Signs of emotional abuse: 1 they never take responsibility

The abusive person doesn’t take responsibility for their behavior.

It’s not just a once in a while thing. It’s an all the time thing. He (I’m going to use a male pronoun for simplicity’s sake) NEVER takes responsibility for his behavior.

It might be obvious: It’s your fault, you’re the one who wanted to come here/do this/had to open your big mouth, if you hadn’t (fill in the blank) then I wouldn’t be yelling at you

He might accuse you of always assuming the worst in people, not giving him the benefit of the doubt, being unforgiving, unloving, untrusting, etc.

Or, it could be far more subtle. He might deny that the event you’re referring to ever happened: “I don’t remember that.” Or he might use a diversion tactic. For instance, he might point out something you did wrong, to deflect the conversation in a new direction. (That one can be especially tricky to spot.)

He might even apologize sometimes for messing up. But when you think about it later, he never said specifically what he did wrong. Instead, the apology was laced with phrases like “I’m sorry for offending you,” or “if you were a boy it wouldn’t have mattered,” or “I just don’t know how to communicate to you how much I love you.” Now, maybe that doesn’t sound so bad, but look at the implications. All those phrases turn it back on you. It’s your fault you feel this way. You’re too easily offended, girls are just overly sensitive, or you are difficult to communicate with. That’s why you feel hurt and unloved.

It’s not because he is treating you badly.

If you try to explain this to other people, they might think you’re reading too much into things. That is NOT true. It’s not just that his words subtly imply that everything is your fault, it’s that that belief permeates his whole attitude toward you. He lives his life as if he is never at fault. He firmly believes that if you just understood him better, were tougher, less “type A,” or less “easily offended,” then you would have a great relationship.

In other words, he’s in complete denial. He’s creating his own reality, in which he is the victim of overly sensitive females. Not only that, but he wants you to agree that his version of reality is the only reality.

But you’re not crazy! You’re just dealing with an abusive person.

To all those who said birth is beautiful

I want to say you’re either a liar or delusional… but that wouldn’t be very nice. And it’s (probably) not true. I’m sure for some bringing their baby boy or girl into the world was, in a way, beautiful.

But that just begs the question: What’s wrong with me?

The last word I would use to describe my birth is beautiful. Excruciating. Long. Isolating. Definitely not beautiful.

Other mothers have described an overwhelming feeling of love once they hold their baby in their arms, or said it was so worth it, they would do it a thousand times over. I had none of those feelings. There was no all-consuming love that washed all the pain away. The strongest feeling I had was astonishment. For some reason I was still shocked to find that there had actually been a baby inside me! Other than that, I was too exhausted after eighteen hours of contractions a minute and a half to five minutes apart to feel much of anything except relief that it was over.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my baby boy. I didn’t want to put him down for even a moment for the first two months of his life. I laugh in delight when he smiles, makes funny faces, and trills his enjoyment of the world. I hold him close and breathe in his scent and tell him mommy will always, always love him.

But still, there was no moment of “I didn’t know I could love this much!” after he was placed, slimy and wet, on my stomach, the cord still connecting us to each other. If there was a rush of endorphins to help me forget the pain of childbirth, I couldn’t tell. The second night, when the baby wasn’t screaming, the memory of the pain kept me awake crying. The memory of a pain that sent chills and heat washing over my whole body until I felt like I was going to pass out, a pain that made me not care that I was crying out or that strangers were seeing me naked. The memory of the way my body took over and pushed without my permission—out of control. The “ring of fire” that I just kept getting worse, and worse, and worse until I didn’t even feel my skin rip apart because everywhere else hurt so badly. A pain that made me turn to my husband once it was all over and I was holding my baby against my chest and say, “I don’t ever want to go through that again.”

Four months later, I still don’t think I ever want to go through that again.

But then women have given birth every day for thousands of years. It’s a normal part of life. I didn’t even have any complications or anything to make it extra difficult.

So what’s wrong with me?

The question haunts me every time I get a moment to think, which (thankfully?) is infrequent since Remy was born.

