about themselves!)

Am I missing something here? I'm not always the best at these things.
posted by gucci mane at 1:58 PM on April 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


> but there were absolutely no red flags

> excessive paranoia on the other person's part, me being financially and housing dependent on them (especially when they wouldn't let me go to job interviews); them rummaging through my private journals, text messages, Facebook messages, etc.; and many other things

Those are the flags. The paranoia, the keeping you from job interviews, the rummaging. There are other kinds of flags, and it can all be very context-dependent. But I would call the stuff you list flags, yeah.
posted by rtha at 2:06 PM on April 27, 2016 [14 favorites]




gucci mane: the joke thing reads to me as the constant little jabs at your self-confidence that you can't really do anything about because "what's the big deal? It's only a joke" -- except it's not just one joke, it's a constant stream of tiny humiliations at your expense.

It's similar to what is meant when we talk about microaggressions - those "little things" that aren't bad enough on their own to be worth defending yourself over, but the barrage of them eventually wears you down.
posted by The demon that lives in the air at 2:13 PM on April 27, 2016 [9 favorites]


I guess the problem I have with articles like this is that it suggests that there are abusive men out there who have near-magical powers they can use to cause any and all women to bend to their will, without exception. But in reality, there are women who have broken up with men who treat them badly, before any severe abuse happens. It doesn't follow that women who are stuck in abusive relationships are weak or are in any way to blame for their position. There could be many reasons why they are not situated in the same way as women who have been able to avoid abuse, reasons that ARE NOT THEIR FAULT. I think the statement that "other women are smart/strong enough to get away from abusers, so you are weak and pathetic if you don't" is ridiculous and victim-blaming. But at the same time, is it wrong to acknowledge that there are women who are fortunate enough to have had the resources (financial and psychological) to avoid this kind of abuse? It's not saying that women who avoid abuse are better or stronger or smarter than women who don't - just that they are lucky to have been able to do so.
posted by Mallenroh at 2:20 PM on April 27, 2016 [3 favorites]


It's been two weeks. Two weeks since I moved into the house that I spent two months buying in secret. Financial independence wasn't a problem. Sleep deprivation (I slept on a couch or in a twin bed next to my youngest son for the past few years)* was a problem. Being given no help with childcare and losing jobs over it was a problem (including care for my stepson which I tried REALLY HARD to not feel resentful about but I'm going to be honest, I was fucking resentful about being used as a babysitter by my abusive partner and his ex because if I spoke up and requested that I be informed of schedule changes, etc. I would be shot down for overstepping my "boundaries"). Being terrified and sick with resentment over 5:30pm rolling around and clenching all my muscles waiting for the first shitty thing that would come out his mouth (the day after he greeted me with "Move out of my fucking way you fucking idiot" after I smiled and said "You're home early!" I happily put down an offer on my first home for way more than I can afford without feeding my children rice with rice seasoning for the next 30 years because fuck. that).

Hating and absolutely dreading weekends. Every weekend.

Anyway I moved out. He seemed relieved! Even helped me move! Has been pretty decent in front of the kids! Is nice to me as long as he thinks this isn't a break up, just a change of residence! Which means every day I have to fend off his "advances" and no amount of explicit "Please do not touch me, I do not want to sleep with you, let's just be good co-parents for our kids" etc. etc. has kept him from grabbing my breasts, forcing me to kiss him, and throwing fits when I refuse sex. "It would only take a minute. Why are you being such a bitch about it?"

I have not slept with him.

And I haven't lost my shit. Yet. Because in the back of my mind I want him to stay nice, because when all is said and done, I am still afraid that he will kill me.

*I spent nearly all of the money I'd saved for furniture on buying myself a king sized bed and a giant duvet and four pillows covered with allergen-blocking covers and soft cases. Among the many promises I've made myself in the past four years, getting to sleep in my own goddamned bed and not having anyone else in it or anyone trying to kick me out of it or anyone bringing other people into it or anyone fucking TOUCHING ME was the promise I filled first. And despite the fact that he keeps walking into my house uninvited that motherfucker has not once been in my bedroom.
posted by annathea at 2:31 PM on April 27, 2016 [103 favorites]


Good luck and safety to you, annathea.
posted by emjaybee at 2:34 PM on April 27, 2016 [19 favorites]


What I was trying to say above and now will try to say again is that I have friends and family who have moved out of relationships right away when the very first sign of abuse appeared, because they could not even take the least "joking" or "vulnerability" or "fear" from their partner. And at this stage in life, I think they are the smart people, but in their own and their surroundings' perceptions, they are "sensitive" or even "weak".
BTW, I know as many male victims of abuse as I know female, though physical abuse is more of a male thing.
posted by mumimor at 2:35 PM on April 27, 2016 [7 favorites]


annathea - I feel your pain.
I eventually got a restraining order, and while I know why you won't do it now, I still recommend it.
posted by mumimor at 2:39 PM on April 27, 2016 [3 favorites]


Children are also a huge factor.

