Here’s the short version:
- Tell someone what is going on. A friend, a counselor, a pastor, a coworker, a teacher, a family member. (For obvious reasons, I don’t recommend telling anyone who is a “mutual” friend.)
- No matter how embarrassing you think it is, you need the perspective. Your AP has likely been working very hard to disconnect you from reality, and someone outside of the situation is often able to see it better than you.
- Resist her appeals to privacy. What goes on in your home or your relationship is “nobody else’s business,” right? In a normal relationship, yes. In an abusive one, no. Silence is the abuser’s best friend, never the victim’s.
- Once you establish contact with an ally, maintain communication as if your life depended on it. If your AP suspects that you may be regaining your senses, she will probably redouble her efforts to isolate you. Don’t let her!
- A counselor can literally be the difference between life and death. If you can afford it, do it. If you can’t afford it, borrow money.
Keep reading for more detailed explanations.
Is this normal?
Once I was able to start talking about what was going on, I found myself asking my allies what was normal. Is it normal for a wife to rifle through your discarded emails looking for things to fight about? (No.) Is it normal for a wife to call your children into the room to take part in an argument? (No.) Is it normal for a wife to threaten to kill you, your family, your kids, herself? (No, no, no, no.)
Now, when things like this occurred, I often had a sense that they weren’t exactly “normal,” but I became an expert at justifying them. Several people, including my counselor, called me out for doing this as I told them what had happened. I would tell them about crazy things that my AP did or said, but I would frequently explain the behavior away as if it weren’t really that bad or that important.
For example, if someone points a gun at you, it doesn’t matter whether it’s loaded or not. First of all, you can never be certain it’s unloaded; even if you think you are certain, that’s not a belief worth losing your life. Secondly, if she thinks or knows it’s unloaded, why is she bothering to aim it at you? Because she wants you to be afraid of her, which is sick on a number of levels. She is interested only in making you afraid because fear is an effective tool in controlling you.
So this list is about finding someone to help you regain your sense of what is normal. It’s like being tossed around by the waves and suddenly finding the sand under your feet. You’re still going to get knocked around some, but if you keep your balance, you can walk right out of the mess onto dry land.
I would say it doesn’t matter who you tell, but that’s not entirely true. I would avoid mutual friends and pretty much anyone in her family. Also, be wary of coworkers; you don’t necessarily want the entire office (or any workplace) finding out about your situation.
If you’re like most victims of abuse, you probably don’t have a lot of friends or close family relations. This, of course, is by design. The more your AP can isolate you from people you care about and trust, the more she can twist your understanding of reality to match her version of it.
While a counselor is probably the best option (see below), there are other people who can help you. If you still have a best friend, he may be the most obvious choice. Also consider someone like a pastor, someone who you know will respect your privacy and listen without judgment. Family members, parents and siblings especially, can be of immeasurable value. If you think your estrangement from them has caused them to hate you or write you off, think again. That may happen in some cases, but you may be surprised to find how ready and willing they are to help you.
Whoever it is, find someone as soon as possible. Do not wait any longer. Seriously, the more you put off telling someone, the harder it will be to do.
How do you know what color your eyes are? Well, you were no doubt told as a child, but you also have seen yourself in a mirror and in photos. Obviously, you believe what you see and hear regarding your eye color. You don’t have much of a choice because you simply cannot see your own eyes. The only way to see them is by reflection or by another person’s word.
How do you know what kind of person you are? Can you “see” yourself directly, or is it kind of like trying to see your own eyes? Even among perfectly normal, healthy individuals, the act of introspection can only provide so much information about your inner self. After all, you are the one who’s doing the looking and being looked at. It seems hard to judge or even observe yourself with any objectivity. I always think of it this way: when I look over something I’ve written, I am either far more critical or far less critical than other people. I assume this has something to do with bias, but that’s not exactly in my purview.
So, it makes sense that you may not be able to observe your own thoughts and behaviors, much less evaluate them in terms of mental and emotional health. Having someone else’s perspective can make a huge difference in your ability to make corrections and reground yourself in reality.