I remember the videos we watched in birthing class. The women laboring hard and long, but without cries of pain—with cries of joy when they saw their baby for the first time. One of them was actually walking from the toilet to the bed when the baby came sliding out into her astonished hands. All of them were able to get up after a few minutes and take a walk with their newborn down the hospital corridor. There is NO WAY I could’ve been standing when he came out, let alone strolled down any corridors afterward. For three days, I could barely make the few feet from the bed to the bathroom. I had to lean on my husband and pause after each step to breathe heavily, feeling like my lungs couldn’t get any oxygen no matter how much I gasped for it.

There was nothing beautiful about it.

In fact, it seemed like a cruel joke. You go through the equivalent of running 6 marathons, through excruciating pain, and then you have to try to recover from this event with barely enough sleep to keep you alive! Four months later, I’m still lucky if I get three consecutive hours of sleep at night.

But again, that’s just what moms have to go through. We wear the scars on our bodies, and it’s normal. My experience is not unusual. Not like the woman who labored 30 hours and whose baby broke her tailbone. Not like the woman who labored 32 hours and passed out afterward. Not like the women who have multiple children (how?!).

So why can’t I let it go?

What is wrong with me?

When Christmas Hurts

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My family had a strange Christmas tradition when I was growing up.  Christmas Day was hectic, my mom’s side in the morning and my dad’s in the afternoon. So, every Christmas Eve we would roast hot dogs over the fire and eat them with baked beans and Caesar salad while the same 1993 Reba Mcentire Christmas album played on repeat in the background. It might be odd, but it was magical to us.

This is the first year that won’t be happening. At least, not in the same way.

You see, it’s been three months since I told my dad I can’t talk to him anymore. And I’ve noticed the difference. I feel healthier emotionally, spiritually, mentally, and even physically without him in my life. But that also means no family gathered around my parents’ fireplace.

Don’t get me wrong; Christmas wasn’t all roses. I remember Dad getting angry if he didn’t get what he considered a “fair portion” of the food, which was especially difficult when times were tight. I remember trying with every fiber of my ten-year-old being to anticipate his every desire, jumping up to fetch ketchup or milk from the kitchen in hopes I would earn his love. Most of all, I remember him sitting off by himself watching something “spiritual” or political on his phone, refusing to participate in Christmas with us.

But still, the fireplace, the music, the elaborate ways my future-engineer brother found to deliver his gifts, the excitement of seeing my sisters finally open the horse or cat stickers I got for them, Mom and siblings huddled around the Christmas puzzle… It was the only time home seemed homey.

This year, I already skipped Thanksgiving. My husband and I spent the day moving into our new house—no turkey or board games or cousins. And now Christmas looms empty on the calendar. There will be no Reba Mcentire Christmas Eve, not when my 15-year-old sister is in Florida to get away from the chaos of home, my mom is leaving my dad, and I can’t have him in my life. There will be no house full of seventeen cousins, aunts, uncles, and lefse on Christmas Day. I won’t even be done unpacking my house, which means no decorations.

Even though the blank space on the calendar makes me sad, I know it’s the right choice.

Sometimes choosing to be healthy hurts. Choosing to not lower your standards, to say, “no, you are not allowed to manipulate and shame me,” will mean giving up how life was, and it might be harder than you think. Because the unhealthy can feel familiar and sometimes it doesn’t feel unhealthy at all. To fight against the lies of shame, fear, and sadness, you can’t just get rid of them. You have to fill the blank spaces with new things, with truth.

And sometimes, you have to make new traditions. I don’t know what mine will be yet, or when I will have the strength to begin them, but I know that—finally—I value myself enough to choose health.

And that is the right choice.

A Good Father

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Recently, my husband and I started the process of buying our first home. It freaked me out. Big time. So much money, so much responsibility, so many things to break and cost even more money… So, I asked God not to just shut the door if it was the wrong move, but to SLAM it in our faces. Instead, he opened the door even wider.

And his goodness stunned me. Again.