A) it's hard to save up your own stash of escape money when you need to buy groceries and school supplies and shoes, etc.

B) it's also really hard to leave when you know you'll be a single mom and get a job or two and have to put the kids in pricey daycare and not have anyone to hold the baby while you take a shower.

One of my close friends has decided for now to put up with the asshole she's married to because he really is good with the kids when he is around and at least he pays a few of the bills. But she has three children under five, no job prospects, and he is a lying, alcoholic, narcissistic, emotional abuser who got fired from his last job when the cops busted him for his weed stash that he kept in the basement. I get why she stays. But it kills me to see her get twisted up into knots about his ragging her about why she doesn't wear lipstick everyday or why the doorknob has a smear on it.
posted by jfwlucy at 2:39 PM on April 27, 2016 [4 favorites]


The always having your own money thing is right on, but then we have the calculation that causes many women to drop out of the workforce because it's cheaper for them to quit their job than it is to pay for childcare. I don't have an answer that is actually applicable immediately (there are governmental and structural things that can be done) and I wish I did.

I'd add another thing for the list for children to learn: Always make sure that your partner has their own money, even if you have to give it to them.

A loving spouse shouldn't have a problem with their partner having an independent savings or retirement account. And yeah, it might seem gross to "pay" for the time spent raising one's children and making one's home, but the working spouse is getting a service from the SAHS and compensation for that shouldn't be off of the table.

These are, of course, bits and bops of advice that don't help people who are currently victims of abuse, and I get how they seem victim-blamey. But since we apparently can't teach people not to abuse, maybe we can work to raise our kids with strategies that might help them to be less likely to be victimized.
posted by sparklemotion at 2:46 PM on April 27, 2016 [6 favorites]


I am so happy for the people who escape or who avoid this in the first place. But please don't use that as a cudgel. Please extend love and understanding to the women who don't leave for whatever reason. Know they're doing their best. And that your judgement only traps them further.
posted by stoneweaver at 2:48 PM on April 27, 2016 [8 favorites]


But at the same time, is it wrong to acknowledge that there are women who are fortunate enough to have had the resources (financial and psychological) to avoid this kind of abuse?

But this isn't about those people. Those people are much easier to understand and empathize with, we need articles like this to help some of us understand and empathize with other situations, and for the abused and formerly abused to have a voice.
posted by zutalors! at 2:50 PM on April 27, 2016 [8 favorites]


Am I missing something here? I'm not always the best at these things.

Well if it were always immediately obvious that something was wrong in a relationship people wouldn't spend as much time stuck in bad ones. But of course "my partner does X and it's fine" is different from "my partner does X and it's really not fine though I pretend it is" so I'm not quite sure what you're getting at unless you mean you're reconsidering whether you were really okay with things that happened in past relationships.
posted by atoxyl at 2:54 PM on April 27, 2016


Earning your own money doesn't help when your abuser manages to have access to every dime you earn. In my case, he insisted on splitting every expense we incurred 50/50 -- groceries, bills, everything. And everything else went into the joint bank account. This was before paperless bank statements, so everything came to our apartment, and he would go through my statements line-by-line and berate me for anything I spent -- a couple bucks for coffee on the way to work? That's at least an hour of being yelled at, belittled, called names, and threatened. There was no way on earth I could have hidden money away. No way at all. Don't think I didn't try.

(Even if I had set up a secret account and had the statements sent to me at work, he knew how much money I made, and sure as hell would have noticed if my paycheck deposits were smaller than normal. And he would have noticed if I'd transferred money out or withdrawn anything. Even once we did have Internet access, the only computer we owned was HIS, and I was not allowed to touch it without his permission, and only when he was sitting right next to me.)
posted by sarcasticah at 2:59 PM on April 27, 2016 [15 favorites]


it's also really hard to leave when you know you'll be a single mom and get a job or two and have to put the kids in pricey daycare and not have anyone to hold the baby while you take a shower.

