Even the strongest person is susceptible because abuse seeps in so slowly. It goes unnoticed until one day you realize that something is seriously wrong and you are no longer sure what or who is wrong or right. If you find yourself noticing weird things early in your relationship and realizing that your partner’s actions seem a little off and aren’t what you are used to, trust your instincts and pay closer attention before you invest yourself. If you find that your partner’s treatment of you seems unreasonable and unfair, remember your reality and question whether you would allow others to do that to you. If you find yourself in the middle of an obviously abusive relationship and wonder how a smart person like you ended up in this position, remember that it isn’t your fault. Even a cautious person is easily distracted and mislead when he or she falls in love. We expect goodness, but abuse is irrational. Until you encounter it, you never know what to expect. But even when you encounter it, you might not realize it right away.
I moved across the country to move in with my first narcissist because we fell in love so fast. Within days, he was getting mad at me over little things. They surprised me, because I didn’t think I was doing anything wrong, but I was so used to my narcissist mother telling me how horrible I was all the time, that I just accepted that my new boyfriend was right when he told me the same thing. Every time he yelled at me and told me I was doing something wrong, I meekly apologized and tried harder. Sometimes, in the back of my mind, I thought he was being far too picky. He was yelling at me about things that I didn’t think were wrong. He yelled at me for doing dishes the wrong way. I was doing dishes daily, and they were getting clean, but he thought I should wash them a different way. I figured it wasn’t a big deal, and just did as he instructed, but I did think his anger was strange.
But these things continued and eventually we got married because he really did claim he loved me…and I was attached to trying to be good enough for him. Soon, I was desperate to do everything right, but he was still finding so many things wrong. I kept asking myself “can’t I do anything right?” Within months, my entire life focused around this impossible chore of trying to make him happy, or at least trying to keep him from yelling at me and telling me wrong I was. I used to become scared when he came home from work, because I had to brace myself and wonder what was going to be wrong that day.
Eventually, I went to therapy. I was a crying, nervous wreck. I told the therapist that she had to help me because I couldn’t do anything write and my husband told me I needed to change. She looked at me confused and asked why I needed to change. I was still crying and I told her about how my husband kept telling me there were so many things wrong with me. By that time, I had internalized this huge list of things that weren’t “good enough,” and I literally thought I was worthless. If an abuser tells you something consistently, pretty soon, you start accepting it. According to my ex, I was lazy, ugly, smelled bad, selfish, rude, ungrateful, and more. But I was confused, because I was doing as much as I could to be perfect, and I still wasn’t good enough for him.
Guess what?! It turns out the problem was not me. And my ex’s excuse of having OCD, was not a good reason for him to keep yelling at me and telling me how horrible I was. Of course, I didn’t understand this after just one therapy session. It took many months. And, even when I did understand it, I kept hoping I could fix the abuser and help him see that there was nothing wrong. I tried to get him to understand that if I did things differently, that was not the same as doing them wrong. (It took even more time for me to accept that I couldn’t fix him into someone who could respect me or treat me well!)
This is what makes emotional and verbal abuse so much more painful than “just” physical abuse. Physical abuse is obvious. It’s awful, but it’s easy to recognize, and it’s easier to get others to help you. But emotional abuse is not obvious, and it creeps up on you. Little hints at a time seems acceptable and believable. You might be easy going and willing to compromise, so they seem like no big deal. But as you internalize more and more little jabs, and you accept more and more blame, you lose more of your confidence and inner peace. And worst of all, it’s our desire to be open, helpful and humble that allows us to gradually fall into the emotional abuser’s pit. I literally thought my abuser was helping me learn to be an acceptable person when he kept telling me how horrible I was all the time!
In the end, I escaped, and he blamed me for everything–still claiming he did nothing wrong and he was justified to attack me daily. But also in the end, I grew more aware and stronger. And he’s still alone and wondering why he’s single when he’s never wrong.