The writer was a man. He began, as male readers often do, by challenging the fact that I routinely speak of emotional abuse victims as ‘she’, and emotional abusers as ‘he’. He felt that his suffering – as a victim of emotional abuse – was unacknowledged. But he saw the point that my intention is to acknowledge, and support, the many, many women who are on the receiving end of emotional abuse.
What he wrote about the physical side of his own emotionally abusive relationship really resonated with me. Here’s what he said:
“Physicality, like physical intimidation can be a very effective way of an abuser controlling their partner. The lack of physicality can, also, become a powerful controlling mechanism. When I first met my partner, I thought she had the same attitude to physicality as me. That changed after we married. I was utterly devoted to my wife. The physical side of things became one of the issues that had me walking on egg shells day after day.”
Now, this is not something I normally write about for a couple of reasons:
I really don’t want to get involved in the ‘mechanics’ of physicality – as a general principle, the physicality simply mirrors other aspects of the relationship
Using the brief, everyday 3 letter word for physicality could create unnecessary problems with spam filters; meaning that you don’t get to hear from me.
Still, the dynamics of physicality are worth looking at. In the end, the physical side is, most commonly, another damaging aspect of an emotionally abusive relationship – the damaging aspect par excellence. It is an incredibly powerful tool for hurting and humiliating an ‘intimate’ partner.
Physicality can be used in different ways. In the simplest possible terms, it can be used to express love, or power.
As a naturally trusting soul, when you go into what you see as a lasting, loving relationship, you see physicality as a means of communicating love.
You assume your partner is in the relationship for the same reasons, and that physicality will have the same meaning for him.
The fact is that although you and your abusive partner entered into a relationship with each other, you did not both enter into the SAME relationship.
Love was the important thing for you.
Power is the most important thing for him.
What’s more, an emotional abuser is a creature of tremendous focus.
You probably missed that, because you though that focus would mean him feeling and behaving in the same way as you do.
His focus was on power and control.
He could hardly walk up to you, when first you met, and say: “Hello, my name is Mr Emotionally Abusive, and I’m into power and control over women. That’s what makes me feel better about myself.”
Provided you were actually listening, you probably wouldn’t have hung around very long, at all.
He knew that.
For all I know – and care – he may even have been laboring under the illusion that ‘the right woman’ would magically transform him, and save him the trouble of ever having to take personal responsibility for himself, (Who knows? In an ideal world, you might even be able to invest him with magic powers, and provided him with a billion dollar empire by teaching him to turn water into wine?…)
Whatever his hopes for your potential as a world-class magician, he knew he had to woo you by making the right noises about ‘love’ and ‘marriage’ and ‘happily ever after’.
You weren’t to know that wielding a magic wand successfully was meant to be a part of your job description. You weren’t to know that your failure to do the impossible meant that you would end up as an emotionally abused woman.
The problem came when he realized that you couldn’t do the Impossible for him. Then, the Mr Nice Guy mask, and behaviors, went back into the closet. To be seen, only rarely, on crucial days in the Nasty calendar.
Mr Nasty took to using his favorite tools of power and control, in every are of your ‘life’ together. Including the physicality.
You can exercise power by demanding, and withholding. He did that. You can exercise power by steam-rollering, and being deaf to a person. He did that. You can exercise power by a very deliberate use of the carrot and stick technique. He doubtless did that, too. You can exercise power by abusing and crazy-making. He sure as hell did that.
That physicality is a formidable weapon in the hands of an emotionally abusive partner.
It needed to be said.
That’s the way he ‘did’ Life, and related to the World. It’s not the way Life, and the World, are. It’s not the way worthwhile men are. Letting an emotionally abusive man’s behaviors and beliefs color and shape your world means he still has a powerful hold over you, whether or not you are still with him.
Your future happiness hinges on you finding the self-belief to do your life and your world, your way.