Not just this, but it's not like the abuse just stops when you leave, particularly if you have shared children. Abusers are also often experts at using the family court system to continue the abuse or use the effects of the abuse against the victim (e.g., you're in therapy for PTSD? well, it sounds like maybe you're not stable enough to have full custody of your children).
posted by melissasaurus at 3:00 PM on April 27, 2016 [21 favorites]


I stayed because I had recently been cheated on and dumped by my first love and I was hurt and wanted someone to love me, to desire me.

I stayed because I had a crush on him from the age of 12 and when he asked me out when I was 18 how could I have said no? Because it seemed to be meant to be.

I stayed because I had crappy models of relationships - my mother was a serial monogamist who cheated on most of her partners if they treated her well but stayed too long with the ones who treated her badly.

I stayed because at 18 I had no idea how your partner should treat you - he was great most of the time, especially at the beginning.

I stayed because he was angry that I thought he was aiming his anger at me, and I felt guilty about thinking that of him.

I stayed because even people who spotted the warning signs didn't think to share them with me. Perhaps I would have ignored them anyway.

I stayed because I thought that on balance we were happy together slightly more than we were unhappy.

I stayed because he told me that trying to solve your relationship problems was the adult thing to do.

I stayed because he made sure I had no money and no friends.

I stayed because he told me no one else could ever love me the way he did.

I stayed because he wasn't really violent, just a little bit, but not badly or often enough that it sounded like the abusive relationships I had seen in films or on TV.

I stayed because he told me he would kill himself if I didn't.

I stayed because I thought I could fix him.
posted by kumonoi at 3:07 PM on April 27, 2016 [39 favorites]


sparklemotion, I think your suggestion that people make sure their partner has their own money, is not just good for raising the kids not to be abused - it is also good for raising them not to be abusers.

I think it's important to talk about how to not be the abuser, and to expect better of people in general before they start down that path, or when they are only a step or two into it. Abusing is not OK, and if the rest of us say so earlier, maybe we can save people's future spouses from a life of damage control.
posted by elizilla at 3:13 PM on April 27, 2016 [4 favorites]


The Pervocracy's list, previously discussed on the blue here, was an eye-opener for me. I'd left my ex twelve years before, but felt like I had done something wrong by staying as long as I did.
posted by pernoctalian at 3:32 PM on April 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


Yeah I'm hearing a lot of these "solutions" and thinking, so as a society, instead of supporting people who rear children we really want to force those of us who like rearing children on a daily basis to raise everyone else's kids before we deserve financial security to do that? Like I want to raise MY OWN KIDS. I don't want to be forced back into the workforce when my child is one so my child can spend 50 hours a week being institutionalize from the time they are one, NO summers, NO afternoons off no lazy snuggles and freedom and LOVE... LOVE that you just CAN'T DO in n institutional setting you can't pay for love, it's NOT the same, I've worked in day cares even the nice ones the kids are EXHAUSTED after that long and in many the kids are needing to be held a lot and the workers just don't do it because holding kids is something to train them out of by the time they are 1.5.

Like. DUDE. I'm sick of this being the solution, stay at home parents do not deserve abuse, as mentioned above not everyone has the skills, the energy, or the mindset to kick ass in a exploitative cruel workplace where I don't WANT to be on top mistreating everyone else, I'm SICK of my culture thinking this is the solution to stopping abuse, it's literally saying abuse others or you should be abused (and in capitalism that is how it works!).

I know many stay at home moms and few stay at home dads, I also know that being a primary caregiver can shift how you think and feel for many of us making the entire attitude of the work place stop making sense.

I'm just tired of being forced into labor I don't want to do in order to "free me" from other things I don't want coming from people who don't care what I want or what makes me feel free. It might not be in the cards for me, but I'd rather be a stay at home mom, and I'm sick of corporate culture that feeds off exploiting low income workers and people in other countries and the earth and being told if I don't want to be abused I better get to top of that cash fund. I don't understand why people don't want to be with their kids, I don't understand why I'm forced to rear other people's kids but can't rear my own on a daily basis because that's not work and it's not worthy of financial support.

If an abusive man told me " You get your ass back to work at three month I don't give a shit of your tits are leaking milk and you're sobbing missing your child all day," I would see that as abusive but our society does that to it's people and it's fine. Poverty is abusive. Neglecting the bonds some mothers have with their children during the pregnancy birth and nursing period is abusive, our society treats women and mother's like shit.

Men are often the sanctuary from an abusive world that ALSO doesn't give a shit if you die if you don't fit the mold of who deserves to live and a world that certainly doesn't give a shit about women's needs related to childrearing in the early years and how that alters our relationship to the kind of work e want to do and how we see the very nature of the workplace. That their are risks associated with them too in one a myriad of fucked up horrifying factors people have to navigate.

