Emotional abuse is silent and unseen.
There’s no visible scars or bruising because the pain is all inside you. It is no less painful because it is invisible. It happens behind closed doors, in private with few witnesses.
For me, it all began about 35 years ago, a decade into my marriage, and then went on for over a decade before he finally left. But what he left behind was someone in emotional shreds – me. It has only been very recently I could write about it.
For the last ten years of my marriage I was emotionally abused. The term was hardly common 35 years ago. But many things about the treatment of women were not important those many years ago.
I didn’t know it was emotional abuse. All I knew was that I was slowly starving to death for lack of warmth, consideration and respect.
It’s insidious. Creeps up on you as a person. I made excuses because in the beginning the unsaid is that it was all my fault, whatever is wrong with us, this marriage, was because of me.
There were many other factors in the demise of my marriage, massive deception for one, but it was the effects of the abuse that lingered the longest. Long after the papers were signed, long after he really disappeared from our lives I was still trying to piece back together a psyche that had been ripped to shreds.
In the beginning, for the first decade of marriage, family life had gone relatively well but for the last decade of our marriage life spiralled out of control. Slowly at first and then the vortex tightened, whirling madly.
Finding a beginning is almost next to impossible. We argued very little, usually finding a solution before anything escalated. Outwardly for those first years, it was an idyllic family, the envy of the community.
Emotional abuse in my situation had its inception with ‘looks’. We all look at our partners with affection most of the time. Anger might enter into with an argument but for the most part there’s a warmth there in the eyes.
That very first clue of emotional abuse is the look of revulsion that clouded his face most of the time when he looked at me. Disgust which I translated to appearance.
I was in my early 40’s and there was the odd comment about how I was looking ‘older’ and that was an embarrassment to him. When I look at pictures of that time I cannot believe what I see. I know it was not what I saw in the mirror back then but now I know why I never smiled in those pictures.
Alone is the single feeling that comes to mind in those early days of abuse. I felt alone and isolated. I was married yet felt so alone. That is one of the very first signs of emotional abuse, that feeling of isolation.
You start second guessing yourself. What did I do was the thought that kept creeping into my head. But that is how abuse works. They set up a state of disequilibrium in the marriage. Nothing felt safe and secure in my mind and given the way he looked at me, it had to be all my fault.
I spent several years trying too hard to make him like me again. I gave away all my personal power. All I wanted was what I had before the abuse started. I didn’t know that what I had was a sham. That knowledge would come later that our marriage was nothing more than one massive deception.
It wasn’t long before the criticisms started, always couched with the proviso, “This is for your own good.” The unsaid message was, “I am above you.”
Then it would be this barrage of things wrong with me. It was a piece by piece pillaging of my character. Cleverly – always done in private so I had nowhere to turn. Clever because the privacy meant he held all the power.
However, the smirks follow you everywhere. I’d catch a glance over my shoulder at social gatherings and he’d be smirking at me, like he knew and I didn’t. He was right on that one and it would be a few more years before I knew the secrets.
About this time he also started isolating me from our friends with sly asides to them, “Oh you don’t really know her, she isn’t who you think she is.” The abuser uses Isolation as the key to their control over the abused.
So much of what he was saying to us as a family had this edge, this anger, always implying that whatever was making him angry was our fault.
We doubled down as a family and tried to help him, thinking what he wanted was to get over this anger, not get out of the family. We only realized much later that leaving us was the goal.
I was surviving in isolation out on an emotional limb shrivelled into my own life. Deep inside I vowed to protect what was left of me-no matter what he did.
ABOUT LINDA SIMPSON
I take strength from your calm, your honesty, and the hope you give me for my future.” Cheryl
Linda is a fresh voice in the divorce advice world. She offers a pragmatic, common sense approach to life after divorce issues based on over twenty years surviving and thriving following a very traumatic divorce.
As a single parent, her sons are an enormous source of joy in her life. She is a loving mother and grandmother to four delightful grandchildren.
She holds a degree from the University of Waterloo with concentrations in sociology and philosophy and guidance counselling certification from Queen’s University.
She is an accredited trainer for The Peace Education Foundation, a leader in conflict resolution training. The institute is ‘dedicated to educating children and adults in the dynamics of conflict resolution and promoting peacemaking skills in home, schools, and community.’
In a long and successful teaching career, she also served as a counsellor and workshop facilitator for SEL (social emotional learning) programming and The Peace Education Foundation throughout her school and school district and was a frequent conference presenter for SUNY Potsdam Faculty of Education USA.
She writes for The Divorce Magazine UK and her blog is seen regularly on Huffington Post Canada where the focus is life after divorce and parenting issues.
She is a writer and poet and is presently at work on a book based on her divorce experience.