We’re supposed to be stronger (and know better)

– by guest blogger Lisa Mattina (from fistsclenched on WordPress)

I titled this entry “We’re supposed to be stronger (and know better)” because this is the underlying thought (among some others) that kept me in an emotionally abusive relationship for two years. One would think it’d be the opposite considering my wealth of knowledge about abuse.

It is my hope that my story will give some education to those who don’t quite understand emotional abuse, while offering some support to those who are living in it now. I’d also like to draw some reference to how my employment as an anger management counsellor has impacted my experience.

Falling For an Abuser

A little bit of background: I’m 27, a University Graduate with a Joint Honours Degree in Criminology and Women’s Studies. I’m a self-proclaimed feminist and a strong, independent woman. I am confident in myself. I am intelligent with a highly developed ability to critically analyse a situation. I’m funny, social, out-going and compassionate. However, despite all of these lovely attributes, I am not invincible. SURPRISE!

I met this fella in 2010. We started dating and I started driving past giant red-flags, and I mean GIANT. The relationship moved quickly. He asked me to move in with him after 3 months of our relationship. In the pit of my stomach I knew it was a bad idea, but I decided to go for it. We had already had about a dozen arguments, usually about something trivial. Arguments were vicious and tactics used against me included name calling, put downs, shaming and accusatory questions.

His cocaine problem (the one I thought I could help him with) became ever more prominent, as he would enter into a state of paranoid psychosis and search through my belongings and accuse me of infidelity, which he thought was occurring while he was IN THE NEXT ROOM. Even without the influence of cocaine, I would be accused of flirting with his friends — “I saw you touch his arm” — to having full blown affairs with them. Meanwhile, his relationships with other women were never (sarcasm) a cause for concern because I was always “crazy” to think that he’d be doing anything behind my back.

Crazy was a word I heard a lot. Insane was a word I heard a lot. Often times, if I was trying to manage my anger or speak to him in a productive manner, instead of letting my anger get the best of me, I’d be accused of being a “social worker” and using “techniques” on him. There was a period of time when he became addicted to a video game and withheld sex from me. When I brought it up, he’d say: “Well, look at you complaining about it. Why would I want to have sex with you like this? This isn’t attractive.” He used me for thousands of dollars and I had to threaten to take him to court to get it back after we broke up.

Leaving the Vicious Cycle

Alice Doesnt Live Here Anymore pic2Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974): A movie where emotional abuse is a central theme.

There’s a whole lot more to that story, but in all honesty, recalling details is still difficult for me. You’ll be happy to know that one day, while he was sleeping and after I had had enough, I put in our two-months notice with our landlord and began looking for a place. When he woke up, I told him I was moving out as soon as possible. I had to do a “midnight run” or else he would have manipulated me into staying in the relationship, saying the same old shit that I wasn’t “understanding enough”, “compassionate enough”, “patient enough”; that I was a “ball-buster” and over analysed situations because I work in social work.

Things worked out very well for me. I happened upon an amazing apartment and I’d be moving in within two weeks of the breakup. But then I took him back after hearing promises of change, and after a lot of self-blame on my end. Of course, the cycles continued and I left again.

He would show up at my house in the middle of the night, banging on my door. He would show up uninvited at bars I was at just to watch me, and would call me from a blocked number on the weekends. He moved in with someone (who probably has something he can use) three months after our breakup. I assumed that his psychotic stalking would stop, but it didn’t. It’s been 8 months since our breakup and he has already tried to sabotage my new relationship.

I’m Supposed to Be Stronger and Know Better

a woman under the influence movie sceneA scene from the movie A Woman Under the Influence (1974)

How does my job as an anger management impact this scenario? Well, throughout this emotionally abusive relationship, I would reflect on my own involvement in the fights we had. I would think to myself, I need to be better than this. I just need to communicate better. I should know better. I need to show more compassion to this man.

I’d search for reasons for why he’d behave this way. I’d analyse his childhood. I’d look into his family matters to get a better idea of why he was the way he was. (To be honest, his family was great and there was no obvious, or even subtle abuse. He came from a privileged home with two loving parents who were supportive, understanding and very nurturing).