"Just be financially independent."

Right. And how are those of us who are nurturers by nature supposed to do that when we don't fit into the institutionalized workplace because we SEE how the kids are being harmed, the animals are being harmed, the plants are being harmed, etc etc?
posted by xarnop at 3:45 PM on April 27, 2016 [25 favorites]


I don't think we need to pile guilt onto working moms here.
posted by AFABulous at 4:17 PM on April 27, 2016 [18 favorites]


I'm seeing a lot of suggestions on how to prevent being abused but once again the focus is on the work the victim has to do. I dream of a world where upon hearing a woman is in an abusive relationship the first question isn't "why does she stay?" but "why does he do that?".

I stayed cause I was too exhauated to leave and knew society would judge me for being there in the first place.
posted by kanata at 4:20 PM on April 27, 2016 [25 favorites]


But yet creating a story where stay at home moms are choosing abuse or at least responsible for failing to prevent it are not being piled with guilt and blame?
posted by xarnop at 4:21 PM on April 27, 2016


I don't think anyone should be blamed except the abusers. Unless you want to clarify what you meant by this:

I'm SICK of my culture thinking this is the solution to stopping abuse, it's literally saying abuse others or you should be abused (and in capitalism that is how it works!).
posted by AFABulous at 4:25 PM on April 27, 2016


I stayed because I felt like she was financially dependent on me, and in a large sense, she was--deliberately.

I stayed because I felt bad about all the other people who'd done her wrong.

I stayed because of the cats.

I stayed because I had invested so much time, effort, energy, hope, and everything else I had.

I stayed because I was afraid that if I left, it would destroy her.

And the crazy thing is, one of the big reasons I wanted to be with her in the beginning was that she seemed so strong and independent. So many red flags I should've heeded in the beginning, but I didn't, because I was on the rebound myself and because she was so hopeful. Once I was gone and done, she was fine. But it's amazing how she was fine on her own before me, fine on her own after me...and yet for the six years we were together, I constantly felt like a lifeguard trying to help someone swim, but only getting pulled down for my trouble. And not just financially--most of it was emotional.

I always, always thought it was better to be alone than to be with the wrong person. I've always been able to cut people out of my life when they've done something truly wrong--crimes, physical/sexual abuse, you name it. But the emotional stuff I dealt with was too vague, too difficult to pin down, too easy to excuse by thinking she was just being inarticulate. Six goddamn years. I left five years ago and I'm still wondering what the hell I was thinking.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 4:28 PM on April 27, 2016 [19 favorites]


I'm saying if the solution to not getting abused is to be financially independent that is leaving huge swaths of people out of the loop and worthy of abuse. The solution to abuse is to stop abusers, not to imply that women who earn less than their partners for a myriad of reasons that are often not their faults are choosing abuse.

To me it's like trying to stop rape by making women not go out, or not drink, etc etc.

It's limiting women's choices in order to "help" them, when I think the focus should instead be on stopping the abuse not shaming women who find value in working part time or being a SAHM or earn lower wage salaries with the skillsets they have because they aren't valued in our communities.
posted by xarnop at 4:33 PM on April 27, 2016 [10 favorites]


OK, I guess I misunderstood, I thought that the "others" in "it's literally saying abuse others or you should be abused" was referring to kids in daycare.
posted by AFABulous at 4:54 PM on April 27, 2016


xarnop: I'm saying if the solution to not getting abused is to be financially independent that is leaving huge swaths of people out of the loop and worthy of abuse.

I wish our language better covered the distance between "you should" as in "you should have taken these steps to protect yourself, or you were negligent" and "I know the situation sucks and I hope we can fix it someday, but until then, here are useful tips for avoiding the situation". It is always very difficult to tell what is meant as preventative advice and what is victim-blaming.
posted by Mitrovarr at 5:19 PM on April 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


My abuser dumped me. I'm positive that was actually part of a plan to make me come begging so he could magnanimously take me back and hold even more of the cards. I had the straight up dumb luck to be roommates with a group of ladies who physically prevented me from doing so until the panic wore off. He'd spent months telling me that without me he'd kill himself, but then I'd forced him (somehow--I never really understood what I'd done except maybe not be super enthused by his foray into polyamory) to reject me. I was absolutely ready to start begging for him to take me back. My roommates barely knew him but never liked him and after they heard me wailing about how he said he'd kill himself without me recognized abuse and barred the door. After that, he stalked me for a while (not for any reason except to creepily leer at me like a deranged serial killer, just to freak me out) so that was awesome. But I'm pretty sure the women I was living with at the time saved my life.
posted by soren_lorensen at 5:21 PM on April 27, 2016 [21 favorites]


[Xarnop, I know this is a personally sensitive issue for you but we need you to not dominate the thread. Thanks. ]
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 6:06 PM on April 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


When I hear about an abusive relationship, I automatically take the side of the victim. To resolve the situation from her point of view, the only thing she can do is leave. She can't fix him, and controlling her behavior to avoid provoking him is likely impossible.

