Killing Me Softly : The Miseducation and Subtlety Of Emotional Abuse

Allow Me To Reintroduce Myself…

I’m BACK!!! After a month hiatus, I am back and ready to dive in. Thank you to everyone who reached out and asked when I was coming back, encouraged me, and asked for more content. Your support is invaluable. So without further delay….grab a coffee, spike it, and lets geaux!

When It Hits You

Killing Me Softly : The Subtlety Of Emotional Abuse. I have been working on this piece for a little over a month and just settled on a title 3 days ago. Like most things, music was my inspiration. This particular day I allowed my phone to wander off into the musical archives that is “shuffle.” I have a wide and varied taste in music, so I never really know what I am going to get. It could go from UGK – Let Me See It, to Florence + The Machine – Cosmic Love, and then take it to church with Travis Greene – You Made A Way….cause you move mountains (hey-sha-ta). (#random One time, I put my phone on my “panty dropper” playlist, only to mid stroke be interrupted by Fred Hammond singing “no weapon formed against me, shall prosper, it won’t work. Needless to say whatever moisture existed was caught up in the rapture and was no more lol. ) Anyways, it was none of these. Instead the shuffle gods decided to put me in my feelings with the lyrical stylings of the one and only Ms. Lauryn Hill.

Strumming my pain with his fingers
Singing my life with his words
Killing me softly with his song
Killing me softly with his song
Telling my whole life with his words
Killing me softly with his song

As I drove down 610 freeway, top down, night air in my face. I was both engulfed and paralyzed by these words that demanded every single solitary ounce of attention I possessed. I had no choice but to acquiesce. There are a lot of events that take place in my life, but very few moments. This was a mo-ment. A fraction of time where time slows, thoughts are clear, and reflection is as deep as racism in America. I was suspended in thought; reflecting on past relationships, my relationship with my father, and the feeling that has no name…emotional abuse.

Emotional abuse. Just to type that out feels needy and made up…like emotional support animals. But it is something that has gone without a name and recognition for far too long. The tricky thing about it is there are no bruises, no broken furniture, no holes in the wall to display this kind of abuse. It is internal. And the final call of it’s validity is often left up to individuals who oversimplify, lack empathy, and make it seem small.

In a past relationship, there were some serious communication problems (among other things). He would constantly speak over me, I often felt unable to express my thoughts fully. So in effort to communicate clearly and directly, I brought it up. I told him the issue and how I didn’t feel heard. His response was that he genuinely thought I was done talking and didn’t mean to cut me off. Problem solved right? Wrong.

This would have the adverse affect. From then on, any time I even took a breath, I was met with a sarcastic “can I talk now?” or “are you done?” This made things even worse. It was complete utter invalidation. It was a literal translation of – hurry up and finish so I can talk because what I have to say is more important. He was not listening to what I had to say, but merely waiting on his opportunity to respond. It changed the information I shared, to what depth and length I shared it, and if I shared at all. Realizing that withholding communication in a relationship was a recipe for disaster, I brought the issue back to the table for discussion. His response was –“You always want everything to be perfect. That’s just not the way real life works. “ And boom! There it is. This is where a very simple and fixable issue turns into something deeper, something destructive.

How To Get Away With Murder

I am a crime show jun-kie. So naturally, when How To Get Away With Murder came out, I was instantly hooked. In season 1, episode 1, Annalise Keating starts her lecture by posing the show title to her students. Several students give suggestions, when one says “introduce an alternate narrative.” Annalise confirms the answer and the student sits down full of pride.

Introducing an alternate narrative. This is the cornerstone to mental manipulation. In law, it is used to remove the jury’s reasonable doubt. In PR it is used to spin a story in a better light. In relationships, it is used to create confusion and shift blame. This is called gas lighting.

gas·light verb
manipulate (someone) by psychological means into questioning their own sanity. gas·light

By telling me that I want everything to be perfect and that the real world didn’t operate that way, he introduced an alternate narrative. He took something perfectly normal, like wanting a space where I could speak freely and be heard, and made me question its normalcy. Am I making this bigger than it is? Am I unwilling to accept/deal with situations that are less than perfect? How could I ask for perfection when I’m not perfect? All questions that I asked myself. It would not be until later that I would detangle the mental cluster fu** this would create.

Waiting To Exhale

Emotional abuse is not new. However, I do feel like generations before us didn’t necessarily have the luxury of exploring the concept. For instance, I once had a conversation about a relationship I was in. After hearing me talk about the drama to great lengths, her position was simple. She asked me 3 questions. Does he have a good job/ provide? Does he hit you? Does he come home at night? I told her he was employed, he didn’t hit me, and he came home. To her, this simple three step process deemed him “a good man.” My feelings and needs were nowhere in the equation. For women in her time, relationships were about joining resources. They were about survival. Love was not at all lost or forgotten, but when times got tough it was not the main point of consideration. They needed each other. It was business.