I’d think to myself that there must be something I’m doing wrong. I’m pushing him to these points. I’m too controlling. I was reaching points of rage; I was throwing things across the room. I would scream. I would cry. I would threaten. The nastiest words came out of my mouth, and I would later feel incredibly ashamed and so guilty. I’d blame myself, over and over again for the arguments. My friends would suggest that he was manipulating me to feel this way, but there was no way that me… Lisa… an anger management counsellor with an education in women’s experience, could possibly be manipulated by this man.

I was in complete denial because I thought I should be stronger (and know better). I’d go to work and teach men how to express themselves assertively and help them to avoid points of destructive rage — the very same destructive rage I had experienced the night before. I’d advise my clients to leave abusive relationships that were landing them in jail. I’d leave a group session feeling even MORE guilty, and instead of thinking: “I have to leave this relationship,” I’d think to myself: “I have to manage my anger better.” I thought that because I had all the tools, I should be using them. And because I usually couldn’t (the triggers were too prominent and hurtful), I would enter a cycle of self-shame.

The Truth about Abuse

936full-breaking-the-waves-screenshotBreaking the Waves (1996): Another movie where the emotional abuse/manipulation of a woman is a central theme.

The thing about abuse is that it can get the best of us. It can maim the strongest of women and bring them to a point where every move they make is full of self-doubt; this is why we don’t leave sooner. We are often overly compassionate women whose strengths are exploited and used against us. Abusers can be very intelligent humans with a knack for  manipulation, or they’ve read a few books by Robert Greene. They can be very charming, handsome and knowledgeable. They create a sense of dependency in a relationship, saying things like: “No one is going to love you like I love you” (he said that). They make you feel safe and secure, take the rug out from under you, and are there to give you a helping hand to get back on your feet — only to whip the rug out from under your feet again, and again, and again.

Recovering from emotional abuse is a long, drawn out process — more so than I thought it would be. That relationship has instilled so much fear in me that my next relationships will be exactly the same. Anything that resembles a characteristic of my ex brings up a sense of alarm within me. I’m ready to fight or take flight when I shouldn’t.

It seems endless but it does get easier every day. I’m positive that what I went through gave me a wealth of knowledge and a sense of strength and confidence I never knew I possessed. I know that I can make it on my own. I know that I can make a hard decision, stick to it and still come out on top. I’m figuring out who I am, what I want, and what my boundaries are — and I’m worlds happier.

I sincerely hope that anyone and everyone reading this has learned something, and for those of you who are in emotionally abusive relationships (male or female), I hope that you’re aware that you’re not alone, you can get out, and the world is fucking beautiful without the wretched trying to bring you down.

Here are some links you might find helpful and please feel free to email me with any questions: Lisa.Mattina@gmail.com

Emotional and verbal abuse is an issue that’s very close and personal to me as I have gone through it myself before. I know first hand how much damage cruel words and demeaning tactics can be on a person’s integrity and self-worth. Sadly, when I heard about Lisa’s personal experiences, I didn’t feel surprised that one more woman in this world had her own story about abuse. It really can happen to anyone and self-blame is a huge reason why it’s so hard to leave. Thank you, Lisa for sharing your personal story with us. Please leave her your thoughts and encouragement! Thank you! :)


29 thoughts on “We’re supposed to be stronger (and know better)

  1. Great post! I am going to add it to my “Intriguing Posts I have Found” page. Let me know if you don’t want it there and I will remove it.
    Biggest problem I see is the old story – a manipulative person who you care for can get you to do some of the worst things. I have been in those relationships and it took many of them (and two marriages) for me to cry “stop” at myself and try to move on to something different. I don’t know if I have succeeded (if so, it is very recent), but I am trying and observant now.

    • It’s never too late to learn how to move on to something different. There’s still time to make things better, it’s in your hands and I’m glad you’re trying :)

      Thanks for adding this to your Intriguing Posts page! I know that both Lisa and I would appreciate that. I think it’s important to spread this message and give others encouragement to change their own similar situations!

  2. Extremely well done. Abuse in any form, emotional or physical all starts in the same place, all has its roots in the same place. Abusers share common themes among themselves. Those who are abused also share common themes, guilt being the largest.

    “if only….I were prettier, better, smarter……”
    “if only….I listened more, had sex more often, didn’t start arguments, made more money….”
    “if only….I didn’t talk back, didn’t run when he hit me, didn’t call the police when he beat me….”

    There is no excuse for abuse. None. The abuser will always blame the one they abuse. The abused will always accept the blame if they don’t run after the first time.

