Several years ago I was in an abusive relationship. The relationship started out nicely, with a strong dominant male who described himself as “just old fashion”. By the end of our relationship, it had escalated into actual domestic violence. My abuser was arrested for choking me so hard that I got whiplash, and for headbutting me in the face.
Right after he was arrested, as my sister-in-law and I were packing up my things, my sister-in-law found a kitchen knife stashed in my bedroom closet. As I looked at that knife, I realized that my abuser had preemptively placed that knife in our bedroom closet as I fled from our apartment. He had actually refused initially to let me leave the apartment, or use the phone in our apartment after he had beat me. Once I finally got out, I went to the apartment upstairs and called my mother. Based on my appearance, and what I said to my mother, it was our neighbor who actually called the police.
The last thing that my abuser ever said to me was, “ Who the hell would want you now?”
This is the anatomy of an abuser.
Would it surprise you if I told you that that was the first time he ever laid a hand on me in almost 5 years? It was. It doesn't matter. He was an abuser, and had I known what I know now, I would have realized that far earlier than I did.
So, what exactly is an abuser?
An abusive person will:
1. Use any tactic they can to maintain control and make themselves feel superior and dominant. These tactics don't always involve using your fists, either. Verbal abuse is an under-acknowledged tool that abusers use to gain control over another person. Holding people accountable for their behavior is one thing. That being said, if you're screaming in someone's face, you're being abusive. If you purposely try to publicly humiliate someone else, you're being abusive. If you're throwing things around or at people, you're being abusive. There are many ways to be abusive without touching someone directly.
2. Blaming others for your lack of self control, or behavior. Everyone who has ever lived has either lost their temper, or said something they shouldn't have to another person. What makes a person abusive is when they not only refuse to hold themselves accountable for their own behaviors, but blame others for their lack of self control. No one can make you act a certain way. You are the one who is responsible for your own actions.
An abusive person will manipulate the situation to make you feel like it's your fault. They might even say, “ Well if he/she didn't say/do this, then it wouldn't have happened.” That's not the way it actually works. My four-year-old daughter frustrates me with her behavior, too. Does that give me license to scream in her face, hit her, or try to humiliate her? If your answer is no, then that mindset should extend to the adults you interact with as well.
3. Relies on the enabling of others to justify their behavior. An enabler is an abuser's best friend. Abusers will likely enlist the help of people who don't necessarily agree with them, but will either stay silent, or actually actively side with the abuser as to not make waves. Sometimes an abuser will actually garner sympathy from other people in an attempt to discredit the victim's feelings. Family members will often attempt to make excuses for the abuser, and they'll try to justify their bad behavior. Sometimes this backfires on the enablers since this tactic is in essence teaching the abuser that their behavior is acceptable.
What can I do if I know an abuser or I am being abusive?
1. Be honest with yourself. Everyone has probably done some of these things at any given time. The difference is whether one holds themselves accountable for those actions or not. Do you use your anger instead of your words when someone does something that bothers you? Do you ever apologize for your own behavior? If you don't, it doesn't necessarily mean you're an abuser. What it does mean is that there is some room for self awareness in your life.
If blowing up at people is a common theme in your life, then ask yourself why. Is it because you feel that you need to be in control of the situation? These are honest questions to ask yourself if you see any of yourself in this situation. If you can't figure it out on your own, then speak to someone that can help you- like a licensed therapist. People who have these traits tend to feel insecure and are generally not in control of their life. Let someone help you get control back in your life- without the anger and anxiety.
2. Don't enable poor behavior. Does this sound like a person in your life? First, has this person ever treated you the same way? Do you remember how you felt when that happened to you? If they have, then why would you want someone else to experience the same hurt and pain you have? If it isn't acceptable for you to be treated that way, then the same rules should apply to others as well.
If you've never been a victim of abusive behavior, how would you feel if you were? If you were in the same situation, would you feel that it was justified? It doesn't even matter if you agree with the abuser's opinion, either. If it were you, would you feel that this behavior was an acceptable way to treat you? If the answer is no, then you have some food for thought.
As an aside, if you're physically fearful of saying something to someone because you're fearful of their anger, or of making the situation worse? Then no further explanation is needed. You are an emotional hostage to that person. At best, you have a dysfunctional relationship. At worse, you're in an abusive relationship. Get out, now.
When my sister-in-law found that kitchen knife in our bedroom closet, the closet that my abuser and I shared, we stood there in stunned silence. Before the cops had arrived, he had begged me to stay (before his parting shot of, “Who the hell would want you now?”). It meant that he had took that knife and put it in our bedroom closet while I went upstairs and called my mother. It meant that he had every intention of using it against me. It meant that I was very lucky to walk out of that apartment alive.
If you're living this life, please do something about it. Get out. Leave. Or if this sounds like you, get yourself help. Don't allow yourself to be a victim, and don't allow yourself to treat someone like one.
Your life or another person's life could very well depend on it.