This is likely the final part of the increasingly long “You’re Not Alone” series. It might not be, but we’ll see how it goes.
What follows is, as always, not absolute truth, but rather lessons from personal experience.
In part two, I talked about the importance of forgiveness. That one must forgive themselves before truly forgiving someone else and that, an apology, while seeming like the most basic human decency, is still far more than most who have been emotionally abused receive. A large part of recovery is being okay with that: accepting the apology that is never given.
Why is that?
Because very often it is beyond the psychological capacity of the abuser to fully understand and sympathize with the damage they have done, despite the fact that they too have very likely felt the hurt (or at least one very similar). I am not saying that they are dumb or cruel, just that they are in a different mental space. That said, I have been asked: “should you ever actively confront the person who abused you?”
Having actually just finished an incredibly painful conversation with Sinda (let’s keep the same abuser name ’cause why not – it’s not their actual name anyway), I can honestly say that: yes, you should… but don’t expect them to be receptive… and watch your own words carefully.
Confronting an emotional abuser is hard. For starters, the very word confrontation implies a struggle, it is not a word meaning peace. You are going to have to say something that someone really does not want to hear. You cannot control how they react, but you can try your best to still accommodate them.
When I confronted Sinda, I tried to be as diplomatic as possible (I’m sure she would say the same thing). First, I asked if she would like to talk, specifying that, while it was important to me, it did not have to be immediate. Show your abuser that you respect his/her time – in fact, do your best to treat them with respect, period. Even if you do not feel that they deserve it, treating someone with respect always says more about you as an individual than the person you’re respecting.
I gave her several times to choose from and let her know that, if she really did not want to: the confrontation did not have to take place. She responded by choosing a date, but saying that she didn’t think she had anything left to say and she didn’t see the point of the conversation. She also was honest enough to say that she was still angry (still not sure why) at me and wasn’t sure how more talking would help (it is my fault for not hearing her on that point). That said, I had already stumbled on the tripping stone I got caught on.
I had also told Sinda earlier that day that I did not want to have the talk then, because I had been feeling feelings of anger/depression about our relationship (our second attempt at one) and I did not want those feelings to spill out onto her. That said, hearing someone who has hurt you respond to your desire to be heard with essentially what was “not my problem, you have to deal with things on your own” can be triggering to say the least.
In part because it is true. We obviously all deal with our emotions and struggles in our own ways. Make no mistake, my writing this is part of me dealing with mine. That said, there is a great importance in life in HOW things are said/done, not just the WHAT. Look at Shakespeare, man never had an original story idea in his head… yet his plays have lasted thousands of years because of HOW he told them.
In my defense, I have in large part been dealing with the damage of the second relationship with Sinda by journaling, therapy, friends, yoga, emotion exercises, blog posts (ha) and general trying to avoid stupid situations. That said, Sinda had expressed the desire to be friends and I was having real trouble with this for a variety of reasons.
One: I wanted to be friends, which in itself was not a healthy thing. Given the nature of how my romantic relationship with Sinda had ended, it made no sense WHY I wanted to be friends. Our second romantic relationship did not even last two full months and went from honeymoon phase straight into tension that ultimately ended with Sinda emotionally cheating on me with an ex-boyfriend. Given the months of build-up we had done beforehand: the attempts at healing, the frank and honest discussions that had happened, Sinda’s repeated expression of “it’s going to be hard but I really want to try to make this work” – holy shit must things have gone wrong for a relationship to deteriorate that quickly. I share the blame in this, I was no saint being attacked by a wicked devil. This was a relationship I asked for, and so I share the responsibility.
I wanted to be friends because I still cared for Sinda, I did not want her to think that her actions had made me hate her, and also (on a personal and perhaps selfish level) I did not want her out of my life – I was ready to let go but not walk away. I felt that, knowing her and our past, I had been unreasonable to expect the relationship to work so soon. While two years seems like a long time in life – it is not. To put it in context, have you ever had something – a book or a movie – that you were obsessed with for a while, then later couldn’t understand how you liked it in the first place? How long can stupid obsessions like those last? Things involving people, their emotions and who they are, often times take much longer to change.