    • It’s such a slippery slope, right? You ignore the red flags at the beginning, you let things slide and somehow, months, years later you’re looking at yourself wondering how the hell you got to the extreme state you’re in. And maybe you “should’ve known better,” so you accept the blame, but damn, it is actually not that difficult to get to that terrible place. So many people go through that, it’s disturbing.

      Anyhow, thanks for your thoughts as always, Valentine :)

  3. Very powerful stuff. I think the most important thing anyone needs to remember is to not be afraid to share what happened to them. Part of the healing process for anything is to in a way accept what happened. If you can’t accept that it happened then it makes it a lot tougher to move on.

    It’s a shame so many abusive relationships exist, sometimes not even in these same terms. I think what happens is the person being abused lets it happen at first then feels guilty about standing up for themselves. It could get into their heads that they should have stopped it before it started. At least that’s what happens to me whenever I feel like I’m being mistreated.

    • I agree with what you said about accepting and sharing what happened as part of the healing process. Sharing it with even just one person who is close to you I think is healing, especially if there is a lot of shame, because usually you find that when you open up to someone about it, they help you realize you’re not alone and that you’re a lot less to blame for the situation than maybe you took on.

  4. sorry to hear what you had to go through Lisa. I think the true test of strength is one’s ability to get back up, and you have done that in spades. Keep those warm thoughts of your new confidence in mind and you will never be left in the cold. It takes allot of courage and compassion to share your story. I wish you all the best!

  5. Lisa is brave and wise to share her story. I’ve never been in an abusive relationship, but our son was. His girlfriend of two years was verbally abusive, and I believe he is still recovering from it today. He’s finally learning what a healthy relationship should be, but it is still hard for him to trust. Abuse comes in many forms. Thanks for posting this, Janice.

    • Sorry to hear about your son, Maddie. I know from experience that the best thing anyone could do for him is to let him know when he’s doing a good job at something or what a wonderful person he is. If he’s still recovering from being verbally abused, then he’s probably still not so confident of his own value. I think not being able to trust (when there isn’t reason to not trust) is at least partly linked to that, because when you don’t 100% believe in your own value, you don’t believe that another person will fully value you and mistreat you.

      Thanks for reading :)

  6. Powerful stuff. This reminds me of a lot (not of myself, though I do have a couple of anger management issues that still need some work) that I experienced with an ex-fiancee (minus the stalking). She even got physical, at times, then would tell me in the next instant she feared me hitting her (which is an odd thing to process while you’re being hit by the speaker) mostly because her father was abusive. Your rationalization sounds a lot like mine; I thought I had to be better, less shallow, less wanting, lower my expectations, so on and so forth. Never again.

    The lady I’m with now, though we have moments, is absolutely incredible. I hate to compare, but it’s like night and day, and the greatest part is, she’s not after anything, not using me for financial gain, doesn’t accuse me of anything (I used to often be accused of cheating, despite the fact that I’d likely cut off my right arm before I ever crossed that line) and is, in general, a great companion. Breath of fresh air.

    Everybody should read this and think about doing the tough thing when they find themselves in this sort of relationship. Nicely penned.

    • Sahm, I’m glad to hear your new relationship is much healthier than your last. Someone should write a piece about physical abuse (woman on man). I think it’s a real issue that needs some proper, honest, open discourse. Thanks for sharing and thanks for the words of support!

    • My pleasure, Artistic! Yes, it IS hard to leave a two year relationship, regardless. I consider myself kind of lucky to have the personality of a “fighter”. I’m lucky that I was raised to be assertive, because passive people end up in those relationships for MUCH longer.

  7. I’m glad I haven’t experienced this kind of abuse. Thanks for sharing this. Oh, by the way, I liken this to the Republican idea of rape…. there’s no rape if there’s no sign of force, like bruises. For some reason, I thought of that while reading your post.

    • Hey Ren, thanks for your comment. You bring up a good point. A lot of people don’t see verbal or emotional abuse as being such a serious thing compared to physical abuse. I remember one time when I told someone why I had broken up with my ex, they actually scoffed at my words “verbal abuse” and said, “I thought you were going to say he beat you or something.” Some people just don’t get it.

    • Hey Andy,
      You mean you never knew I went through emotional/verbal abuse? Yes. Not exactly the same as Lisa here, but many elements of her experience were the same. There’s many reasons why people treat others so badly. And some are probably cowards, insecure of themselves, and they take it out on others :(

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