Thanks to my beautiful and courageous friend, Britt Schaeffer, who's poem about her experience with an abusive spouse inspired me to write my own…
IT. WAS. ABUSE.
Just because I was naïve. Just because I said yes at the altar. Does not mean it was his right. Does not mean it was not abuse.
Just because you don't understand it. Just because you didn't witness it with your own two eyes. Does not mean I made it all up. Does not mean it was not abuse.
Just because he claims to know Jesus. Just because "but he seems like such a nice guy." Does not mean he wasn't capable. Does not mean it was not abuse.
Just because he would say that he loved me. Just because he didn't hit me often enough. Does not mean the threat wasn't as real, the damage wasn't as painful. Does not mean it was not abuse.
Just because I stood up for myself. Just because I refused to go down without a fight. Does not mean I brought it on myself. Does not mean it was not abuse.
Just because every time I tried to tell you how bad it really was you told me I just needed to suck it up and try harder. Just because you didn't believe my allegations. Does not mean it was all in my head. Does not mean it was not abuse.
Just because in my desperation I made some poor choices. Just because I tried to find alternative means to escape. Does not mean that I didn't give that relationship my all. Does not mean it was not abuse.
Just because I never could bring myself to leave. Just because, in the end, he was the one to leave me. Does not mean I wasn't trapped. Does not mean it was not abuse.
Just because I have a resilient spirit. Just because I have found joy and peace in my life at long last. Does not mean I wasn't abused. IT. WAS. ABUSE.
Although my poem was written with one specific person in mind (and if you are reading this, rest assured you are not that person), I know that many of our closest friends – friends that knew us both equally well – may have known our relationship was rocky, but had no inkling of what truly went on within the walls of our home. But how could they possibly know when, at the time, I didn't fully understand it myself?
For most of my marriage, I couldn't identify what was at the root of the constant turmoil. I knew our relationship wasn't normal or healthy, but I was hesitant to label it as abusive. At the time, to the best of my knowledge, abuse came in four distinct flavors: physical, sexual, emotional and neglect. What I was experiencing didn't fit nicely into any of these categories.
He did lay hands on me in anger on three occasions over the 14+ years we were together. But because the aggression was infrequent, there was no reason for me to claim a pattern of physical abuse. Additionally, I was so entangled in his manipulation tactics that I actually thought I was to blame for the attacks. I had argued with him, somehow antagonized him, which in turn provoked him to hurt me. I was ashamed, not abused.
There were never any incidents of forced intimacy, so I certainly couldn't profess to be sexually abused. Although, I could write for days on the ways he would use my sexual performance as a means to threaten or otherwise try to control me. That, my friends, is a whole different twisted ball of wax, but not abuse.
Thankfully, I had entered into our relationship with a solid sense of self-confidence and an unshakable assurance of my immense value in the eyes of God. Otherwise, the constant criticisms and belittling that began on our honeymoon and only grew in intensity over the duration of our marriage may have crushed me. But because his barbs never had their intended effect – he would shoot, but they would ricochet right off my protective armor of truth – I had no right to claim that the attacks were emotional abuse.
Of course, neglect was definitely not a fit as he would never leave me the hell alone. No matter how much I would beg him to give me some space, he would follow me around the house goading me until I snapped. When I would scream or slam doors he would tell me that I was out of control, that he was just trying to have a conversation, why couldn't I talk things out like a rational person? He tried his best to micromanage every facet of my life from my ability to work outside the home to every dollar I would spend, from my private interests to my personal faith in God. Of course, I bucked against this too. I was not a Stepford wife with a golden remote control, I was a real human with the ability to think for herself. Still, there was never a time when he didn't have me pinned tightly under his thumb. No, he certainly was not neglectful.
And so, it wasn't until I was free from my marriage and the stronghold he had on my daily life, that I began to grasp the level of psychological abuse I had endured. Notice all of the wrong-thinking mentioned in the examples above. The man hit me multiple times…that's abusive. He manipulated me sexually…that's abusive. He made a sport of trying to crush my spirit…that's abusive. He was relentlessly overbearing…that's abusive. But I was coerced into viewing it differently at the time.
All those years I had been brainwashed to believe that I was crazy, that my mind wasn't functioning properly, and that I was mentally unstable ("You're the one on 'crazy pills'," he would say). I was made to think that I was the toxic one in our relationship, that I was the one who was never satisfied. I was told over and over again that because I was not actively taking to heart the wisdom he was trying to instill in me through his countless lectures, that I was sabotaging our marriage. And by lectures, I mean lengthy diatribes where I was required to sit quietly and maintain proper eye-contact as he scolded me about my many shortcomings. These lectures were typically followed by his action plan for me to fix my inadequacies (note: He was never wrong, so it was always up to me to make the changes.)
Worse yet, he tried to convince me that God was displeased with me because I wasn't being a dutiful and obedient wife. It is true that I would not blindly follow my husband's orders: not out of obstinance (I truly desired to be respectful to his wishes) but because he regularly did and said things that blatantly contradicted Biblical teaching. He would claim I was a traitor because I questioned some of his decisions and his decision-making processes. I was vilified because I didn't stand united with him as he "disciplined" our children in excessively cruel ways. He often told me that he had been gifted with Godly wisdom, so it wasn't necessary for his dictates to align with the Bible because both were directly from God.
Turns out, I wasn't the crazy one after all.
Since our divorce, my health has notably improved and I have been able to ween completely off of two prescription medications I had been on for years: one an anti-depressant and the other a medication to control irregular heart palpitations. Not surprisingly, by eliminating the main stressor in my life, my physiological symptoms were also eliminated. My children have also thrived since the divorce. Both their attitudes and school performances have improved. They are no longer afraid to be imperfect because, for the first times in their lives, they are able to experience grace in their own home. Under my roof, they are allowed to follow their natural bent, not conform to their father's every imposed choice for their lives. Where there used to be fear, there is now freedom. Where there used to be trepidation, there is now joy. The kids and I are finally able to go about our lives without having to constantly walk on eggshells around the Narcissist. In many ways, it's like we have been born again.
To read more about my experience being married to a person with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, see my blog series titled The Subtle Slave, or click here.
P.S. If someone you know tries to confide in you that they are being abused, don't write them off as being overly-dramatic. Just because it may be incomprehensible to you, does not mean it's not happening. Listen. Love. Support.
For more information on how to deal with someone with NPD, check out the following resources:
Flourish After Emotional Abuse by a Narcissist: A Healing Guide to Transformation and Empowerment
Becoming the Narcissist's Nightmare: How to De-Value and Discard the Narcissist While Supplying Yourself
Narcissistic Abuse: A to Z Narcissism and Narcissistic Personality Disorder