I started the post when this hashtag first made the news, and found it difficult to write. But, to me, if it’s a hard-to-write post, it’s all the more reason to finish it.
Sometimes, I wonder why I read through these things, but then I remember that even if it does bring back certain things I’ve worked very hard to not remember, I don’t know who will reach out to me, or when, and need my help to get out of just that situation.
Domestic abuse takes different forms. But as the hashtag contents themselves will show you, it’s never simple. There’s only one thing that those things have in common, and that’s the simple fact that no matter in what form it starts to happen, it’s not healthy and not to be tolerated.
The hashtag’s primary objective is to highlight that abuse isn’t always physical, and that it is completely, entirely, wholly possible to never once be touched the wrong way, but still have an abjectly awful relationship. What the hashtag doesn’t acknowledge is that this isn’t limited to just relationships or domestic abuse. Children of abusive parents, employees of abusive and unhealthy/toxic workplaces can relate to all of the things the hashtag mentions.
Myself, I read these statements, and I immediately flashed back to things I had to go through, or things my friends went through when they involved in similar, and I had to be the one to tell them to get out of this shit right this minute! before it got worse. And let me tell you: it. is. nearly. always. guaranteed. to escalate. Nearly a decade ago, my best friend’s mom looked me square in the eye, took a drag from her cigarette, and said, in regards to my marriage, “Listen to me right now. This is ABUSE. Get out of there NOW, because it WILL. Get. WORSE.”
I listened. And running for it turned out to be the single best thing I’ve ever done. Helen, if I ever see you again – thank you. You don’t even realize how this helped me. One fine day, I hope you do find this post.
One of the most harrowing things I read once on FB, related to this, was when there was an actual discussion among convicted abusers, about when a good time to start abusing their partner actually is. The consensus was 18-24 months. A year and a half before the true colors of the person you’re with come out. And it’s something that makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Sometimes there’s a fluke and it surfaces before then. But the timing is correct.
But here is what nobody understands about abusive relationships: they never begin that way. They never, ever start as abusive. I mean, really: do you truly think someone will ever go out with anyone who’s known for being bad to their significant others? Gods, no. It always starts out as the best and happiest thing you will ever have. It always starts out as the most amazing person you’ll ever meet. It starts out as “I know I’ve messed up but this is different”. Or “Oh, s/he’s crazy, none of that actually happened”. And it always starts with one little tiny remark that, had you been single, or had this been earlier on in the relationship, you’d never let slide, but because you’re just so in love with this person that you think, “Oh, they didn’t mean that”. …And then another remark. And another. And then their behavior gradually pulls a 180 and the rose-colored glasses fall off, and you’re left wondering just how the hell you got here.
Let me be clear, people: this can happen to either men or women, gay or straight, and the relationship is of any iteration. But the basic traits of psychological abuse are all the same, and their purpose is to break the person on the receiving end. The hashtag and everything in it is only proof of that, and proof that psychological abuse is honestly the worst of all. Physical is obvious, provable, and prosecutable. But what recourse do you have when someone is basically trying to break your brain?
That’s the thing that the #maybehedoesnthityou hashtag focuses on.
Maybe he doesn’t hit you… but he’ll get irrationally jealous over your friends, and the time you spend with them. Whether or not these friends are male or female, gay or straight, ceases to matter. If you spend any sort of time with them, if they mean anything to you at all, they automatically become a threat.
Maybe he doesn’t hit you… but he will control every cent you spend, even if you earn this money. And heaven forfend you earn more than he does, and he doesn’t like it. Before long, your “joint” account will be joint in name only; heaven forfend you use one penny more than what he says you’re ‘allowed’ to spend. And you’ll notice the changes in where you spend it too, because of the backlash you’ll receive going there.
Maybe he doesn’t hit you… but he will dismiss and devalue your opinion and laugh at you for having this opinion, until you stop offering your opinion altogether. This will bleed over into your every other relationship and environment. Your boss will go, “Why aren’t you speaking up?” and it’ll startle you, because you didn’t know you were allowed to.
Maybe he doesn’t hit you… but he will shut down and give you the ‘silent treatment’ over something incredibly minor and petty. He will blame you for it, too. “If you just did X” or if you didn’t do X – somehow, it will all be turned around on you being the guilty one.
Maybe he doesn’t hit you… but try wearing a cute outfit and then endure comments about how you should change, that he doesn’t want you getting everyone’s attention, how this outfit is too revealing (when it’s probably not) and of course, the token remark: “But I trust you, honey, just not those other guys…” Shorts in the summer at 100 degrees? According to his reaction, you’re just trying to get with everyone around him.