You see, like a lot of people, I never expected God to give me good things. Or, if he did, I expected him to snatch them away again the next second. Because that’s how my life has always gone. When I was a teenager I said that life is like drowning in the ocean. You get some breaths between the waves, but only enough to make sure you keep surviving—a cruel punishment.

It wasn’t until a couple years ago that I realized God wasn’t the one sending the waves. It was my dad. God was there, looking at me with compassion and love the whole time. He was waiting for the perfect moment to deliver me and show me all the goodness my dad had been keeping from me. He knew I needed to be ready to face the truth. He knew I needed to have the support of a loving husband. He knew he needed to work in my mom, sister, and brother’s hearts as well.

The whole time I was drowning, he was preparing me for freedom. And now, he is showing me what the Bible means when it calls him Father.

People say that a lot. When you have a toxic dad, they tell you to cling to God as your Father. The problem is, if all you have is a bad example, that’s pretty much impossible. You see God through the lens of the abuser’s manipulation. You try to be perfect so God won’t be disappointed. As many times as you hear he loves you, you still can’t believe it. Not really.

But now, for the first time, I’m starting to be able to see God as a good Father. Naming what happened to me gave me the ability to reject my dad’s lens. God isn’t on the side of the abuser. He doesn’t look like spiritual abuse says he does.

He actually has good in store for me, even though I never believed it.

“You have to forgive me!” And Other Lies

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Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

I was having a conversation with my dad the other day (if someone yelling over you for an hour can be called a conversation), and he said that I need to forgive him. Otherwise, God won’t forgive me.

You see, to my dad, I haven’t forgiven him because I don’t trust him. To him, forgiveness means reconciliation and unconditional relationship. It means giving him license to hurt me over and over and over. And it doesn’t matter that there has been no true repentance (I’ll talk about that in another post). I’m supposed to forget and act like everything is okay when I am being psychologically pounded into the earth.

Literally, I felt like someone was sitting on my chest. I could barely move, my limbs were so heavy.

But no, I’m supposed to “forgive and forget.” Which, by the way, isn’t even in the Bible.

 

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And unfortunately, that’s the view that the church has taught.

They say that if he apologizes, you need to trust those words. You need to believe that he is a changed man even if everything in you screams it’s a lie. It doesn’t matter that abusers are master manipulators. It doesn’t matter that there has been no true repentance (I’ll write about that in another post).

They say you need to pray more, be more loving and kind. Then he’ll be convicted to change his abusive ways. I’ve got news for you: that makes abuse worse. Being more loving does not convict him. It tells him he is right—you are the one who needs to change because everything is your fault.

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But here’s the thing, I have forgiven my dad. But my forgiveness looks like acknowledging that his abuse is not okay and trusting God for justice in the situation. I’m not trying to punish him. I don’t wish any harm or pain upon him.

I forgive, but I don’t trust him. I forgive, but I will not condone his sin by allowing him to be cruel to me. I forgive, but there can be no reconciliation. Not while he’s abusive.

And that is okay.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Emotional Abuse Feels Like

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Am I crazy? What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I ever express myself to him in a way he will understand? Maybe he’s right—I don’t know how to communicate…

These are the thoughts that swirl through your mind. Reality is a shifting surface, and every time you think you’ve grasped a corner of it, it is ripped away. He acts like you are crazy, and sometimes you almost wonder if he’s right. Other times, you feel the burn of injustice, and you get angry, you stand up for yourself. But by the end somehow you are apologizing to him again.

He’s a good guy, a godly man, you remind yourself. So why do I feel so terrible?

You don’t know what’s wrong, but you know that something is, so you wonder if he’s right—it’s you, your mother, your sister. He’s the victim of unreasonable, overly-sensitive, paranoid, controlling females.

You are always on-guard, always braced, waiting for the next mood swing. He is unpredictable, and so you try harder to read him, to anticipate his wants, to not set him off. If you could just be more sympathetic, he wouldn’t feel like you were ungrateful for how hard he works. If you could just be less “Type-A,” he wouldn’t feel like you are trying to control him. If you could just be less needy, he wouldn’t seem to despise you. If you could just be more enthralled with what he has to say, one day his attention tank will be filled up and he’ll have a little left over to give to you.