If I empathized with the abuser, sure, I might start spinning off ideas for how to help him stop. But that isn't my natural reaction to a specific and urgent story -- so all the "shoulds" are actions for the victim to take. She's the agent in my mind. It's empathy, not blame.
posted by ecsh at 7:32 PM on April 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


Like, okay -- if you tell me there's a hurricane forecast for your area, I won't say the solution is for the hurricane to change course. I will tell you to GTFO. Obviously no blame going on in that situation. Similarly, I hear about abusers and can't imagine them as human beings who could be reasoned with. So the action falls to the one who has a lot at stake and might listen.
posted by ecsh at 7:38 PM on April 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


I think that's really simplistic. We should address our culture of violence, shame and secrecy that allows this abuse to carry on between generations. An abuser is not a hurricane.
posted by zutalors! at 7:57 PM on April 27, 2016 [14 favorites]


When I hear about an abusive relationship, I automatically take the side of the victim. To resolve the situation from her point of view, the only thing she can do is leave. She can't fix him, and controlling her behavior to avoid provoking him is likely impossible.

If I empathized with the abuser, sure, I might start spinning off ideas for how to help him stop. But that isn't my natural reaction to a specific and urgent story -- so all the "shoulds" are actions for the victim to take. She's the agent in my mind. It's empathy, not blame.


I get what you're saying there, but don't say it.

For some background: my biological father tried to kill my mother. They divorced. He was granted unsupervised visitation with me anyway because of the aforementioned fact that the system doesn't handle abusers well at all. So we fled, and successfully.

It is *way* harder than many people seem to think. We were successful due to a variety of factors working in our favor, the removal of any one of which might have sunk us. Even with all that luck, it was incredibly difficult because it removed my mother from her entire support network. No friends. No networking for work. Nothing. This is also a step that increases the physical danger to the woman dramatically: more women are straight up murdered during an attempt to leave than any other point. That was referenced above, but it bears repetition. Leaving is when women are likeliest to die. We also did this in the pre-Internet era. I shudder to think how differently things would've gone in the era of goddamn Facebook.

If you want to take the side of the victim, don't tell them how it's on them to get out of the way of the hurricane. You don't know what that's like, you don't know what challenges are associated with it. Brainstorm ideas about how we, as a society, can get together and throw these guys into the deepest, darkest hole that we can dig and then cover them with concrete. This isn't about *persuading* anyone, it's about addressing the problem where it lies.

I guess to meet a metaphor with a metaphor: an abuser isn't a hurricane. They aren't a natural force we are powerless to stop. They're more like a rabid dog, and if there is a rabid dog on a street, it is not our duty as citizens to simply use another street. We figure out who we call to have that dog put down.
posted by mordax at 7:59 PM on April 27, 2016 [26 favorites]


Ugh, I never said that the societal solution is for only victims to take responsibility. But look, while I can't fix an abuser either, I can give a friend a place on my couch. When I (and perhaps others) hear a specific story, we try to think of an immediate way to help that specific victim. And once the abuse is happening, the quickest way out requires the victim to take some action.

FWIW, I was emotionally abused by a parent and stepparent.

I am just trying to offer an explanation for why so many react to stories of abuse by suggesting that the victim should leave.
posted by ecsh at 8:05 PM on April 27, 2016


It's kind of amazing to me how much my (now deceased) emotionally abusive father has distorted both my life and my mother's life. She left him twenty-one years ago and married a much better man, but so many difficulties in her current marriage have a relationship to the scars left by her twenty-eight year marriage to my father. And the same is true for me (when I reached about the age of eight or nine, I became his primary target and my mother his secondary target, and my younger sister was alternately ignored or doted upon).

