Abusive Relationships: Devil You Know vs. The Devil You Don’t
In abusive relationships, the devil you know seems better than the devil you don't. We go back and forth over leaving our abusive mate, wobbling between fear of them and fear of the unknown. It's a tricky balancing act, especially when our partner seems to know just when to put on their nice mask. The sweet phases of an abusive relationship add to the confusion and indecision about just what kind of devil we know.
What kind of devil can be so sweet one minute and so nasty the next? And why can they act kind for long stretches and then turn back into monsters over meaningless situations or words? Why do they hurt us? Why do we stay? Will this relationship hurt the children? Can this relationship last? Should I stay to see if it gets better? Should I run and not look back?
Unfortunately, I am incapable of giving you those answers. And honestly, the longer you take contemplating what those answers could be, the longer you'll be stuck with the devil you know.
It is natural for our brain to contemplate why the abuser is either nice or mean. Our brain likes comparisons. It likes weighing two things against one another, making a choice and learning from that decision. But don't let your brain fool you into thinking the abusive person is part nice and part mean. Don't allow you brain to divide the behaviors because they're both part of the same devil; the flip-flopping, sour then sweet abuser is only one person. The idea that such a monster could hold true kindness is laughable when you think about it.
The Devil You Know
Take 90 seconds and watch the trailer for Maleficent. Pay attention to Maleficent's beauty, her strength, her confidence ... and her wicked, wicked smile. Angelina Jolie plays the part so well I felt ice daggers piercing my heart...so much beauty hiding the ability to produce so much pain.
That 90 second video sums up the devil you know. In the trailer, we see about two seconds of Maleficent seeming innocent, even sad perhaps. But when it comes to your abuser, the innocence, sweetness and caring is the mask. Underneath every smile and soft word lies the venom of a cobra. Your partner CAN be so sweet. They can woo you back time after time. But the sweetness does not give evidence to a dual personality or even a mental illness (about 10% of abusers have those, the same rate as the general population).
No, your special breed of devil only pretends to be loving. At least Maleficent removes her mask - we can see her for the wicked person she is. Your abuser offers no such honesty.
Your abusive partner will lie to you when there's no reason to lie. They will give you the moon and then take it back as punishment, all the while believing the moon is theirs to give. The abuser kisses like a vampire, one second so deliciously your legs waver unsteadily, the next second as vicious a bite as you've ever known. You know this devil. It is not angelic and then evil. This devil is evil dressed in angel's garb.
The Devil You Don't
The devil you do not know remains unknowable until you step into it. Leaving abuse behind offers the sweet mystery of life and broadens your mind and reopens your heart even if fear remains. You will find the space to breathe, to think, to decide and to do. No one tells you not to do anything. No one tells you what to do.
The freedom you'll feel is tempered by great responsibility. You may have children to protect and teach. You might need to take a job for the first time in your life. Or you may need to live on your own, alone, without feeling lonely and empty inside. It is your responsibility to take care of you, and you will finally understand why taking care of yourself first is not selfish.
You will discover the devil you didn't know is you. The unknowable devil that filled you with dread is only you. In the abuse, you did not grasp how strong you are or how quickly you can rebound from failure or pain.
It is scary and exhilarating to get to know yourself again. One moment you feel tiny like a speck of dirt batted about by a breeze, and the next moment you feel happy to be like a mighty boulder rolling down a hill - unstoppable and unafraid.
In reality, you, the devil you didn't know, is both a speck of dirt and a boulder. You are both courageous and afraid. You are strong and weak, happy and sad, free and burdened. But this is okay. YOU are capable of living on the continuum between any opposites. YOU are able to re-balance yourself as needed. It is okay to feel how you feel.
It is okay to be who you are.
Please, be who you are.
Thank you for helping me to feel like the mighty boulder, unstoppable and brave. I appreciate the platform HealthyPlace.com has given me, yet it is time for the next phase of my journey to begin. This is my last post for HealthyPlace.com, but not the end of my advocacy for abuse survivors. I'll be here, on the web, all the time.
My website: Verbal Abuse Journals
Facebook: Verbal Abuse Journals
Holly, K. (2014, February 3). Abusive Relationships: Devil You Know vs. The Devil You Don’t, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, September 23 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/verbalabuseinrelationships/2014/02/abuse-relationships-devil-know
Author: Kellie Jo Holly
I'm kind of freaking out and will probably have to leave my church because our denomination doesn't support divorce for any reason but I can't live like this for another 15 years and I doubt he can change. I'm so sad and so scared.