So onto Two: I was still hurt. I really can be a hypocrite, having just written in part two about the importance of dealing with one’s own feelings before attempting any kind of serious connection with another person (or at least seriously considering WHY I was attempting that connection). I have spent years working on personal control and how to be understanding and compassionate with others and one lesson I have learned over and over is that: emotions cloud everything. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to be objective in something you are emotionally involved in – at least it is for me. Had I been objective, Sinda’s comment would not have gotten a reaction. Indeed, I had anticipated that she would not react positively – but had ultimately decided to go ahead with the confrontation anyway.
This is important: go ahead with the confrontation, despite how you think/know the other person will react. Emotional abusers will rarely react positively, even sometimes if years have gone by since the abuse. The reason to confront an abuser is simple: stand up for yourself and be heard. This may not sound like a good enough reason, but trust me – it is so instrumental in healing from the damage they did.
Emotional abuse takes away from your self-respect. It diminishes you as a person and sends the not subtle message of “you’re not worth it.” Well, I am worth it. Sinda is worth it. EVERYONE is worth it. If someone hurts you – it is their responsibility too. To think otherwise is to shoulder way too much emphasis on yourself. Think of it this way, if you have a dog or cat and someone runs it over – is it unreasonable to ask that they feel bad about it… or to talk about it with you after?
“Man, that sucks, I didn’t even see it coming… well, sorry, hope you have a nice day!”
That reaction is insane and incredibly self-centered. Yes, they said sorry but it didn’t change anything – in fact the nature of HOW they said it makes it seem like they don’t care at all. I have hurt people, including Sinda, and everyone who has talked to me since I hurt them – they all had the right to be heard, even if what they were saying was entirely about how I had hurt them. When you hurt someone (and we all do at some point, we are human after all) take responsibility for it – and that does not mean simply acknowledging that it happened.
To get back on point and to relate this in, Sinda has apologized for cheating on me. She did, and I believe her sincerity and want to believe her genuine regret. HOWEVER, several things took away from this and turned from horrible mistake into abuse. The largest was the violation of trust – I was there the night Sinda cheated on me. I was in bed with her, laying down to sleep. I overheard most of the conversation (being alone together in a silent room). It bothered me as it went on, climaxing with a sickening “Call me in the morning, I love you.”
I knew what it was as soon as I heard it, but I still had to ask – “who was that?”
“Oh, I thought I heard a man’s voice. Was her boyfriend there?”
“YOU NEVER TRUST ME. NOTHING I CAN SAY WILL MAKE YOU TRUST ME!”
“… I do trust you.”
The next day Sinda announced she was unhappy in the relationship. Two days later we had a fight where I said some horrible things and took away her agency by accusing her of not thinking clearly. Accusing someone of not being fully aware of what they are doing/saying is a serious accusation. It is directly saying to someone else: “I know more than you.”
Yet what choice did I have? This was a woman who, only three weeks prior to this incident, had called me the best boyfriend in the world? Who before that had been telling her parents and friends about how lucky she was to finally date me? I have known her for close to five years. If two years is a short time to change – holy shit three weeks. It was either – “well, I guess that was all a lie” or ask “what is going on? You’re not making sense?” It didn’t help that I said horrible things before asking that question.
Yes, what had happened two nights before gives reason (but not an excuse) to my being irritable and upset – but I should have called Sinda on her lie before then. I was doubting myself, doubting my perception of events. My self-confidence was gone and my reliability shattered. Maybe Sinda was right. Maybe I was just looking for an accuse not to trust her, maybe I was being controlling in the relationship.
Of course, questioning her decision-making made me more controlling, at least in her opinion.
This is not exact but “You only want me to stay with you,” and “you only care about the relationship. Not about me and what I want!” were said quite often. As someone in love, this was the worst thing to hear. Yeah, I was calling her out – and not doing a good job of it – but everything I had said, I said for the purpose of trying to help (I’m aware that most abusers say this too). I knew Sinda had been going through a hard time and feeling depressed about her place in life, and I knew she had been drinking again to try to combat it. For those wondering: here are the effects of alcohol on the brain. I am not accusing Sinda of anything because ANYONE is capable of making poor decisions and doing things they regret while drunk or under the effects of alcohol – it is just the science of it.
That said, we are always, ultimately responsible for our actions.