Both my mother and I are deeply sensitive to and anxious about unpredictably irritable or angry people. During the last years of their marriage, as a middle-aged woman, she decided to begin a second career in nursing, became an RN, and was very successful at it. She was highly respected in her workplace. Even so, she still hears echoes in her head of my father's litany of ridicule of her -- which, tragically, he managed to co-opt my sister and I into for many years and about which now we both feel a lot of guilt and shame. As a child and a teen, and into my early adulthood (until I set very strict boundaries) I was told I was worthless, a failure and would always be a failure and those messages still resonate for me.

Mostly, though, both my mother and myself are very highly motivated to constantly be aware of the emotional state of those around us, looking for the least signs of resentment or irritation, and both of us tend to instinctively feel responsible for managing upset people, for heading off eruptions of anger before they appear. I find that I simply can't tolerate being around people who are angry and this is doubly true if I don't know when and why they are likely to be angry. I think that my whole childhood was one long exercise in solving the riddle of my father's anger.

So, there's also this: during the first few years of my now long-ago marriage in my twenties, I found to my great horror that I was behaving with her not unlike my father. I was irritable, I would say random hurtful things, I would lose my temper and become scarily irrational. I really can't even describe the degree of horror I felt when I realized this. Which took awhile -- what was strange is that I didn't even think about it. Even though I hated his behavior, my father was my behavioral model. Fortunately, for both my partner and myself (for her in the proximate sense, for me over the remaining course of my life), one day I had an epiphany about this, suddenly learned to see both my anger and my behavior for what it was, and then gained some skills so that I no longer behaved that way. Which I haven't with any of my partners in all the years since. Of course, my father never learned this lesson himself and so that sort of just pissed me off even more -- that I could figure this out in my twenties and he never fucking did, but instead went to his death complaining that the people around him were responsible for the hurt that he did to them.

And then there's the other thing, too. Of the three serious, intense relationships I've had (as opposed to the occasional dating or short-lived stuff), two were with emotionally complicated and often inaccessible and unpredictable women, including my ex-wife. One was with a very even-tempered, kind and loving woman who was in every sense the opposite of my father. Guess which relationship was, for me, the most lukewarm, which I found comfortable but not very compelling? And then of the three, the one that was the most volatile, the most where I was the constant target of criticism, of unpredictable anger and mood changes, where I was forever trying to figure out what I could do "right" -- well, that was the one where I was the most head-over-heels. I can tell you that the day that it occurred to me that the women I've been the most attracted to were emotionally similar to my father was not a good day for me. But my theory is that there's a part of me that will forever be chasing the riddle, trying to solve it and trying to make that angry person happy, make that resentful and dissatsfied person look at me with approval. Or, alternatively, that lukewarm relationship ended when my partner left me because, d'uh, I was lukewarm and she was unhappy, But I would have stayed with her for the rest of my life, even though I was pretty unmotivated. Why? Because I wasn't afraid and anxious all the time.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 8:26 PM on April 27, 2016 [19 favorites]


It's... probably a bad sign if the above-the-fold text could apply to your job, right
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:54 PM on April 27, 2016 [9 favorites]


I haven't been in an abusive relationship yet (and that's probably a "but there for the grace of god go I" sort of thing because I suspect I'd be catnip to an abusive guy, except I don't like angry dudes one bit so I guess I haven't gotten one yet), and I know all the reasons why women can't /don't/won't leave. They're frequently crucial ones and other reasons why they are still alive, because he's paying for her to live and all that jazz.

But I will admit that it's tiring and depressing to have to hear every shitty fucking thing the dude is doing to her over and over again, and her being shocked like every time is fresh and new and he's never done it before except he did it yesterday. And she's miserable. But every time she sighs, "But I love him," and there's never any arguing you can do with someone who trots that line out. So I certainly do get the "why doesn't she leave" feeling even though I know it's incredibly difficult. But it's easier for those of us who don't love the guy to say that.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:54 PM on April 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


It's... probably a bad sign if the above-the-fold text could apply to your job, right

I suspect that, just for sheer numbers and opportunity, at least as many people are emotionally abused by employers/coworkers as intimate partners (and educational abuse probably sits in its own third silo, then ecclesiastical). And I think a lot of people don't even realize it until afterwards if at all.

