I titled this entry “We’re supposed to be stronger (and know better)” because this is the underlying thought (among some others) that kept me in an emotionally abusive relationship for two years. One would think it’d be the opposite considering my wealth of knowledge about abuse.
It is my hope that my story will give some education to those who don’t quite understand emotional abuse, while offering some support to those who are living in it now. I’d also like to draw some reference to how my employment as an anger management counsellor has impacted my experience.
- Lisa Mattina
Falling For an Abuser
A little bit of background: I’m 27, a University Graduate with a Joint Honours Degree in Criminology and Women’s Studies. I’m a self-proclaimed feminist and a strong, independent woman. I am confident in myself. I am intelligent with a highly developed ability to critically analyse a situation. I’m funny, social, out-going and compassionate. However, despite all of these lovely attributes, I am not invincible. SURPRISE!
I met this fella in 2010. We started dating and I started driving past giant red-flags, and I mean GIANT. The relationship moved quickly. He asked me to move in with him after 3 months of our relationship. In the pit of my stomach I knew it was a bad idea, but I decided to go for it. We had already had about a dozen arguments, usually about something trivial. Arguments were vicious and tactics used against me included name calling, put downs, shaming and accusatory questions.
His cocaine problem (the one I thought I could help him with) became ever more prominent, as he would enter into a state of paranoid psychosis and search through my belongings and accuse me of infidelity, which he thought was occurring while he was IN THE NEXT ROOM. Even without the influence of cocaine, I would be accused of flirting with his friends — “I saw you touch his arm” — to having full blown affairs with them. Meanwhile, his relationships with other women were never (sarcasm) a cause for concern because I was always “crazy” to think that he’d be doing anything behind my back.
Crazy was a word I heard a lot. Insane was a word I heard a lot. Often times, if I was trying to manage my anger or speak to him in a productive manner, instead of letting my anger get the best of me, I’d be accused of being a “social worker” and using “techniques” on him. There was a period of time when he became addicted to a video game and withheld sex from me. When I brought it up, he’d say: “Well, look at you complaining about it. Why would I want to have sex with you like this? This isn’t attractive.” He used me for thousands of dollars and I had to threaten to take him to court to get it back after we broke up.
Leaving the Vicious Cycle
Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974): A movie where emotional abuse is a central theme.
There’s a whole lot more to that story, but in all honesty, recalling details is still difficult for me. You’ll be happy to know that one day, while he was sleeping and after I had had enough, I put in our two-months notice with our landlord and began looking for a place. When he woke up, I told him I was moving out as soon as possible. I had to do a “midnight run” or else he would have manipulated me into staying in the relationship, saying the same old shit that I wasn’t “understanding enough”, “compassionate enough”, “patient enough”; that I was a “ball-buster” and over analysed situations because I work in social work.
Things worked out very well for me. I happened upon an amazing apartment and I’d be moving in within two weeks of the breakup. But then I took him back after hearing promises of change, and after a lot of self-blame on my end. Of course, the cycles continued and I left again.
He would show up at my house in the middle of the night, banging on my door. He would show up uninvited at bars I was at just to watch me, and would call me from a blocked number on the weekends. He moved in with someone (who probably has something he can use) three months after our breakup. I assumed that his psychotic stalking would stop, but it didn’t. It’s been 8 months since our breakup and he has already tried to sabotage my new relationship.
I’m Supposed to Be Stronger and Know Better
A scene from the movie A Woman Under the Influence (1974)
How does my job as an anger management impact this scenario? Well, throughout this emotionally abusive relationship, I would reflect on my own involvement in the fights we had. I would think to myself, I need to be better than this. I just need to communicate better. I should know better. I need to show more compassion to this man.
I’d search for reasons for why he’d behave this way. I’d analyse his childhood. I’d look into his family matters to get a better idea of why he was the way he was. (To be honest, his family was great and there was no obvious, or even subtle abuse. He came from a privileged home with two loving parents who were supportive, understanding and very nurturing).
I’d think to myself that there must be something I’m doing wrong. I’m pushing him to these points. I’m too controlling. I was reaching points of rage; I was throwing things across the room. I would scream. I would cry. I would threaten. The nastiest words came out of my mouth, and I would later feel incredibly ashamed and so guilty. I’d blame myself, over and over again for the arguments. My friends would suggest that he was manipulating me to feel this way, but there was no way that me… Lisa… an anger management counsellor with an education in women’s experience, could possibly be manipulated by this man.
I was in complete denial because I thought I should be stronger (and know better). I’d go to work and teach men how to express themselves assertively and help them to avoid points of destructive rage — the very same destructive rage I had experienced the night before. I’d advise my clients to leave abusive relationships that were landing them in jail. I’d leave a group session feeling even MORE guilty, and instead of thinking: “I have to leave this relationship,” I’d think to myself: “I have to manage my anger better.” I thought that because I had all the tools, I should be using them. And because I usually couldn’t (the triggers were too prominent and hurtful), I would enter a cycle of self-shame.
The Truth about Abuse
Breaking the Waves (1996): Another movie where the emotional abuse/manipulation of a woman is a central theme.
The thing about abuse is that it can get the best of us. It can maim the strongest of women and bring them to a point where every move they make is full of self-doubt; this is why we don’t leave sooner. We are often overly compassionate women whose strengths are exploited and used against us. Abusers can be very intelligent humans with a knack for manipulation, or they’ve read a few books by Robert Greene. They can be very charming, handsome and knowledgeable. They create a sense of dependency in a relationship, saying things like: “No one is going to love you like I love you” (he said that). They make you feel safe and secure, take the rug out from under you, and are there to give you a helping hand to get back on your feet — only to whip the rug out from under your feet again, and again, and again.
Recovering from emotional abuse is a long, drawn out process — more so than I thought it would be. That relationship has instilled so much fear in me that my next relationships will be exactly the same. Anything that resembles a characteristic of my ex brings up a sense of alarm within me. I’m ready to fight or take flight when I shouldn’t.
It seems endless but it does get easier every day. I’m positive that what I went through gave me a wealth of knowledge and a sense of strength and confidence I never knew I possessed. I know that I can make it on my own. I know that I can make a hard decision, stick to it and still come out on top. I’m figuring out who I am, what I want, and what my boundaries are — and I’m worlds happier.
I sincerely hope that anyone and everyone reading this has learned something, and for those of you who are in emotionally abusive relationships (male or female), I hope that you’re aware that you’re not alone, you can get out, and the world is fucking beautiful without the wretched trying to bring you down.
Here are some links you might find helpful and please feel free to message me