It’s a good question isn’t it?
If you’ve ever been in an emotionally abusive relationship, that one little question signposts two of your key concerns:
- the obsession about whether you are better, or worse, than your emotionally abusive husband. (No prizes will be given for guessing his opinion on the matter.)
- the issue of forgiveness which all emotionally abused women struggle with
My client’s question came as one of those throwaway questions, at the end of a dialogue about something different. Important questions often do. It’s something I learned from the wasband. (He was a physician who knew to listen for the real problem – which the patient would only mention when he/she had a hand on the door handle, and was just opening the door to leave.)
A throwaway answer to a throwaway question does more harm than it ever does good. So, let’s start at the beginning with this one.
In what circumstances does an emotionally abused woman behave on the same level as her abusive partner? The circumstances are crucial.
You see, I’m guessing it does NOT happen because:
a) she is looking to reassert her power and control over the situation (she doesn’t have any)
b) it is something she does deliberately and consciously with a view to causing maximum damage – just because…
Rather, I’m guessing it happens because:
a) she was pushed to her absolute limits, and beyond
b) she was trying to communicate with him – in his language – because she has failed, so consistently, to communicate with him, effectively, in hers
I’m also guessing that her emotional state was one of utter desperation, and that this is NOT something she did very often. When you take a leaf out of the Nasty Handbook, you do so purely because you are at your wits’ end.
That’s not why Mr Nasty does it.
Also, if and when you do that, you feel sincere, lasting shame.
That’s a bit different from his insincere, short term apologies, is it not?
If you end up behaving badly by your own standards, you aren’t going to turn around 3 hours, or 3 days, or 3 weeks later, and say:
“I only behaved that badly because you…. Besides, it wasn’t really that bad, anyway. It’s just that you’re hypersensitive, and you’re getting things out of perspective…”
You are much more likely to admit to yourself, and him, that you were totally out of order.
When you live with a Crazy-maker, you may just end up doing the odd crazy thing. That doesn’t make it right, that’s for sure. But crazy things serve a purpose. Crazy things should serve as a very big wake-up call. They’re a sign that your mental health and well being are seriously under attack.
Which means it’s time to call time on the toxic relationship.
You didn’t actually sign up for a toxic relationship, remember?
Unless you’re totally different from every woman I have worked with over the last 10+ years, you didn’t say:
“Hooray!! I’ve finally found someone mean and horrible who will humiliate me that I can humiliate and treat badly in return.”
That was NOT you, right?
What really happened was that you adjusted, as best you could, to the laws of his jungle.
Would you like to forgive him for being who he is, and doing what he does?
Feel free – if that’s what you want to do.
But, please remember that your emotional resources are not infinite.
Living with Mr Nasty has done a lot to drain your resources for the time being. (Think of him as the holes in your bath tub – or the puncture in your tires (UK tyres), or the moths in your woolly sweater drawer! Your resources can ONLY be replenished when you dispense with what is destroying them.)
Forgiving your emotionally abusive partner is an ambitious enterprise – and a fairly pointless one. Bearing in mind that you do have the rest of your life in which to do that – should you so desire – there’s no earthly need to make forgiving him a top priority. (Whether you do, or whether you don’t, he’s not bothered. It’s not going to make him better – or stop him being bitter.)
Forgiving yourself, on the other hand, sounds like a good idea to me.
Chances are, you did the best you could most of the time.
You tried your socks off.
Your best efforts failed, but your intentions were good.
(Shame he can’t – H-O-N-E-S-T-L-Y – say as much!)
You may have slummed it for a while, but that’s not your level.
Time to consign Mr Nasty to the recycling pile.