Maybe he doesn’t hit you… but will guilt, manipulate, push you into having sex with him even if you’re not in the mood or condition to do it. Feeling sick? Not good enough. He has “needs” and yours don’t matter. And he’s not above getting you drunk for it, either.
Maybe he doesn’t hit you… but you will see him be incredibly nasty to a waitress or anyone who works a service job of any kind. Or worse, patronizing to anyone he feels is ‘beneath’ him.
Maybe he doesn’t hit you… but watch your privacy slowly disappear. He will ask whom you’re calling, texting, meeting with. He will demand your passwords. He will go through your phone and call anyone whom he believes is a threat to ‘investigate’ them and ask why they’re in touch with you. Watch him start tracking your every move; technology makes this shit easy. And watch your friends slowly drift away, more so if he doesn’t like them.
Related to this point: I recently read a more-than-a-little disturbing article on Reddit in r/talesfromtechsupport about a woman coming in convinced her husband was spying on her – and as it turned out, she actually had a GPS tracker in her car. And even the techs didn’t take her seriously at first.
This is what so, so many people fail to understand about abuse: 1. it never starts abusive and 2. most of the time, it’s so subtle and insidious that people don’t know what’s going on until it’s too late. Every time there’s a story about domestic violence or abuse online, there’s a chorus of, “But why didn’t they leave?” – because. they. often. can’t. If they’re not rendered economically dependent on their abuser, the abuse has messed with their heads to such an extent that they, quite very literally, cannot leave the situation.
To some degree, you’ve seen this illustrated with Stockholm Syndrome and Patty Hearst. Trust me: it’s no different with domestic abuse. Before an abuse victim gets to the point where they recognize that they have to leave, NOW, the abuse first needs to register in the victims’ minds in such a way that their survival instincts are triggered. In other words, their desire to survive and be safe has to overpower their fear of the consequences of leaving. Because of course, the abuser will threaten them, or those they love, as a coercion to stay.
Or, as in the case of the GPS Lady, as is actually extremely common with people subjected to psychological and mental abuse well before it ever becomes physical, if ever, the abuse is done so subtly, so insidiously, and so quietly that should the victim even hiccup about it, no one would take them seriously, even when they do realize that they’re in a bad way.
I’m sure you’ve seen it happen, or unknowingly dismissed it: “Oh, it can’t be that bad! You’re paranoid/not getting enough sleep/etc.” Except the reason they’re paranoid and not getting enough sleep is because they’re in a horrible situation and trying to get help/get out, but no one believes them.
In other words, before they get out, it first has to hit rock bottom for them. And a lot, in fact, in entirely too many a time, they stay well into when the abuse turns physical and don’t leave until/unless there’s a direct threat to their lives, and/or the kids.
Which brings me to another part: children in abusive relationships.
Again, too many people ask, “Why did she have kids with someone if they abused her/mistreated her/talked to her like that?” – and I’ll explain why, and it’s not an answer you will like: reproductive coercion. Forced pregnancy. Yes, it’s a thing, and NY Times did a great article on it. Also, here’s a very detailed article from the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology on the topic.
It should make perfect sense for how insidious reproductive coercion is, and you’d be surprised more abusers don’t think about it… Except they totally do. Like it as not, when a woman is pregnant, she is extremely vulnerable because of her condition. An abusive partner wouldn’t hesitate to get her pregnant as soon as possible without it being suspicious, whether she likes it or not – why? Because then it means that they have their victim nice and cornered, knowing full well that the woman will protect her baby first, and they can use it as a trump card. And this is why the child’s father is always the top suspect in deaths of pregnant women.
Maybe he doesn’t hit you… but he will do everything in his power to make sure you have no way out when he will start.
This is why, whenever someone, anyone comes to me and they start by saying, “I’m sure you probably won’t believe me” – that’s my signal to pay really damned close attention because this person has probably tried talking to people around them, and not one person took them seriously, and they’re connecting with me – by virtue of a mutual friend, or via this blog, or I may’ve given them a business card before and was unaware they held onto it – because they need to be listened to and heard.
All I can say is, when someone comes to you with a situation like this, no matter how tempting it is to dismiss their story for whatever reason… please listen to them. If they say there’s proof, ask to see it – but please listen to them. Hear them out. Whether or not you believe it is not the question here, but to that person, you just may well be their last shred of sanity in a very bad situation. That’s more important than whatever impressions you hold.