I did not confront Sinda about the cheating until days after we had broken up. This again, is partly my fault for being silent. When I did, she apologized – saying she only did not tell me to spare me pain. She also said I had to deal with the pain of the relationship on my own and to stop involving her – and that she hoped to be friends.
This is a genuine question: am I insane for being beyond confused and hurt by this, and wanting to clear it up?
Yes, Sinda was again right: pain must be dealt with individually. Yet as she admitted this, she admitted no role of it in the fight, or how it had affected the end of our relationship. She essentially said “sorry” and drove off, leaving me with my dead pet in the road. After all, I was still the controlling jerk who was just trying to manipulate her.
Yeah, I’ve had discussing Sinda’s cheating thrown back at me multiple times by her. She admits to doing at and says she feels awful – but it was on me to deal with it. I was a jerk for bringing up the past and trying to control her.
Controlling people is a real thing, and something I never want to do. Have I said controlling comments to Sinda? I have, in both anger and periods of insecurity – mostly in anger – but not often. That fight is the largest event I can think of and most of what I said was “you’re not thinking clearly,” and “you can’t see what you have become.”
I should have confronted her about the cheating then – I should have. But I didn’t.
Sinda and I have known each other for years. I like to think that we know each other very well and, after months of talking and healing, I felt safe for the relationship, and Sinda had expressed desire to begin one as well (we don’t live close and she traveled down to see me, risking seeing my entire family – well aware of our past – just to see me). As I admitted in part two: I rushed things, I wanted to be healed so so bad, that I ignored the pessimistic aspects of reality to feel that way. None of that is on Sinda, like I said: I asked her to be my girlfriend.
Sinda also had no obligation to help me with my feelings after the relationship ended… at least I don’t think so. Yet the continued insistence on being friends led me to conclude: better deal with the negativity now then, don’t want this coming out ever again. For example, if I had never confronted Sinda on her cheating… years could have passed and still, when we first spoke again – it would have risen to my mind, and it would have been much worse after all those years of guilt.
This is also part of the importance of confrontation: your own mental health. For me, I don’t forget things – even the things I want to. I am someone who struggles with insecurity and self-image (part of my problems with anxiety I imagine) and so, an event like that – I would have felt guilty forever, until I knew she had cheated and I wasn’t crazy.
I had also found Sinda to be very controlling the last weeks of our relationship. I found her to be a complete opposite of the person I had known, getting annoyed at traits in me that she used to praise. For example: when we first started dating, I took time out of an evening with friends to tell her how wonderful she was. She was so happy and impressed by that, she told her mom the next day. In the final weeks – if she expressed feeling like crap to me and I said “I’m sorry to hear that, anything I can do to cheer you up” – that became emotionally smothering.
An important effect of an abusive relationship is feeling that, despite how much you tried, your actions meant nothing. That is how I felt with Sinda at the end – she might have felt the same way with me, I don’t know. I know my actions were to try to save the relationship and, when that failed, to do what I could to insure a positive friendship. That did mean calling Sinda out on how I felt she had acted – again, for the importance of your own mental health – don’t let this one slide. But, after the initial arguments/anger over learning that she had cheated on me – I never said that I hated her. I said I was confused and hurt but wanted to be friends.
Being friends to Sinda meant not bringing up what had just happened in the relationship AT ALL (otherwise I was being controlling by using the past) and not being too positive. How positive is too positive? I texted her while I was vacationing in Hawaii, saying that “it may be the most beautiful island but it is missing the most beautiful woman.”
Looking back, I can definitely see that going too far. It indicated false intent: I was not trying at the time to start a romantic relationship. My intention was to send a positive message, letting her know I still cared, but intentions are not everything. It was wrong and I apologized when confronted, as Sinda made sure I was aware I had gone too far. This did not stop Sinda from saying “I wish I was in Hawaii” next time we talked. But of course, she hadn’t been thinking about how I would receive it – a problem that I think runs deep.
For those of us who care about others and have been abused, that caring becomes distorted. We feel we are putting others before ourselves because: why else be in an unhealthy relationship? I could say I was putting Sinda’s needs before mine when I decided to let her back into my life but it would be a lie. This is not to say her needs were not of paramount importance: I loved her and wanted to see her happy – but that was what I wanted. Sinda, like so many victims of emotional abuse (like me) came to the conclusion that she was putting others way ahead of her own happiness. This meant that she had to focus on her and do what made her happy.
