No one thinks they are going to find themselves in an abusive relationship. I didn’t. What did I overlook? People on the outside looking in say they would never stay in an abusive relationship. Sometimes those people are family members. Sometimes family members make excuses for the behavior of the abuser. Neither is helpful.
I vividly remember sitting in my car with a social worker because someone had called Child Protective Services. She wanted to come to my home but I told her that could be dangerous. We met in a parking lot. She was fresh-faced and under 30. What did she know about life much less about my life? As she sat there stating the obvious and telling me what I needed to do – mostly that I needed to get out – I stopped her midsentence. I told her that although I appreciated her zeal, what she knew about abusive relationships she learned in a textbook – we were living the nightmare. I went on to say that what she was proposing is the reason bodies of dead women in abusive relationships are found in dumpsters. I didn’t want my kids and me being the headline story of the smalltown newspaper after we were found in a dumpster. She thanked me for my time and got out of the car.
I used to think there was an abuser’s playbook, a step-by-step how-to for the novice abuser. Psychologists say abusers can be narcissists, sociopaths, psychopaths, or a combination. In my case, I would call my ex-husband a narcissistic sociopath. They are rarely formally diagnosed. Why not? Because in order to be diagnosed one needs to think there is something wrong and people who are any or all of the above do not see anything wrong with themselves.
Narcissistic sociopaths are highly manipulative, show little to no remorse, are incapable of empathy, are more often than not very emotionally and verbally abusive, are control freaks, and are overly concerned about how they are viewed by the outside world. They are masters at blaming their behavior on their victims or turning situations around to make themselves appear to be the victim.
Gaslighting is another common characteristic abusers master. In a nutshell, gaslighting is the ability of abusers to keep their victims questioning their sanity, questioning their interpretation of situations, statements, or people causing them to blame themselves and consequently walk on eggshells in the presence of the abuser to avoid setting them off. On the flipside, narcissistic sociopaths can be very charming and convincing to the point others make excuses for their behavior. My former sister-in-law attempted to explain her brother’s behavior by telling me he was born premature and that was the root of his abusive behavior. We haven’t had contact since.
I spent 30 years with a narcissistic sociopath. We’ve been out 12 this year. It’s hard to trust people again if we ever actually do. I don’t, not fully anyway. Abusers install buttons that others push, unknowingly, innocently, without malice. Sometimes there are so many buttons the most innocuous statement from another, a statement no one else would hazard a blink toward causes our hackles to rise, walls of protection to immediately go up, as we quickly and inwardly process every nuance of statements or situations that appear innocent but may be hiding the insidious.
I do not spend time and energy on regret. It isn’t productive. I am sad, however, horrified even, that I didn’t get out sooner, that I didn’t spare my children from their father’s abusive nature. Now, I am the one on the outside looking in at my previous life as the wife of an abuser. The one with a bagful of should-haves. And I harshly judge myself and my actions or lack thereof, depending on how one looks at it. In the end, there are no do-overs. There are only go-on-from-heres. And that’s what we do. Those of us who manage to get out. Go on from here…..