Tuesday, November 27, 2012

My Own Misbehavior

I wish I could say my husband was the only one who was abusive in our relationship.  With all my heart I wish I could say that.  But it's just not true.

Growing up I never fought back.  My abusers were always bigger and stronger and more powerful than me.  I didn't think there was anyone who could protect me.  I learned not to cry because it only angered my abusers more.  My best weapons of survival were to hide or acquiesce.  I did my best to stay out of sight.  When I couldn't do that I just tried to be quiet and do what they wanted me to do.  I became excellent at reading the emotions in the room so I could sometimes head off an attack by changing my behavior or leaving.

I promised myself I would never stay with a man who was abusive.  If he hit me, I was gone.  Physical abuse is easy to recognize and prove.  When I was pregnant with our first child my husband and I got into a heated argument.  I stepped in front of him to keep him from storming away.  He shoved me out of the way hard enough that I fell to the ground.  I let him go.  When things cooled off I told him if he ever did anything like that again I would leave.  He never did.

Physical abuse is a quick blow (or several).  Emotional abuse is slow torture.  It isn't usually evident to others.  But it eats your soul.

I had been unhappy with the way my husband treated me and the kids for a long time, but I didn't call it abuse.  I didn't recognize it for what it was.  Mostly because it was so familiar.  It was how I'd grown up.  I remember the moment I knew.  It was when I heard myself telling the children, "Please be as good as you can so daddy won't get mad."

What a horrific moment.  What an awful responsibility to dump on a child.  A responsibility that was in no way theirs.  That's when I started to search for a better way. 

Instead of trying to placate him I began standing up to him.  In the only way I knew how.  I yelled.  I demanded.  I criticized and name called.  I threatened.  I demeaned and mocked and shamed.  I'd only seen my mom stand up to my dad a few times and this was how she did it.  It was what my emotions were shouting at me to do.  My heart said protect the children, so I stood between them and the raging lion.  With a whip and a chair.

It would be years before I knew a better way.  And after he started to change it was a long time before I saw how awful I had been to him.  In defense or not, my actions had been emotionally abusive as well.  Neither of us knew how to deal with these things in an emotionally healthy way.

One or both of us has been in therapy now off and on for about six years.  We have generations of unhealthy behavior to unlearn.  We both have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder which means sometimes we are triggered and find ourselves back in those moments when we were powerless and terrified.  We are still working to get healthy and strong.  We still mess up.  We are still sometimes unkind to each other.  We still often see the other as an enemy and forget we're on the same team.

But we are so much better than we used to be.  I am proud of us for all the hard work and progress.  There are so many horrible things we experienced as children that we were able to protect our own kids from.  So many emotional battles we've fought so they won't have to.

We're cleaning up the line as best we can.  Breaking the chains that bound us.


doseofreality said...

That's what it's all about. You're working hard and are aware of how the things you say and do affect your spouse and children. Nobody is perfect--we can't even expect that. We all have far to go, but you're trying and learning and you are self aware. That's what counts and that's more than most people, quite frankly. Kudos to you and your husband.

Bonnie said...

It's an act of courage to admit when we're behaving badly, but it's also an act of honesty. Most people who are abused develop negative behaviors. Well, duh. The whole victim/hero mentality is a crock. You guys are great Saviors on Mount Zion. The atonement of Jesus Christ is awesome, and so is therapy and personal choice.

2busy said...

It sounds like you are both moving in the right direction. I imagine the writing of both of your experiences is therapeutic, as well.

Rubye Jack said...

You all have come a long ways that's for sure. We share common backgrounds but I never had the strength to stick around to make a marriage work. For me it was simply easier to move on. So, I do admire how you have worked on your marriage and family relationships Robin.

Hannah said...

Whoa. I pretty much could have written that... up until the part about things getting better. I'm divorced now, but I began recognizing these things after the divorce. Thank you for being so relate-able and helping people like me not feel so alone.

Organized Island said...

I admire that you are sharing your experiences with others, as I know there are many others with a similar upbringing. I am glad to hear that you are both striving to make things better and have made what sounds to be significant progress! Blessings to you!

Barbara said...

It sounds like you are moving in the right direction and have made progress!

Tricia said...

You are so brave to be doing what you are doing and writing about it. I admire your courage.

Aprad said...

Hope this is the beginning of good things for your family. Somehow I can relate.

+To Me It Matters+

Libby said...

You're both amazing and a model on how to work things out in a marriage. Too many people just go straight to separation without looking at the cause and as you point out Robin, it may not always be all on the other person. I can't be sure how hard this was for you to share but I thank you for it.

Anonymous said...

What do you do when your husband can't see his actions as harmful? When you have tried to express your hurt and he doesn't care? When he says the counselors are wrong?