Leaving The Abusive Relationship

Leaving the Abusive Relationship

Part 1 of 4: I Didn’t Know That I Didn’t Know


By Susan J. Elliott, J.D., M.Ed.

Copyright 2008-2017 All rights reserved


Abuse can be physical, mental, emotional, verbal and sexual. It can be but doesn’t have to be all 5. Just because someone isn’t hitting you doesn’t mean they are not abusive. Name calling is abusive, cheating is abusive. Feeling as if you’re walking on eggshells is abusive. Being put in no-win situations is abusive.

If you know someone in an abusive situation, it is imperative that you get them to understand all the things they might not know. I lost friends as a DV victim. I had people who truly cared but then were so put off when I went back.

What they didn’t know was what to tell me. These are all the things I needed to be told. Some are quite rudimentary and you would think a smart person like me would know them, but I didn’t. And chances are, if you are or know someone who is a DV victim, they don’t know them either.

I am a pretty smart person. Fairly high IQ, well-educated and born and raised in New York City. Street smart and book smart, yet I didn’t know that being a DV victim was not my fault or that it didn’t have to be that way. Not knowing is not stupidity. It’s just not knowing. Here are things to tell someone you love who might be in an abusive relationship. Abuse of any kind – physical, mental, verbal etc.

As I wrote about in a previous post, I was in abusive relationships from the time I was 13 until I was 30. That’s a long 17 years.

My first boyfriend, in Holy Cross school, Bronx, New York was abusive.  Catholic school, 8th grade, abusive boyfriend.

I went to Holy Cross from 1st to 8th grade. I was friends with all the smart boys since 1st grade.

I have touched base with a few of the good, smart guys over the years. Some have said they had crushes on e hey knew, instinctively, that I wasn’t interested.  No, I wanted the bad, dumb boys, the abusive boy.  And boy did I get one.  A little punk moron. The other boys were so much better, smarter, nicer.  What. the. hell.

I immediately gravitated, from my first junior high boyfriend, to abusive boys then men (although I shudder to label an abusive male a “man” since he is nothing of the kind. Coward is more like it.) I have come to feel, over the years, that any man who hits a woman or threatens a woman or even pretends to threaten…is not a man. Most of my relationships were physically abusive but all of them had verbal components of criticism, scapegoating and control. I remember my first boyfriend, in 8th grade, criticizing what I wore. The second boyfriend made up names and spread them around for others to call me. It was humiliating and awful. Both were physically abusive after the psychological tear-down was complete.

There were several factors that led to me being a domestic violence victim and I am going to write a series of articles on these factors. This is the first installment.

1. I didn’t know that I didn’t know.
2. My lack of self-esteem.
3. My lack of boundaries.
4. Abuse was a COMFORT ZONE.
5. Even if none of 1-4 was true, I had NO IDEA what to do about it and no belief in myself that I COULD do it.

This article covers point 1. All the things I didn’t know. If you know someone in an abusive relationship, make sure they KNOW these things. They probably don’t. But it’s not their fault. Just gently let them know.

What I didn’t know:

  1. I didn’t know that I didn’t know that someone should not put hands on you. No matter what.

When I was 30, my therapist said to me, “No one has the right to put their hands on you no matter what you do or do not do.”

This was NEWS to me. Absolutely news to me. I had NO idea. Not only had no one ever told me this but everyone in my life acted EXACTLY the opposite.

2. I didn’t know that I didn’t know that everyone is responsible for his or her own behavior.

Abusers told me, and I believed them, that it was my fault. No matter what THEY did to me, it was my fault. I had no idea that they and they alone were responsible for what THEY did. I had been raised in an abusive environment and was told that I made my mother crazy enough to beat the crap out of me. Even my siblings told me, “If only you kept your mouth shut…” Even when I was in therapy in my 30s, I attempted to confront my mother about it and her answer was “You were not the easiest kid to raise.”

3. I didn’t know that I didn’t know that there is, and never will be, a secret formula to make it stop.

I was convinced there was some behavior that I was engaging in that was causing it and therefore some behavior I could engage in to make it stop. Abuse victims tend not to question what the abuser is doing. Abuse victims think that it will stop if they find the magic formula to make the abuser happy. You think IF ONLY you were less or more or taller or shorter or older or younger or cleaner or neater or thrifty or friendly or not shy or want so much or expect so much or look in the direction of others or not do this or more do more of that or cranky when it’s raining or moody or perturbed or WHATEVER excuse explains why you are abused or criticized or not cared about (and why it’s all your fault!)

4. I didn’t know that I didn’t know that it would never stop, only get worse.

I left when the abuse began to trickle down to my kids and my dog. One night he came home after midnight and, finding a toy on the otherwise spotless floor of the playroom, marched the kids ages 5 and 4 down to pick it up. The second night he had to hunt in the couch cushions to find something out of place and he marched upstairs to get the kids again. I threw myself in front of their bedroom door before he had the chance to wake them up and said he was NOT waking those children up again. He pushed me out of the way and then began to drag me down the stairs. I grabbed onto the banister knowing he was going to beat the crap out of me when we got downstairs. He pulled me away with such force, I swung out and crashed right into the newel post and my eye began to swell immediately. Hearing my yelps, my dog attacked my husband. Then he wrapped his belt around the dog’s neck and dragged him down the stairs. The dog fled to the corner and I threw myself in front of him to protect him. My husband finally stopped when my eye had swelled so badly I couldn’t even see out of it. My job sent me to the ER the next day where the ER doctor gave me the 3rd degree on my eye, not believing a fall down the stairs caused it to swell and shut as it had. If it happened now, he would be reporting it to the police but there was no such requirement back then.

