Emotional & mental: DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
BY PAULA M. FELIPE/Public Safety Reporter
This is the second of a three-part series on domestic violence. The names have been changed to protect the victim’s privacy.
What are the effects of domestic violence? What forms does the abuse take and how can one heal after experiencing an abusive relationship?
Cynthia has been married 25 years and has chosen to stay and work on her troubled relationship with her husband. They have children together and live in a lovely home, but Cynthia says what goes on behind closed doors would surprise people who believe the couple are happily married.
“I met him when I was a teenager. We married young, and I didn’t have or take the time to find out who I was and what I liked,” Cynthia said.
The Catalyst program, a non-profit group that helps victims of domestic violence, has helped Cynthia in many ways. She claimed this program even helped her to recognize the many aspects of abuse that was taking place in her marriage.
“I wasn’t aware of the Catalyst program before. I used to think domestic violence was physical, like getting hit, you know, like it was cut and dry,’ and you could see the abuse by looking at bruises. But I learned that domestic violence is many things, including emotional, verbal, and mental abuse, and I then I recognized that I was in an abusive relationship,” Cynthia explained.
“I remember saying to myself, “I wish he was hitting me instead because then I would have bruises. You can’t see emotional abuse. It goes on behind closed doors. I thought I was going crazy, and no one could see it (the abuse) that was happening,” said Cynthia, her voice breaking.
She also watched an Oprah Winfrey show on emotionally abusive relationships. “I learned I was not alone and could relate to other’s testimony of abuse,” she said.
Her first “wake-up” call happened when she read a Catalyst poster that had a checklist designed to teach people about abusive relationships.
“When I read that checklist, I saw questions like “Are you in a relationship that makes you feel this way . . .?” and I thought, “Wow! That is happening to me. I could check off a lot. So, I went to the Catalyst office and learned more,” she said.
Cynthia learned abuse can be verbal, emotional, and mental, and that language can be used to manipulate and intimidate.
After years of being in an abusive relationship, Cynthia suffered from bouts of depression, stress, and low-self esteem. She said, “I didn’t want to get out of bed in the morning. I felt so bad that when I was driving I felt like I wanted to turn the wheel and die.”
“After a while, your self-worth is depleted. You believe that your husband is your best friend, supporter, the one who knows you the best. And it starts to break you down when he is the one who is criticizing you, putting you down, and making you question your own sanity and question if you have a right to even feel the way you do,” she said, adding, “and if you start off with low self-esteem, you can lose yourself and go over the edge.”
Manipulating her feelings included invalidating her experiences, Cynthia explained. “My husband would take my experience and make it his own in effect. He would take what I would say about how I felt and he would tell me. You are wrong to feel that way.’ So, my own experience was invalidated and discredited by him. He would tell me how I was supposed to be feeling. That’s not right,’ he would say in effect, you should be doing this or feeling this way.’ ”
“You see, at first I thought it was my fault and that I was doing something wrong. I thought I was going crazy,” she explained. “My husband had a way of making me feel I was wrong in what I was saying. He would turn my words around and make me think something was wrong with me instead of something he was doing.”
In the beginning of the relationship, Cynthia admits she was a “people pleaser” and wanted to make her husband happy. “I ended up completely losing myself in the relationship,” she said.
“For years, I lived in fear and was intimidated. I didn’t want to rock the boat so I walked on egg shells around him because he would raise his voice and yell at me if I questioned him. I kept wondering, Why am I not happy? I have a lovely house.’ And then I realized because my husband yells at me and puts me down I was becoming an extension of what he wanted, and my own self was lost and my needs were not being met,” she said.
Aspects of abuse in her marriage included isolation, economic, and physical abuse as well as verbal and emotional.
“I don’t have a lot of friends. You lose your friends. They don’t want to be around him. My family is also divided,” she said.
Her husband opened separate bank accounts in his own name and decided to put her on an allowance.
“I had to ask for money from him. It’s another form of control. He also got a private post office box in his name.”
One night her husband had been drinking, and attacked her in front of their children. “He said that I was the one who provoked him into doing it and he was arrested.”
Cynthia’s husband was ordered into a domestic violence class by the court after he was arrested. The couple went to counseling sessions together.
When she believed her husband was having an affair, she was made to feel wrong for suspecting him. After she confirmed the affair, it was his deception that hurt the most.
“He had been unfaithful and lied to me about it. When I would ask him about other women, he made me feel I was even wrong to raise the issue and ask him about it. He turned it back on me as if I was wrong to feel any suspicion. Well, I finally found out he had been lying to me all along and my suspicions were correct. His deception really hurt me.”
“You know, I thought to myself, we are all human beings and we all make mistakes. Instead of lying and deceiving me and making me feel it was all my fault, why not just own up and apologize and take responsibility for it (the infidelity) instead of making me think something was wrong with me.”
“I’ve learned the abuse has a lot to do with power and control. If they can knock you down and make you question and doubt yourself, then they feel they have an edge over you. It also has to do with “narcissism” and how some people have personality traits who need someone to mirror them. They lack self-confidence inside and attempt to control and put down others to feel in control,” Cynthia said.
Her husband has discontinued the counseling sessions, and Cynthia isn’t sure if he has learned how to stop being abusive.
“It seems he has learned now how to say things in a different way, but it still means the same thing. Like instead of saying It’s your fault’ or you are not supposed to feel that way’, he says something like, “You are choosing not to feel this way.’ It seems like he is saying the same things but it’s clothed in different words,” she explained.
Why does she stay in the marriage and how can she survive or thrive in her marriage?
One reason she has stayed so long is her lack of self-confidence. “You don’t think you can make it on your own. And you want to stay and make it work for the children,” she said.
The road to healing for Cynthia includes learning how to uplift herself with positive feedback.
“Internal dialogue is important,” she explained, “Tell yourself You did a good job,’ or tell yourself you love yourself,” she said.
“Look at yourself in the mirror in the morning and say, Hi, beautiful! How are you doing today?’ Believe in yourself,’ Cynthia advises others who are in abusive relationships. “And you need to get out and not be isolated,” she added.
Exercise is another way she recommends releasing energy in a positive way. “I used to hit a pillow,” she said.
Among recommended reading, “The Verbally Abusive Relationship” is a book that helped her.
“I’m learning to work on myself now,” she said, “I can’t hold in resentment and realize that only hurts myself more. I need to continue my healing process; I need to forgive him; the forgiveness is for myself; for my own inner healing,” she said. “I’ve also learned not to engage in self-blame.’
After a couple years of counseling, Cynthia definitely recommends Catalyst to anyone in an abusive relationship.
“I do love my husband. I do care deeply about him. We have children together,” her voice tearfully breaks, “This is hard. I’m trying to make it work.”