Domestic Abuse Victims Think They Are The Abuser
Once upon a time, I didn't realize my ex was abusive. There were many reasons and excuses for deluding myself into thinking the problem was a relationship issue, and that we were equally at fault for the trouble in the marriage.
By the time I came to terms with the fact that my ex was abusing me, that he was an abuser, I also realized that I had abused him, too. I had called him names, allowed my temper to overcome my sense, even slapped his face once and thrown keys at his head hoping my aim would, for once, be perfect.
There are also many reasons and excuses I could give for my abusive behavior. I'm not going to do that though. Instead, I've decided that my actions are my own. No one can make me behave abusively. I've spent many days berating myself for my behavior, and decided, in the end, to forgive myself and learn and do everything I can to create a mentally and emotionally healthy life for myself.
Am I, a Domestic Abuse Victim, the Abuser?
The last thing I wanted to do was hurt another person in any way, but I knew that I had hurt my husband. I recognized that I could become enraged when I felt backed into a corner, and I wanted to know if I was imagining the corner.
Beverly Engel wrote The Emotionally Abusive Relationship: How to Stop Being Abused and how to Stop Abusing to help both victims and abusers change their behaviors. I rarely embodied the role of "the abuser" in my relationship, yet the fear that I was the one causing the problem prompted me to take a hard look at Ms. Engel's ideas about who could become abusive.
Indications That I May Be Abusive
Beverly Engel wrote "...abusive people tend to have certain characteristics that can predispose them to becoming abusive" and they are:
- You feel you must control others, the situation, et cetera,
- You blame other people for your problems,
- You find empathizing with other people is difficult or impossible,
- You feel possessiveness and/or jealous,
- You tend to be emotionally needy and/or have low self-esteem,
- You have poor impulse control,
- You fear being abandoned by those you love,
- You feel angry or suppress your anger,
- You stereotype or objectify others,
- You have high levels of stress and arousal.
On that list, I identified with numbers 5, 6, 7, 8 and 10. Low self-esteem resulted from being unable to trust my own judgment. My lack of impulse control while shopping caused me to visit the returns desk as often as the checkout lanes. I worried that my husband would abandon me, suppressed my anger, and, of course, felt extreme stress to the point of exhibiting most symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder.
I felt alarmed to find that half of the characteristics of an abuser described me! Immediately I embarked on a self-improvement strategy to address those issues. I set SMART goals, and over the course of just a few months, I actually reigned in my spending and made significant headway in learning to trust myself, manage my temper, and come to terms with the abandonment I felt as a child. The stress level, strangely enough, did not decrease no matter how I tried.
I knew I was becoming a better person. Unfortunately, the same old situations and arguments kept popping up. I excused myself from more conversations than I engaged in with my husband and the gulf between us widened.
The Other Side of Being an Abuser Is Being a Victim
One day, I picked up Ms. Engel's book again and found her list of "Personality Traits That Set One Up for Abuse." In my alarm (I was half an abuser for goodness sake!), I didn't pay close attention to that list because I'd convinced myself that I was responsible for the abuse.
Amazingly, the character traits Ms. Engel listed came eerily close to the issues I'd been working on the past few months. Come to find out, I may have set myself up for abuse because I had a tendency to:
- avoid confrontation at almost any cost (resulting in my suppressed anger)
- believe things are better than they are (it was actually better for me to be the abuser because I could eliminate the problem! Denial...)
- feel responsible for others (sacrificing my dreams for his career goals, lifestyle, etc.)
- blame yourself for relationship problems (all my fault!)
- be afraid of being alone (abandonment: how could I live without him?!)
- doubt your perceptions and intuitions (true - I wanted a protector in the beginning because I didn't trust myself anymore)
- make excuses for other people's behaviors (to the point of casting myself as abuser and him as victim)
- believe that love automatically makes you a better person (I hoped my love for him would make him want to be nicer to me)
There is no doubt in my mind that playing the role of victim in my marriage resulted in my abusive reactions. I also believe that admitting I was abusive set me on the road to eliminating my relationship-manufactured behaviors.
In my mind, my abusive behaviors were a false presentation of who I was. I had learned, created, and used those false behaviors as protection. When I eliminated my "protective shield" and revealed my true self again, I was able to see more clearly the solution to our relationship problems.
For me, solving the problem meant I had to leave the marriage. If I was the only one willing to change, then there would be no change for the two-way street called "our relationship".
Holly, K. (2012, January 9). Domestic Abuse Victims Think They Are The Abuser, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, July 23 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/verbalabuseinrelationships/2012/01/victims-think-they-may-be-the-abuser
Author: Kellie Jo Holly
Thank you so much for sharing that with us. I'm Emma-Marie, co-author of the Verbal Abuse In Relationships blog, and I want you to know that I can identify with a lot of what you're saying.
Firstly, though, your therapist is right -- this was not a healthy friendship and I am glad you don't have this person in your life anymore. It certainly doesn't sound like you imagined any of what happened, though it is common to feel this way. Despite writing this blog and having learned so much about abusive people, I still find myself questioning whether my ex-partner really abused me or whether I made it all up, even though it's there in black and white.
Walking away from your friendship with this girl must have taken considerable strength, so you should be proud of yourself for that. It's also great that you're seeing/were seeing a therapist who can help you work through some of these feelings. Abuse IS complicated, and it makes us feel wretched about ourselves even though we know that other person is to blame. It's also important to note that abuse is often learnt behavior -- perhaps this girl was abused herself going up so she projected this onto others. It doesn't excuse what she did, but there are always reasons why someone is abusive toward others. <a href="https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/verbalabuseinrelationships/2017/07/why-does-verbal-abuse-happen-part-one/" rel="noopener" target="_blank">This blog post</a> might help shed some light on the issue.
