And so, it happens again, you are left upset, hurt, bewildered and disoriented. And let’s not forget scared. Yet, if someone were to ask you, “How are things?” or, “What’s new?” the last thing you would do is reply with “I’ve just been abused and I’m not sure what to do.” Denial, the ever-powerful emotion that is often the coping tool of choice, keeps us in place and wondering what to do next. I loved pretending all was well when I was married to Darth Vader. I was ashamed and humiliated to be in such a difficult position, thinking that I could just ignore my problems away.
We were a successful couple with a few children, working hard to live the American dream. Both of us had careers (note here, I not only had a career, but I owned a successful company and made more money than my ex-husband and yet, I stayed for years) and we had friends and family that we saw on a regular basis.
What none of them knew was that I was suffering an abusive relationship and I was slowing coming apart. I began confiding in my sister, who told me one day that she heard the same thing from me, time after time. I started paying attention.
As the arguments and assaults surfaced, day-by-day, year after year, I realized I was in quite a predicament, but I was determined not to let this define me. My belief is that down deep we know what’s going on, we just have no means of handling some of the challenges and are left with extreme options – either deny what is happening or dramatically address the situation and publically handle the abuse. For me, calling an abuse hotline was not an option – what was I going to tell them? My husband had been yelling at me? I was left with one simple solution – I had to figure out how to take back my power. I realized that if I didn’t, I would be the next physically hit spouse. This fear led me to therapy, which led me to learning coping tools, which led me to coming up with ways to manage the verbal assaults and controlling behaviors. It worked, as I was able to learn these steps and manage myself in this situation, I took the kids, the dogs, the cats and the fish and left. It was a rough ride but I got out of the tunnel. My work now is dedicated to those who are in these situations that seem to be endless and full of suffering. I offer you these seven tips that have proven effective for me and countless others, as I work to share and support those that are in these difficult situations.
If you know of anyone who could use this information or if you know of anyone who needs a bit of support, please share these tips or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.kimromancorle.com.
1. Buckets and boundaries – all of us have our own path and our own responsibilities to manage, I think of them as our own ‘bucket’ of stuff. Just like your friend/spouse/Mom/Dad/Sis/Bro/Boss/etc. has their ‘stuff’ or bucket, so do you. Understanding that they are as responsible for their world and their issues, or bucket, just as you are, helps give you the space you need to create boundaries. Boundaries will help you create some distance between their happiness/issues/keeping them calm/etc. and yours. Instead of you worrying about keeping them happy, calm, etc. (whatever the demand of the day is), your job is take care of your bucket and your own issues. You are not here to be a conduit for their peace or happiness or calm, just as they aren’t here for yours.
2. ‘I’ statements – when you own your communication, you begin the process of taking back your power and not responding to demands, allegations, insults and threats. Using your ‘I’ statements is as easy as saying ‘I don’t want to get in the car with you when you are yelling at me’ vs. saying ‘you are pissing me off when you yell at me and I can’t take it anymore’. The mere use of the word ‘you’ puts someone on the defensive and makes the attacker have to defend his or her actions, escalating the situation. This isn’t about being right or wrong, it’s about taking care of you and learning how to step aside from the verbal assaults.
3. Give it a big mental ‘Whatever’…. It took me 40 years to realize that if a question was asked of me, and an answer was ‘demanded’ that I could make the choice and not answer. When someone is ‘coming at you’ (my term for how verbal abusers engage in demanding and threatening behavior with their words), they are often working to get you to talk to them so they can argue and attack. And to get you to talk to them, they will often ask you questions – if you are in a verbally abusive relationship, you will then try to answer and try to explain, all to no avail. Instead of engaging, try meeting every demand/comment/etc. with a ‘whatever’ and simply let it go. Realizing this is easier said than done, I used to write this out on a piece of paper and carry it with me. It was a great reminder that I could just disengage rather than try to get them to reason with me.
4. You cannot XXXXX them out of this. You can fill in the blank of XXXXX with the word ‘love’ or ‘reason’ or ‘logic’, they all work the same. If you are with an abuser, you are not going to be able to love them more to change the situation or reason with them to get them to see what is happening or, my favorite, logically address an illogical argument. It simply isn’t going to happen. The loving thing to do, for you and for them, is to stop the cycle, end the pattern and disengage.
5. Watch your self-talk. Often when we are in abusive relationships, we start incorporating some of the same damaging words we have heard into our daily thoughts, ‘maybe I’m not smart enough, or good enough, or maybe my family is really awful, or maybe I should listen to him/her because they know really who I am and how to love me’. When I was verbally abused, I would write out what was said to me and then I would look at it the next day. Often getting the space I needed to get out of the moment would create some time for my psyche to heal. As I would read the words the next day, I would realize that they were simply inflammatory and off-base. The challenge is that if you hear these insults/accusations/etc. continuously, they often become part of the fabric of your daily self-talk.
6. Feed your mind. Actively find positive books, tapes, people, situations, anything you can to counteract the negative impact and effects that the verbal abuse is having on your mindset. Thankfully, there are resources everywhere so this type of information is easily found. A good way to think of this is that if you were around someone else and heard what happened to them, you would be upset, appalled and probably concerned for them. And if you could help them, you would probably recommend they do something positive for themselves. Love yourself enough to do this for you. There is no shame in being abused; you are a victim, period.
7. Watch for the dripping faucet. If your kitchen faucet drips, no biggie, you get it fixed and all is well. If your kitchen faucet drips day after day, month after month, year after year, and nothing is done to fix it, the pipes will rust out and eventually they’ll have big holes in them. Verbal and emotional abuse/controlling people are like the dripping faucet, bit-by-bit, day-by-day, your sense of self will rust out and after time, there is nothing of you left. Creating the perspective of looking at things for what they are vs. what you want them to be is key to moving you along. If you experience abuse, you can often excuse the behavior because ‘they had a bad day’ or ‘they don’t understand what you were trying to explain’ etc. And yet, we all know that with controlling people and abusers, the put downs, manipulation and assaults happen again and again. Sometimes the fights aren’t ‘as bad’ and sometimes they are treacherous, but either way, it is the quiet continuance of fights and issues that will often lead us to think that this is our normal world and ‘maybe this isn’t so bad’. Give yourself the gift of validating what is happening, not excusing the behavior. It is what it is and no one deserves to be abused or controlled in any way.
A gentle reminder that this does not define you. You are worthy, valuable and it’s not an accident that you are here. Take back your power and love yourself for all that you are. If you can’t do it for you, do it for your children or your grandchildren or your parents or your pet or simply, for humanity as a whole.
All rights reserved. Kim Roman Corle 2010