The attacks on the kids and the dog and the severity of my injury are what led me to finally leave (a few days later).  It had come a long way from the occasional smack or shove that had precipitated this. I tell DV victims all the time that it will only get worse.

5. I didn’t know that I didn’t know that “abusers remorse” is an act and temporary.

Every abuser goes through the “I’m sorry…” and then acts as if it will never happen again. Every DV victim falls for the pitiful looks and the tears that are almost sure to fall. We delight in the honeymoon period when “making up” is what they seem bent on doing and we believe the fantasy that all will be good from here on in.  If abusers never “behaved” then abusive relationships wouldn’t last.  They do last. They turn on the charm just when we’re emotionally exhausted and have had enough.  So we stay.  Staying is easier than going…and look at them! They’re being sweet.

I recently saw an episode of “Night Watch” where a DV victim said, “He said he would change, he WAS changing, then he assaulted me worse than before.”  This is such a typical representation of how it goes.  They swear they will change.  Everything calms down.  You start to believe in it.  He really IS changing!  Then one day it all goes haywire once again.  Usually worse than before.  And many times they will say, “I was working on things!  I was changing!  But then you….”   You may be tempted to believe it.  It was your fault that abuse occurred again. Don’t believe it.  Everyone is responsible for their own behavior and no one has the right to put his or her hands on you.  NO ONE for ANY reason.

Abusive relationships have patterns and no one would stay past the first abusive episode if they didn’t. No one is “all bad” and the abuser does have traits we fell in love with. They tend to fly those adorable flags during the honeymoon period. We tend to remember what it is about them that we love. We separate this loving being from the abusive monster.  But they are one and the same person and abuse is unacceptable, no matter how awesome the abuser can be when not abusing. The fact that they abuse makes them an unacceptable partner. The adorable scamp persona, the honeymoon periods and “abusers remorse” are all temporary and the horrible abuse will never stop. The only answer is to get out and stay out.

6. I didn’t know that I didn’t know that there was no way to win.

The mental twisting in every abusive relationship results in no way to win.  You think there is; you try, but the problem is that there’s not and you’re looking at a psychotic problem, hatched by a psycho, with your rational mind. That is your first mistake. I used to spend HOURS each day wondering what I could be, say, do that would make it better. Learn to cook, wear dresses, take the kids out, leave the kids in, clean more, buy him more electronics, etc. etc. etc. In fact, once he was raging and I had just bought him a brand-new VCR when they first came out (and cost hundreds of dollars). That night he brought it back to the store and came home to announce I could not BUY him. He wanted to rage. That is what he wanted to do. If he wasn’t in the mood for my “solutions” he either ignored or canceled them.

7. I didn’t know that I didn’t know that every abuser needs a scapegoat

Every narcissist and control freak needs their scapegoat. This goes beyond the “no way to win.” It takes it a step further.  No matter what happens – whether you had a hand in it or not, it’s your fault. There is always something upsetting/frustrating that happened and the abuser needs someone to blame and you’re it, and you’re always it, no matter how far removed you are or how little you had to do with whatever happened that caused the abuser to be angry, hurt, upset or whatever.  According to the abuser, it’s your fault.  It took me years to figure out that had I been that omnipotent, I would have had control over the abuser’s behavior and I did not.

8. I didn’t know that I didn’t know that I could be treated any better

I honestly believed that all relationships caused pain and that there wasn’t any truly loving behavior in the world. Not in my world anyway. When I first left my husband and dated men who never called me a name or hit me, I assumed it was a “yet” situation. When I finally developed boundaries and standards, I knew that no one would put their hands on me again or call me a name. Since I left my first husband decades ago no one has called me a name or put their hands on me. I don’t allow it and won’t allow it. It doesn’t happen in my world.

9. I didn’t know that I didn’t know that love is an action.

It matters NOT what you say but what you do. In every relationship I was in with abusive people, they swore up and down that they loved me. If you love someone you do not hit them. If you love someone you do not call them names. If you love someone you do not belittle them. If you love someone you do not put them in no-win situations. If you love someone you don’t live to torture them.

If you or someone you know is in an abusive situation, take these things to heart and know that every one is true.
 to be continued

FOR HELP:
When in a domestically abusive situation use precautions and assume anyone has the propensity for violence. Call the NATIONAL ABUSE HOTLINE. In the US it is 800-799-SAFE please memorize this number. In the UK it is 0808 2000 247.  They will help you develop a safety plan to leave.


Copyright 2007-2017 Susan J. Elliott, J.D., M.Ed.
All Rights Reserved No Duplication is Allowed Without Explicit Permission of the Author

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