“See your teeth”
Usually without warning, context or elaboration.
That example is right out of my abuser’s playbook manual.
What was I doing?
Usually committing a crime. Something huge like- laughing.
Many times without meaning to, I find myself trying to understand- how did my abuser abuse me for so many years?
How did I sit there- without putting up much of a fight?
How did this happen to ME?
Many people have called me- Feminist, Strong, Ambitious, Opinionated. I believe that most of those were said of me in the context of- she is a strong person.
How then did I endure abuse for years and years and years of my life?
At the hands of someone I look back now on and I am like- was it charm? How was THIS person THE person I took THAT much cruelty from?
I do not have all the answers yet but I do have one answer and it starts with a story. Specifically, the story of the frog in boiling water:
The boiling frog: is an apologue describing a frog being slowly boiled alive. The premise is that if a frog is put suddenly into boiling water, it will jump out, but if the frog is put in tepid water which is then brought to a boil slowly, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death.
This story is a metaphor for one’s gradual adjustment to negative circumstances.
One very strong answer for how an abuser destroys or erodes your self-esteem is simple- they do it a bite at a time.
Much like how one eats an elephant. Same answer: a bite at a time.
An abuser knows that they will have a hard time coming outright to say- “you are just stupid”.
What do they do?
- They start small and innocently.
You are having a lighthearted conversation. They call you ‘dumb’. ‘Stupid’.
Do they mean that?
You are confused.
You ask them to clarify.
THEY ACT CONFUSED:
“I said that? Wow. Of course, I didn’t mean it in that light. Just a stupid thing to say…that’s how I talk. Wow…wow…you are really going to make that a big deal?”
Now you are in defense.
Your training to be polite takes over.
You quickly (re)assure them that you misunderstood.
You definitely don’t want to be anal about such a small joke.
They have passed the first step because every time they call you stupid or dumb or a CUNT (the progression will definitely escalate), you will be forced to take it lightly because, they surely must not mean it.
You just don’t know it yet.
Just like the crab in the hot water, when faced with a challenging situation, initially one may resist or struggle, but over time one may become used to it and eventually be overwhelmed by it.
And you will get overwhelmed by it.
Soon, in serious conversations, the words will come out faster and harsher- “you are just so stupid”
“You choke me with everything”
“I have to walk on eggshells around you”
At this point, if you are onto them, you would have walked away but you may not be. (I wasn’t).
What you do next is:
- You are mindful of the neighbours.
- You don’t want to raise your voice.
- You don’t want to yell.
- You don’t want to insult.
They dish it out and storm off slamming the door behind them.
You are shaken. You don’t understand. This is out of place. They are not ever like this.
Must be something you did.
So you wait for them to come back. You both needed a timeout.
Was a good thing he left.
Now he is back.
You explain your side of things. He has a hard time communicating so you talk and he defends.
You take responsibility for your own side of things.
He gets you to take responsibility too- FOR TAKING THINGS TOO SERIOUSLY.
At the end of the day, he barely apologized or took accountability for his bullshit.
You do not know it then but you have set a new low for yourself. And from this low, it will never go back up except as a control maneuver for him.
From this low, YOU will go lower. YOU will apologize more. YOU will beg more. YOU will keep the peace. YOU will be the bigger person. YOU will invest more emotionally and YOU will pay more in pain and trauma.
If you were to wake up every boiled dead frog and ask them what they learned from their lesson, I imagine they will say something like:
No one has abuser tattooed on them so you must be wise to the signs that make one an abuser. With an abuser, there is no balance. There is always control. There is no “it gets better”.
I hope like me, you do not have to wake up hyperventilating many days because you still cannot believe- how someone:
Feminist, Strong, Ambitious, Opinionated as yourself, took such cruelty from someone whose greatest achievement in life is cruelty.
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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