If your AP is anything like mine, she puts a high premium on personal privacy. This is not to say that she cares about anyone else’s privacy in principle (or in practice). What I mean is, she is desperately afraid of revealing too much about herself to other people. The reason is fairly obvious, but I didn’t realize it until it was far too late. She doesn’t want anyone to know how weak and unstable she is, so no matter how she acts in public, she will almost always try to hide her craziness. If she does do something outrageous when others are around, she’s likely to play the victim or cast blame in any direction other than herself.
The problem is, at least for most people, we want to respect the privacy of others. It only seems natural that you would not share personal information about anyone if it weren’t necessary. However, when dealing with an AP, you have to understand that privacy and secrecy are very different, but they are all too easy to conflate. If you are physically injured, your assailant no doubt wants you to stay silent so she doesn’t get into any trouble or face any consequences. This is not privacy; it’s complicity. You are silently protecting the very person who hurt you, which makes you an accomplice to your own suffering.
Based on my own experience and what I’ve read so far, this is beyond typical. It is downright predictable in abusive relationships. Silence is always going to favor the abuser, never the victim. While you may want to protect her “privacy,” remember that it is your life (and possibly the lives of your children) at stake. No amount of public humiliation is worse than the psychological, emotional, and physical scars you will carry if you refuse to tell anyone about the abuse. I’m certainly not suggesting you take out a radio ad or post everything on Facebook, but don’t be afraid to tell a few trusted individuals who can help you.
Once you have an ally or two, keep in touch with them regularly. I cannot stress this enough; one emotional, open-hearted conversation is not enough. You will not automatically heal just by saying a few things out loud. You need a relationship with another person. That’s where healing comes from.
Also, and you probably already know this, it is extraordinarily hard to get out of an abusive situation. You really need to have someone close who can help you get and keep your bearings. There will likely be many times when you think you can handle it on your own or you are in danger of getting sucked back into the arms of your AP. An ally can prevent you from backsliding and putting yourself in greater jeopardy.
Email, text, face-to-face, it doesn’t matter. Talk as often and as regularly as you can. The more you share, the more you will get a sense of who you are and what you want.
One of the best things you can do for yourself is find a counselor. There are a couple of reasons for this:
- Counselors are literally paid to listen and not judge you. Whatever the method or the philosophy behind the approach, most of them will give you an objective ear.
- They can help you re-establish your grip on reality. Your AP’s voice is likely so embedded in your psyche that you don’t even hear it anymore. That’s because it sounds just like your voice now. You have thoughts and feelings and sensations and desires and fears that weren’t there before; she hasn’t just recorded her own ideas onto yours, she has reprogrammed the way you come with ideas in the first place.
- They are bound by confidentiality. What you tell a counselor stays there, so you can actually be honest. I remember the first time I opened up to my counselor; I sobbed as I blurted out all the crazy stuff I had seen, heard, and felt. It was simultaneously excruciating and liberating, and I can say without hyperbole that I am probably alive because of it.
- Finally, you have probably sustained significant psychological and emotional damage from the abuse. These are not wounds that will just heal with time, nor are your loving friends and family generally qualified to aid in this kind of recovery. A professional is likely the only way for you to find your way back to a healthy place.
Of course, there are some drawbacks, the most obvious of which is cost. Yes, counselors are expensive; however, many of them take insurance or calculate fees on a sliding scale. Frankly, the money you spend on therapy is an investment in your life and general well-being. You probably can’t afford not to see one.
Also, if you are in an abusive relationship, it may be very difficult to make the time to go to a therapist. After all, your AP probably loves to know where you are at all times, right? If you need to, tell her you want to see a counselor to help you be a better man for her. (I will have an entire post dedicated to honesty later). Borrow money if you have to, but do whatever it takes to get some professional help. Remember, you’re not crazy, you’re hurt.
EDIT: For the sake of clarity, I want to state that I am not at all suggesting or condoning any sort of smear campaign. By telling someone about your experience, you are trying to build a network of support, not aimlessly badmouthing your AP. As difficult as it is, you must always be the bigger person. Don’t engage in gossip or passive-aggressive warfare; these are tools of abuse, not recovery.