It stands to reason, then, that if we spend a considerable time with abusive people, we might pick up some of their traits too. This is normal, and it doesn't make you a bad person. My ex-boyfriend was very controlling, and as a result, I often catch myself needing more control in my current (non-abusive) relationship. What matters is that I catch myself acting a certain way or thinking something he would have thought, and recognizing that it isn't healthy or conducive to a happy relationship. It sounds like you have a lot of insight into what happened and a lot of empathy for yourself and others, so I don't think you can describe yourself as abusive.
Feeling angry at your abuser is a normal, human response. Of course, you want people to know how she made you suffer, and I cannot imagine how hard it is for you to see her preaching to others about the dangers of abuse when she is guilty of some appalling and frankly immoral behavior herself. What you've described is coercive control, which is actually illegal in the UK where I am from.
This is HER path though, and for all you know she has sought help and tried to change her ways. It will not serve you to get involved with her again, so I encourage you to find other ways to express your anger about what happened. I understand that you feel you need justice, and if you really feel that reporting her to the organization she works for is something you can handle, then no one can argue with your right to do that. Just be careful, and make sure you put your own recovery first. Good luck!
Check out these articles on the signs and symptoms of abuse: <a href="https://www.healthyplace.com/abuse/emotional-psychological-abuse/emotional-abuse-definitions-signs-symptoms-examples/" target="_blank" rel="noopener nofollow">Emotional Abuse: Definitions, Signs, Symptoms, Examples</a>
<a href="https://www.healthyplace.com/abuse/adult-physical-abuse/signs-of-physical-abuse-physically-abused-adults/" target="_blank" rel="noopener nofollow">Physical Abuse Signs and Symptoms</a>
Your comment touched me because it reminded me of my previous relationship -- the relationship that inspired me to write about verbal abuse in the first place. I remember the emotions you're describing so well: feeling as though I was in the wrong because my partner couldn't admit that he was abusing me, not knowing if I was the problem, feeling as though I was losing my mind. While I was with this man, I became the worst possible version of myself, but that was because his constant gaslighting and manipulating exhausted me and made me feel, well, crazy.
Your situation is particularly troubling because there are children involved, but that doesn't mean you should discount your own feelings about your husband's behavior -- it might not feel like it now, but you are a person who deserves to be treated with respect. You matter, regardless of what your husband says to make you feel otherwise. Please don't ignore your instincts.
Your phrasing makes me wonder, are these children from a previous relationship or are they children you had together? Because it sounds as though this man is dangerous. I wonder if you could ask your children how they feel about him.
What you're describing is classic emotional and verbal abuse, and there is every reason to suggest that his behavior might become physical. Please know that you have the right to stand up for yourself and your kids and that you're not being abusive by asserting yourself. He should respect your request for separation, just as he shouldn't force you to be intimate with him. It doesn't sound as though you are the abuser. It sounds like he is the one who's very much in control, and he's got you questioning your instincts as a way of keeping you under the thumb. His behavior is very much the problem here, and I fear a separation followed by him going to therapy is your best, and only, way forward.
As you mentioned being in abusive relationships before, you may want to check out one of my recent articles, <a href="https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/verbalabuseinrelationships/2017/08/verbal-abuse-why-me/" rel="noopener" target="_blank"><em>Easy Targets for Verbal Abuse: Why Me?</em></a> which explores the reasons some people are more likely to end up with abusive partners than others.
Good luck. And don't forget to check out our <a href="https://www.healthyplace.com/other-info/resources/mental-health-hotline-numbers-and-referral-resources/" target="_blank" rel="noopener nofollow">Resources and Hotlines</a> page for numbers you can call. There are professionals who can help you through your abusive relationship, whatever you decide to do.
Child can't stand him, my oldest son defends him because he plays video games and his relationship with his biological father is not good. My youngest likes him but is just a happy little girl. I can't get a good read on her because sometimes she seems to be avoiding him. She just suffered an almost life threatening illness and for the most part he has been good to her although still has his jealous moments when her recovery or just my desire to spend time with her. Yesterday he stated he was going to give me space and that he was going stop trying to pretend that we are a happily married couple. Later that night he was furious at me for forgetting to run an errand for him and because my daughter and I wanted to watch the only TV that gets local channels. He is never on this TV but he was last night knowing we were wanting to watch our shows. He was watching reruns of a show we just watched and we have 3 other TVs with streaming available on it. He "let" us have the TV but stormed about and we gave up even trying to watch it. He accused me of doing something again making once again questioning my sanity. After retracing my steps I realized once again I was being accused of something that never happened.
Today he is all sunshine and roses and wanting to plan a 2 week cruise vacation that we CANNOT afford for just us 2?!?!
I'm torn because of my kid's feelings. I also have up my car, I have a Master's degree and am working on getting a job with or without his consent, becoming more financially stable as well as getting my car since I sold mine. I will definitely look into the resources you have . I can't thank you enough. I hate the angry pets I have become in general. I definitely don't want to continue down this path.
I have moved out on my own, and am in a separation period with my husband, working on myself. Even through all of this, his abusive behaviors continue. It's been 2 weeks and I'm finding any hope to revive the marriage quickly slipping away. My solitude feels better than his company.
All the love in the world cannot fix an abusive relationship if one or both partners cannot express it in a healthy way. A lesson I've learned the hard way.
Such a relief to understand that he was doing exactly that - I still haven't worked out whether he knows it (lying) or not (delusions) but I've stopped trying to understand the WHY of his behaviour, I just treat it like bad weather now and if you can see it coming you don't question its right to happen, but you do shut the windows and bring the garden furniture inside when the storm's coming. ;)