Abuse holds so much more sadness and hurt than the wounds that occur due to shoves, slaps or physical blows.
You may see yourself or someone you love in these stories. And it can be so very painful to live through, or watch someone you love be in denial or try to hide what’s happening.
Debbie sat, quietly crying in my office, “I don’t think I should’ve left. The boys miss him. They blame me for the divorce.”
She’d been the wife of a very popular and well-liked coach…and a victim of constant, pounding verbal and emotional abuse.
It had been a little over two years since Debbie’s chaotic divorce. She and her two boys were living in a garage apartment behind her parents’ home. Her ex made noise about wanting the children but had not fought for custody. When they met to exchange the boys, he barely spoke to her as he greeted the kids with hugs. She was working full-time at a small insurance agency, whereas before she’d only worked part-time. He’d gotten on Match and Tinder even before the divorce was final and now his Facebook account was full of pictures of his arm around a new woman.
Debbie was lonely, she had gained weight. She was fighting off depression.
She tearfully wondered, “Maybe it wasn’t all that bad. It’s not like he hit me.”
Todd was a man in his early 50’s who worked in administration at the local University. He was a quiet guy, gentle in his demeanor. He’d been married for over 30 years.
“We married young and I loved her so much; I still do in a way. I don’t want to leave – we’ve been through so much with the kids and we’ve done a decent job. But I get so tired of her screaming at me. I do everything wrong. She has to be in control. I don’t know what’s happened to her over the years. I get mad back sometimes, but it does no good.”
He looked up, a little ashamed, “One time she slapped me.”
Abby was a well-put-together woman in her early 40’s. A junior executive at a huge corporation, she was a rising star. She’d recently separated from her husband, and was getting a divorce. They had no children.
She was outfitting her own apartment, something she’d never done, as she moved straight from her parents’ home into one with her husband. One day she went to Pier One to buy pillows, “I got in the store, and realized I had no clue what I liked any more; I bought all three colors because I couldn’t choose. For ten years, I’ve been told that my taste was terrible. He wouldn’t like what clothes I had on and would make me change outfits until he approved. He often said what I cooked wasn’t worth eating and would throw food at me. If I did shop and find something that I liked, when I brought it home he would talk badly about it, and usually would make me take it back. I gave up trusting myself.”
‘He didn’t hit me, but he would hold my arm behind my back or push me up against a wall. He would get in my face and mock me when I would try to get away.”
And then slowly, with a new look of sadness in her eyes, “He would make me have sex, when I didn’t want to. I’d just lie there until it was over.”
Emotional and sexual abuse don’t leave bruises or broken bones.
But the damage is very real.
There are far too many people who are far too aware of violence at home, every day of their lives.
And there are sometimes children, who are watching the screaming and contempt; they are learning by the actions of those around them.
Yet sometimes, emotional abuse is harder to understand. Here’s what happened in therapy – when Debbie, Todd and Abby were my own patients.