It rarely holds the threat of physical violence, but for sheer capacity for cruelty and large systemic multi-abuser networks, it's hard to compete.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:06 PM on April 27, 2016 [10 favorites]


YES, as to employment. It happened to me, twice in a row. I was also abused as a child by my father, and I am instinctively more trusting of women. Both of my abusive employers were women. And I was in treatment for PTSD when I was hired for the second job, after the first one triggered me so badly that it directly lead to a formal PTSD diagnosis while already in ongoing therapy. Both of them were people I knew before I was hired, so there was an extra layer of trust. I got out quickly in both cases, within a few months my survival instincts really kicked in, but the whole experience left me deeply shaken. Triggered doesn't begin to describe it. My whole life got sidelined. Honestly, I'm fucking terrified to go back to work.
posted by krinklyfig at 9:39 PM on April 27, 2016 [1 favorite]



I'm seeing a lot of suggestions on how to prevent being abused but once again the focus is on the work the victim has to do. I dream of a world where upon hearing a woman is in an abusive relationship the first question isn't "why does she stay?" but "why does he do that?".


This is so intractable. We don't study abusers because they don't offer themselves up for study. They're not motivated to. People who have been abused, are being abused, allow themselves to be placed under scrutiny because they are trying to improve their situation. But our focus on them has the effect of looking for keys under a lamppost. And it almost inevitably leads to appearing to criticize the abused person, even if it is not meant that way.

My own personal experience with an abusive relationship had nothing to do with material need. I had a job that provided housing. I had a therapist pointing out to me that my childhood experiences had programmed me to think abuse was not just normal but comforting and familiar-- to think it equaled love, in fact. I knew enough to go for therapy but not enough, apparently, to act on the insights it provided. The door was open for me and I just did not walk the two steps it would take to go through it. For me, there was just such a huge cognitive dissonance involved in tolerating or indeed seeking out abuse. I am not claiming that everyone who puts up with abuse would continue to do so if they were handed the means to get out. But I think if you have the kind of childhood damage that makes you vulnerable to abusers, it is hardly straighforward to avoid that pattern,
posted by BibiRose at 5:58 AM on April 28, 2016 [6 favorites]


Leaving back when I did, before the internet ruined the methods I used was incredibly hard,
.
I had to change all our names. I had to get documentation in those names. I changed our religious affiliation from Muslim to Catholic. I taught my children how to speak some Irish. I owe the militant, nationalist community where we ended up a LOT, because it gave us a lot of protective cover without my having to marry or even be in a relationship to get that cover. All I had to do was perfectly legal advocacy for Ireland. That wasn't a problem. No one asked me to go in over my head or do anything terrible.
Basically my ex was South Asian. He really only married me for immigration reasons. There was no love on his part for me. He wasn't that sexually attracted to me even. Probably he preferred males and only wanted children because it bolstered the case for a Green Card.

My abuser had many relatives living in London. My Irish ties were an asset because they terrified him. He was rotten, spoiled and bad, but he wasn't stupid. He knew what the police could do with his relatives. He was very afraid because I had some minor ties he did not know about before we ever met. His reaction to that discovery was pretty priceless.
I remembered that when I started hanging around that scene.

Again, this could have got me in some trouble if I hadn't been careful,but it would have got his relatives in far worse trouble basically no matter what they said or did.
I learned how to go underground totally from a person who had been a Communist Party member back when the party itself gave classes on how to go underground. She was an underground Union organizer many years and did it for pay. She was damn good at it. That was my mother.

One of the very hardest things we went through as a family was how to raise children to be truthful when you must lie about who and what you are as a family. It's a LOT like being a spy actually.
Spies in the old days called a careful assumed alternate identity a 'Legend' I told people the kids were half Mexican. I told people my own ethnicity was Irish, Scots and English. The facts are I am ethnically those things, but both sides of my family have Slavic ancestors as well. My late father was half Jewish. I'm really kind of a mixed bag of beans. In building a 'Legend' you put in some true stuff to make the lies work better. You wear a 'Legend' like a skin but it can drive you a little mad to be honest.

The other thing I did was to make few friends. I am by nature a friendly person. I had very little trust for anyone. You can't trust anyone. I had 'friends' betray me because they felt sorry for him. I don't know how people feel sorry for these guys, but people do.

My children did not have sleep - overs or play unsupervised for many, many years. We all slept in the same room so that no one could come in the window and get them.

Judges are not good at all about custody and visitation. They givre both these privileges to abusers all the time. Lawyers then and now tell women never to raise the abuse of themselves or their children in court because the judge may just grant him full custody or visitation ANYWAY. I don't know if these judges are full on MRA or what, but it happens all the time.

My abuser should have thanked God I did not kill him. He was not nearly grateful enough.
Frankly I often regret not having done just that. It came close twice.
You see most murderers only do 7 years. My children would have been with my mother.
I don't know why abusers aren't killed more often. It happens,but it's rare.