It reminds me of one of my favorite movies, Waiting To Exhale (The BEST part is when Angela Basset lights that car on fire and does that little hand flick as she walks away. And then tells the fire dept “it is trash.)

Whitney Houston’s character, Savannah, is dating a married man. After dealing with him and his drama, she had finally had enough and cuts it off. When her mother learns of the split, she calls her very much upset. She tells her daughter – “He’s a good man Savannah, he’s just in a bad situation right now but he’s trying to get out. ” Despite being married, a cheater, a liar, and an overall a**hole, her mother still deemed him as a good man. This is the miseducation. This mentality, while with good intention, gets passed down. I believe it is a big part in why now we have such a hard time identifying emotional dangers.

When You Know Better, You Do Better

Back to my shi**y ex. Long story short, the situation never got better. It got much worse. It got to the point where every conversation was absolutely exhausting. I was being interrupted more than ever, every word I did say was twisted and used against me, and very few conversations left me with dry eyes. After all of these interactions he would swear to do better …only better never came. When I would bring up the lack of effort, I was shamed for not being patient with him. I wasn’t understanding enough. He thought we were “better than that.” Anything to pacify me into buying him more time. All the while, I was emotionally drained and damaged. Walking around on a broken foot like everything was ok. The worst thing about emotional abuse is the conditioning. Rather I knew it or not, I was being trained not to challenge him, and one argument at a time…he was succeeding.

One day, scrolling through new books online. I came across a book about emotional abuse. Both desperate and intrigued, I bought it. Page after page, it shined light on the things I was dealing with. The gas lighting, the blame shifting, the punishment with silence when things didn’t go his way. It was like this book was the wardrobe and bitch I was in Narnia. There were types of abuse I had not even considered. I had not even thought of. But they were real. They were the difference between peace and walking around with your shoulders up. The difference between looking forward to seeing someone, and hoping their in a good mood today. The difference between the truth and alternate narratives.

Just so we are all on the same page, I did end up leaving. But in transparency, it was not about the emotional abuse (although it should have been.) There is nothing worse than being in a space where you don’t feel heard, where you don’t feel safe to express yourself, where the air is always thick, and you’re never sure when things will take a turn for the worst. It doesn’t matter if you look good on paper or in pictures, if the air isn’t clear. Emotional health matters. And this is not gender specific. I don’t care if its your girlfriend, boyfriend, whatever. Life and relationships are hard enough. Nothing is worth your sanity.

I leave you with these two things. 1. Pay attention to the patterns. Mistakes, shortcomings, and misunderstandings happen. However, repeated behavior speaks loud and clear. If it matters to you, it MATTERS. 2. Here are just a few signs and examples of types of emotional abuse.

  • Character assassination. This usually involves the word “always.” You’re always late, wrong, screwing up, disagreeable, and so on. Basically, they say you’re not a good person.
  • Dismissiveness. You tell them about something that’s important to you and they say it’s nothing. Body language like eye-rolling, smirking, headshaking, and sighing help convey the same message.
  • Yelling. Yelling, screaming, and swearing are meant to intimidate and make you feel small and inconsequential. It might be accompanied by fist-pounding or throwing things.
  • “Joking.” The jokes might have a grain of truth to them or be a complete fabrication. Either way, they make you look foolish.
  • Unpredictability. They’ll explode with rage out of nowhere, suddenly shower you with affection, or become dark and moody at the drop of a hat to keep you walking on eggshells.
  • Denying something you know is true. An abuser will deny that an argument or even an agreement took place. This is called gaslighting. It’s meant to make you question your own memory and sanity.
  • Using guilt. They might say something like, “You owe me this. Look at all I’ve done for you,” in an attempt to get their way.
  • Trivializing. When you want to talk about your hurt feelings, they accuse you of overreacting and making mountains out of molehills.
  • Saying you have no sense of humor. Abusers make personal jokes about you. If you object, they’ll tell you to lighten up.
  • Withholding affection. They won’t touch you, not even to hold your hand or pat you on the shoulder. They may refuse sexual relations to punish you or to get you to do something.
  • Calling you needy. When you’re really down and out and reach out for support, they’ll tell you you’re too needy or the world can’t stop turning for your little problems.
  • Indifference. They see you hurt or crying and do nothing.
  • Disputing your feelings. Whatever you feel, they’ll say you’re wrong to feel that way or that’s not really what you feel at all.

3 Comments

  1. “If it matters to you, it matters”. One of my favorite lines from this post. Outstanding writing and I applaud your use of definitions. After reading them a person can’t help but to realize that they too have been abused mentally in some way. You crushed this.

    Like

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