This meant ending a relationship she had also spent months/arguably years putting herself into – not just ending but completely ENDING – even talk would be too much. Talk was just my projecting my problem onto her, even if the breakup was recent – less than a month ago recent, and even if it had an ending as bizarre and abusive as that one (cheating on someone is ALWAYS abusing them, even if it is not done to hurt them – Sinda called it a “normal” relationship).
Sinda was so convinced that she was putting others before herself that she could not see how self-centered her actions had become. This is dangerous. I have done this as well, and I did horrible things while in this mindset (I destroyed friendships and was abusive in the relationships I was in). Sinda told me she tried really hard to make our relationship work… and she also told me she was just doing it to make herself feel better. To this day, I am not sure (and likely will never be, this is part of why one must accept the apology not given).
One of these people I could be friends with, the other I could not. I could forgive someone trying to do the right thing and screwing up… god knows I’ve been there enough. I could not/did not want to forgive someone who was willfully selfish and had lied the entire relationship just to satisfy her own need. This unknown was part of my reasoning in confronting Sinda.
Don’t live your life with doubt, especially if you have been abused. It was not your fault. I said terrible things to Sinda, things that – even despite what was going on – she definitely did not deserve. Have I ever been actively controlling of her… I don’t think so, but I could be wrong. I would actually invite her to post just how I was on this blog, or if she wants to write it on her own – I would give the link. I tried to do what I thought would help Sinda in the long run to be happy, she herself told me – in happier times – to call her on abuse and any signs of any patterns she was repeating. I never expected that to turn into “just bringing up the past to hurt me.”
I never tried to mold her into the perfect girlfriend, she was already perfect to me. She still is, despite everything. Yes, Sinda has been abusive to me but, like I said in part two, to label her a villain would do nothing except make me feel better. She is just as lost in life as I am, as anyone is. I hope she finds her way.
I am glad I confronted her, although I wish Iit had gone better. The confrontation ended with Sinda labeling me a controlling abuser, telling me to fuck off, and saying with certainty that she now understands all this (everything, posts included) to be part of my attempt to control her. This despite the fact that Sinda is not her real name, that I never wrote it with the intention of blaming her (never posted it to her Facebook wall, never sent it to anyone she was involved with). When we were good, I was brave for bringing this to the public and speaking out. When we were bad – I was controlling and invading her privacy. No one, save me and close friends, will ever know who she was… but you all know now that this happened to me. Was I perfect? Not even close. I will try to be better in the future.
I make no apologies for loving Sinda, and for trying as hard as I did to make things work. I made mistakes and the relationship was not a healthy one… but since when do you logically choose the person you love? I see her as someone fully representing the beauty of all people. Perfect: no, but deep down she does have a good heart. At least that is my belief, and one that I am content to have.
All of this said: part of the title of this part is “knowing when to walk away.” It is that time, and if you are in a similar situation, I advise you to do the same. No love is worth the cost of your respect, the cost of who you are. That is not healthy love at all. An abuser is not in the mental space to admit mistakes and quickly change. Sinda wanted and still wants to change… but she could not escape her pattern overnight (a few months isn’t even overnight in a lifetime). Your abuser may tell you they want to change, may insist that you stay with them.. but it is abuse.
For all Sinda’s accusations of control, I find myself just wondering what it was I was trying to control? I did my best not to guilt her about the actual decision of the breakup, but I also insured she knew exactly when and how she had hurt me. I never did this with the intention of putting her down, but with the goal of protecting my mental state, as well as trying desperately to make her aware of just what it was she was doing. As I said, I can and want to believe in Sinda as the woman with the heart of love, trying her best to do the right thing. We all make mistakes. This may even be one for me… but I don’t think so.
Sinda, wherever you are and whenever you read this: know that I wish you nothing but the best and I hope you have found all the happiness you have chosen to have in life.
Abuse can never be changed. The past cannot be changed. As said in part one, there is no gold medal for walking away and doing the right, but hard, thing. But I want to give everyone out there who is doing it a hand. You are not alone.
Part Four here.