I have written several blog posts about my marriage and how things went downhill as my husband descended into controlling, criticizing, belittling emotional abuse and on a several occasions physical abuse. (Links at end of post.) I sincerely believe that his changes were due to undiagnosed diabetes resulting in extremely high blood sugars, mini strokes and one big stroke, all of which were documented in his health records.
He died in 2009 of heart failure and apologized to me on his deathbed. I of course forgave him. Little did I know how his long period of emotional abuse had affected me. Soon I began to be angry with him as memories came back, mercifully a little at a time. Many of the things he had said and done were compartmentalized in my brain to be dealt with later. Later has now officially come.
In high school when we met, I was intelligent, confident to some degree, but felt geeky and chubby. Yet he was my first date and only high school sweetheart. Four years after high school and his earning a Bachelor’s Degree, we moved to New Orleans for his Masters and then Doctorate.
After about the first four years of our marriage he started changing. The pressure and tension built up in him and on me. Over the next 33 years I developed coping mechanisms to help protect myself and cope with my crumbling life.
I am now learning to overcome these no longer needed behaviors to be more healthy mentally and emotionally. I am sharing them here to hopefully help someone who sees my behaviors in themselves. Maybe they may realize how their lives have been affected by abuse and get help.
1. I apologize unnecessarily. Apologizing can be a placating behavior. Hopefully it puts the one apologizing in a safer position of submission. It gives the one being apologized to, the position of dominance. After an initial period of guilt and failure, I realized he was not always right!
After this awakening I still thought that was the best way to preserve peace in our household was to take the blame. I was wrong.
When one partner has absolute power over the other partner, it becomes a heady position for the abuser. The abused develops an increasingly submissive role which may affect them the rest of their lives even outside of the relationship.
Advice: Be aware of the frequency and situations when you apologize. Work on stopping unnecessary apologies. Stop abusing yourself if your abuser is no longer there to abuse you.
2. I “fold” mentally sometimes when confronted by a strong personality, especially male salesmen, or some doctors. I nod and think that I understood everything but when I try to remember what was said, I forget or get instructions mixed up.
This was a coping mechanism to just shut my mind off about how or why I did something when I was afraid he would be mad. It was a subconscious behavior to protect me from saying something else that might upset him. At times I just thought I was so stupid and I couldn’t tell him what he or I had said just minutes before.
If it gave him power and made him feel more in control, then maybe he wouldn’t hound me about whatever I had done wrong. Maybe not the best plan, because it caused him to get frustrated and my self esteem to decline. But I had no control over it. (I also was working 12 hour night shifts as a nurse. I know my Circadian Rhythm was quite messed up which can affect many mental faculties.)
Advice: A strange but really effective way to overcome being intimidated, especially when there really isn’t any intimidation intended, is the Power Pose or Wonder Woman Pose. https://www.bustle.com/articles/64462-how-the-wonder-woman-power-pose-might-actually-help-you-get-ahead-at-work.)
I actually was amazed when I tried it before the person I always felt inferior to, came into the room. I stood in the Wonder Woman pose and said to myself, “I am strong, I have nothing to fear. She is no better than I am.” I was appalled!!! It worked! We conversed like the two intelligent adults, we were!
3. I still try to give away my power where friends are concerned. Sometimes if a dear friend does something that hurts my feelings, I have trouble telling them. This behavior improved when my friend of over thirteen years told me she WANTED me to tell her if she hurt my feelings or did something that bothered me. She told me that she VALUED MY OPINION!
Can you imagine how amazing that felt!! She wanted me to tell her what I wanted to do; where I wanted to go!! For so long I gave away my power to avoid arguments. If he asked where I wanted to eat, and I suggested a place, he always had a reason for not wanting to go there or the next two or three places, until I just went along with whatever he wanted to do. I am learning, thanks to my friend, that it is okay to say that I don’t want to go somewhere or do something.
Advice: Decide on those things that are important to you. If you two can’t decide then agree to go separately or find a place you both like. Don’t just give up every time, which leads to my next behavior.
4. I still second guess myself and question my decisions or memories sometimes. Everyone deserves to be allowed to make mistakes without fear of reprisal, insults, and belittling. Mistakes can be learning experiences. But because I had a fear of failing or making bad decisions, I just let my husband make the big ones. After all he was so intelligent! Well, truth be told I was intelligent too. But I forgot that. I became a second class resident in my own home.
Advice: Take responsibility for your actions, your opinions, your choices, your life! Do not give away your power over your life. That is yours to keep! If you are afraid of ruining your life, then you may be aware that you are on the wrong path. Be aware of your self image. Has your self view declined into self hate? Make changes or get help to bolster your self esteem and confidence. Make good friends who truly see what a wonderful person you are. Focus on your accomplishments!
5. I still carry more guilt than I should for our marriage and the way it turned out. I sometimes think, “What if I had been stronger?” “What if I had left him when he refused to get counseling?” What if, what if, what if? The past is in the past.
I am now nine years away from his death. I remind myself that I was a victim. I remind myself that I did the best that I knew how to do. I grew up in a home where my parents seldom argued. I had little or no preparation or experience on how to disagree strongly and healthily. I loved my husband and knew he was sick. I could not prevent his death because his eating habits were his and he did not take well to reminding or nagging. I was not responsible for his behavior. I was responsible for mine.
Advice: Talk with your true friends who love you or a counselor who can help you see things realistically. Stop beating yourself up over the past. You can make a new life and future given some help and some time. Stop the guilt train!
One last statement. I thought I could just tell him that I forgave him on his deathbed. I did to some small degree. But how can you truly forgive someone, (not forget) until you have cut the ties that bind you to those behaviors, memories and the pain until you see them, understand them and overcome them? It takes time, perseverance, self love and self compassion, understanding and strength.