It doesn’t work.

You are trapped, but as hard as you try, you can’t see the ropes that bind you.

Photo by Mario Azzi on Unsplash

Maybe I’ve had it all wrong my whole life (no big surprise there)

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I’ve been reading Love, Medicine, and Miracles by Bernie Siegel, which is about how our perceptions, beliefs, and hope effects our healing and health. I started thinking about how God calls us to have faith—and I found myself questioning beliefs I hadn’t even put into words before…

Maybe I’ve had it all wrong my whole life. Maybe faith isn’t like a currency. God doesn’t ask us to have faith because he wants to make sure we’re doing our part. It’s not like we better have enough faith or he won’t do anything for us. He’s not sitting up there irritated because we can’t get it together enough to trust him.

In my church background, faith meant standing firm, holding on to what you want with everything you’ve got. You want to get physically, emotionally, or mentally healed? Then don’t settle for anything less. Healing is your birthright. Faith as small as a mustard seed can move mountains, so if that mountain staring you in the face doesn’t move, you must not have a seed’s worth.

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But maybe faith is being okay with not getting healed. Maybe it’s leaning in to God and crying because you have to let another dream, another friendship, another person go. But you have faith that he has still made your life worth living.

Maybe it’s more like how he told us to rest. He didn’t do that to give himself another reason to punish us when we fail to take our Sabbath. He did it because he knows we need rest. He knows we will work ourselves to death in fear and greed and workaholic-ism. He knows he needs to tell us to slow down, to rest like he did for at least one day each week.

Maybe he tells us to have faith because he wants to partner with us in our healing. Maybe it’s a gentle voice that puts his mighty hand on our back and says, “It’s okay, I’ve got this. We will get through this together.” Maybe he knows that we need the peace faith brings in order to have enough hope to get healing.

Maybe faith has a lot more to do with hope than I ever realized. Maybe faith isn’t something you strive for. It’s just hope mixed with trust.

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I’m beginning to realize why faith, hope, and love are so inseparable in the Bible. They are all, in essence, facets of the same thing. I guess that makes sense, since they are all part of God’s nature, and he is one.

So with that, may you have hope in your brokenness today.

Look Out the Window!

It seems like the more I fly, the more nervous I get. It’s like my panic sensors know that my odds of crashing are going up each time I launch into the air. Still, even with my mind screaming that I’m going to fall to my death every time the plane’s engine changes pitch, I love staring out the window. So, when I flew from Minnesota to Texas to visit my husband’s family, I was super excited to find out I’d scored window seats for both flights.

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I’m pretty sure I am an anomaly in this. When I looked around the plane, almost everyone had the shades slid down to block the sun. They plugged in headphones and stared at screens as the earth shrank beneath us.

Now, it’s not like I’m a technophobe or an unplugged saint. I admit I took advantage of the in-flight entertainment to finally watch Ant Man and the Wasp. But I also took time to stare out the window.

There’s a strange wonder in it—mini houses, cars like insects glinting in the sun, roads curling around frozen lakes, human life shrunk to snow-globe size. Then the landscape of clouds, layers of ocean waves and mountains in brilliant white. It reminds me how small I am, how small all my worries and plans are, even how small this span of history is that we live in.

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Photo by Jeremy Ricketts on Unsplash

 

My writing teacher used to talk about how important it is to stop and pay attention. “Don’t hydroplane through life,” she’d tell us over and over. I think she was right. Paying attention to the view out that airplane window reminded me how small we all are. How small all my worries and plans are. Even how small this span of history is that we live in.

It’s a healthy reminder.

Down on the ground, everything is always coming at us, reminding us how messed up the world is, how much there is to fear. The media is always shouting that the end is here, disaster is upon us. Suspended in a metal tube thousands of feet above our planet, the noise can seem just a little quieter. But only if I pay attention.

So do one thing today.

Stop. Notice. Whatever the small and beautiful things around you are trying to say, listen.

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Photo by Ksenia Makagonova on Unsplash