Instead until my son was 18 and my daughter 16, we lived in fear. We moved very frequently and it was many years before I got any kind of job. My daughter was an infant, and my son 3 years old when we left. So, imagine hiding like that for 16 years.
At age 16 my daughter met the man she would marry once she graduated.
I told
I would love it if abusers were held accountable, both in terms of punishment, and being forced into treatment.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 12:09 PM on April 28, 2016 [9 favorites]


Stupid over - sensitive tablet! I meant to flag this post as 'fantastic!' Thanks for posting it and thanks for discussion!
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 12:24 PM on April 28, 2016


The economic independence comment resonated with me anyway, and this is why:

At eighth grade we had a language/literature teacher who was one of those teachers that shape the way you think and that you remember forever. About once a week, he'd start the class hour not with whatever the lesson was going to be on, but by discussing apparently random things about life, about current events, whatever.

One day he came into the classroom and was quieter than usual. He looked out of the window for a bit and then said " Today I just have a piece of advice for everyone, but especially the young ladies, in the class: Don't, do not, get married before you're economically independent."

That was all, we went on to the lesson. This is a bunch of 13/14 year olds he was speaking to.

What seems like a million years later, now, standing on the shores of another continent, looking back across so many years and so many experiences, I wonder what he had seen, what news he had received, that day.

Is it something easy to say? Definitely. Is it pat? Maybe. Is it a panacea? Absolutely not. Is it helpful for someone already in an abusive or potentially situation? Probably not.

Does it require a goodly amount of luck in one's circumstances to be able to follow that advice? Definitely.

Is it something that is valuable to say to a 13 year old?

I've remembered it for a quarter of a century, including on the day I got my first job. What do you think?
posted by seyirci at 1:25 PM on April 28, 2016 [3 favorites]


I suspect that, just for sheer numbers and opportunity, at least as many people are emotionally abused by employers/coworkers as intimate partners (and educational abuse probably sits in its own third silo, then ecclesiastical).

I grew up with a father who was a pathological narcissist, and a mother with histrionic* tendencies who devoted her life to enabling him.

I did weather some moderately abusive relationships in my teens and twenties, but I was absolutely certain that I would never, ever allow myself to wind up like my mother.

To some extent, I succeeded. I married a really good person who's got his emotional shit together. I have great, long-term friendships. A lot of things worked out really well.

But man, when I ran into boss who pulled ALMOST THAT EXACT VARIETY OF SHIT on me in a work/educational context? I fell for it, completely. And instead of walking the fuck out immediately, I doubled down and tried to please that person at the expense of sleep, health, sanity, intellectual development, opportunities, social connections, family obligations, and will-to-live, and I did it for YEARS. I did finally leave, but not under the circumstances I would have preferred, and with a luvverly case of PTSD.

And I'm a trained domestic violence advocate.

Your tax dollars paid me to know better, and I still didn't.


* I hate this sexist &%@# word, but it's a term of art and it's still in th DSM.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 4:10 PM on April 28, 2016 [7 favorites]


"And I'm a trained domestic violence advocate.

Your tax dollars paid me to know better, and I still didn't."

This is the thing I wish people would get. If you're trained from birth to put up with abuse because of your parents, I think it's an actual miracle if you never in your life fall for it. It doesn't matter how prepared you are, if the right circumstances come along and the stars align, you're right back in it.
posted by stoneweaver at 8:20 PM on April 28, 2016 [11 favorites]


This is the thing I wish people would get. If you're trained from birth to put up with abuse because of your parents, I think it's an actual miracle if you never in your life fall for it. It doesn't matter how prepared you are, if the right circumstances come along and the stars align, you're right back in it.

This is so true. I was the one that always fought against my parents abuse. I was the feminist, I stood up for myself in all kinds of work, school, and personal situations. But deep inside me my parents voices were rotten, still carving away at my insides, well, that and I was still trying to get their approval. I made one too many unconventional choices that went awry and finally I caved in. I believed my husband when he said his abuse was my fault. If only I behaved like everyone else he wouldn't be driven to such rage and really, that's what my parents and a lot of other people had been saying all my life. I caved in and I tried to change everything about myself so I could be the person and have the life my mother always said I should. Thing was, I found out my being a completely different person didn't change anything except myself. My parents were still judgemental and abusive and my husband was still abusive. Just now I wasn't fighting it anymore. This was not an improvement. I went back to being my old fighter self, but in the time it took, my situation had gone from bad to worse and getting out was a very tricky thing to do.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 7:59 AM on May 2, 2016 [6 favorites]


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