Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Insidious Nature of DV

Domestic Violence (DV) is not typically restricted to one area of abuse. In most cases, the abuse invades multiple areas of the relationship. Emotional abuse is pervasive all the way through, but is almost always accompanied by verbal, physical, sexual, financial, spiritual or other types of abuse. In my experience, I didn't even realize that what I was going through was abuse for many years. Emotional abuse is insidious. It doesn't show as abuse immediately, in fact, it hides very well... sometimes making you feel loved because of their jealousy, wanted because of the time they always want to spend with you, crazy because your perceptions are so different from theirs, lost because you aren't sure if you're seeing what you're seeing.

The truth is that if they hit you the very first time, if they beat you to a pulp or leave bruises, knock you unconscious or throw you down the stairs... that very first time they abused you, you would walk away, you would press charges. The reality is that almost no relational abuser starts at that place. From the first conversation, from the beginning of the relationship, they are manipulating, twisting, lying, emotionally changing things to suit their perspective, their reality.  So, by the time they do something blatantly abusive, you have reduced self-esteem, and self-confidence so you question yourself and what is happening.

I am beginning to realize that there was sexual abuse throughout my marriage. I didn't recognize it, still struggle with the idea. I think that can be normal with almost any marriage where sexual abuse is happening, sex is supposed to happen within a marriage, it`s supposed to be a natural expression of love between partners. My ex was not violent in his sexual experiences with me, but he used it. If I turned down his advances, I would pay for it. He would withhold sex from me, he would turn down my advances. He would complain that he didn't get it often enough (sometimes in public!), that I didn't initiate it often enough and then deny me when I did try to initiate sex, claiming I wasn't obvious enough, that I didn't say the right words, so he didn't know what I wanted. It came to a point that I would give him what he wanted, when he wanted it as often as possible just to keep the peace. There were times when I didn't want sex and gave in because it was my responsibility, because I didn't want the drama that followed if I denied him, if I said no, it could, and often was, a month or more before he approached me again... all the while complaining that I wasn't giving enough.That is sexual abuse. It is not always a violent encounter, not always non-consensual sex.  

Porn can be sexual abuse and very often leads to sexual, verbal and emotional abuse, but that is a topic for another time.

The very strange, and often difficult part to grasp, about sexual abuse is that it can make the victim feel more loved, more attached to their abuser. This is not always the case, and especially not in the case where the sex becomes violent more often than not, but when no is not accepted as an answer it can feed a need to be desired.

There were times when my ex would comment how he wished my step-dad was still alive so he could harm him, when he would wish he knew some of my other exes who had abused me, where he wished I had lived a different life so I could have come to him unharmed, willing/able to do what he wanted me to do. This was designed to make me feel loved and protected, but also had the opposite effect of making me feel like damaged goods, like I wasn't good enough for him, like I was lacking in an important or significant area.

Another part of the insidious abuse I experienced was the frequency, after I began seeing the abusive behaviour with which he accused me of being "over-reactive" to things as a result of my sister's murder, and because of the abuse in my past. In fact, it got to the point where we could not discuss our separation, our parenting plan or any other aspect of us being apart without him bringing up my sister. While in mediation he brought it up in every meeting, finally blurting out some of the details of her death with crudeness just to make his point and to hurt me.

It is natural for someone who loves you to wish that they could have protected you from past harms, that they could do something about or to those who have hurt you in the past and to be sorry for you that you experienced such things, but to harp on it, to bring it up in intimate moments or disagreements is only abusive. We all have baggage, we all have hurts that we bring to a relationship, they should not be used to bring further harm or injury to our hearts.

Insidious abuse is not only difficult for the victim to see and realize, but once they do, once the abuse begins to escalate more and more so the abuse becomes apparent to them, it is still hard to walk away because it is insidious. When I left, I had people tell me that "everybody" acts that way sometimes, you just have to work through it, people told me they felt he had changed and I should give him another chance. People asked if I had gone to the police, but what was I to tell the police? He never left bruises, he never threatened our lives, he never escalated to the point where there was blatant, violent threats or actions... but he was escalating. Insidious abuse is even harder for your support team to see, he often has seemingly reasonable justifications for specific behaviours and the pattern is usually hidden from the outside world.. 

It is of the utmost importance to reach out to someone who knows abuse for support during the insidious period of abuse. When you begin to realize it, when you begin to see it, find someone who knows what they are talking about. If they feel what is happening is not abusive, they'll tell you so, but better it come from an "expert" than it come from someone who has never lived it, never studied it, never worked with it.

If you want to know some of the signs and symptoms of abuse, check out the webpage at the WHE Network.  There are some excellent articles there regarding the signs of an abuser. Dr. Irene is another excellent webpage and your local women's shelter (even if you are a man, they will help you find resources!) are great resources (My home city, Calgary, has 3 - Calgary Women's Emergency Shelter, Sonshine and the YWCA. Each offers counseling as well as an emergency shelter).

I'm still learning on this walk. I'm still recognizing the signs and as I continue to heal, I begin to dream. In my dreams I see things I had forgotten, things I had ignored or accepted as normal. There is very little that is "normal" in an abusive relationship. Everything is affected by the abuse, even the good times. In the good times you enjoy them to the fullest because you never know when the other shoe will drop. In the bad times you are constantly on edge, not knowing how far it will go this time, or when it will suddenly end and throw you into a "good time" where you have to pretend everything is okay, like nothing happened yesterday or even a few minutes ago.

I am not alone in this dance. I am only alone when I refuse to speak, when I stay silent. There are many on this path, there are many who are suffering in silence. Only when they hear the words of those who choose to say "No More" will they be able to take that step of freedom, to begin their dance out of abuse. Let us all stand up to say "No More"!

To those who are blessed to live free of abuse, to those who are blessed to be walking out of it, to those who have left it behind and to those still living in it, I challenge you to stand up for the weaker ones. Stop judging those who stay, stop being silent. Begin to speak out, let them know that this behaviour will no longer be tolerated, that there is a way out and that no matter their choice - to stay or to go - you will be by their side. Be aware of the resources in your community, know where to find them, know when to reach out for them on behalf of a friend or yourself.

Please join me in the dance to freedom!

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