I really love giant monster movies. I especially love the ones that are more than just giant monster movies. Yeah, Ishiro Honda’s Godzilla features a giant radioactive dinosaur but that film also nails a commentary on post-war Japan and the horrors of nuclear war. Peter Jackson’s King Kong, while maintaining the original’s Beauty and the Beast storyline, also manages to deliver biting criticism on the idea of zoos.
Colossal is a film where Gloria (Anne Hathaway) discovers that she is directly controlling a giant monster on the other side of the globe. Yet for all the grandeur of that premise, it is much more a film about dealing with different types of abuse. Gloria is a mess, she drinks, she lies, she cannot maintain any kind of self-sustaining lifestyle. When her boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens) throws her out, Gloria returns home and must try to put her life back together. When she returns, she meets Oscar (Jason Sudeikis); a “nice guy” who is anything but.
The abusive relationship between Oscar and Gloria is the primary focus of the film. Oscar manipulates Gloria, setting himself up as her tether to sustainable living. He gives her a job, fills her house with furniture, spends free time with her. On the surface it does not sound bad, but Oscar uses all of this to control Gloria. When she attempts to do something (or someone) he doesn’t like, he gets angry and violent. In the case, the violence is not just against Gloria. Remember that giant monster thing? Yeah, turns out Oscar’s one too – only he has no compunctions against murdering people to keep Gloria in line.
Oscar is a piece of work to say the least and Colossal shines best when it is fully exploring the nature of his abuse. On this level, the movie is certainly a triumph. That said, when exploring Gloria – the movie ultimately falls flat on its giant face.
Gloria the Monster
Gloria is an abuser too. Her relationship with Tim is far from healthy. Since she cannot hold down a job, she is dependent on him. This in itself is not necessarily bad, but Gloria abuses this dependence. The beginning of the film makes it clear that she is not job hunting. Instead, she goes out drinking with friends all night – using either their money or Tim’s to sustain her alcoholism. Whenever confronted on this, she lies or gets angry at Tim for confronting her.
In addition to this, the film also shows us that Gloria is further abusing Tim by taking advantage of their apartment when he’s not home. Gloria’s plan in the beginning of the movie is to placate her boyfriend out of their apartment and invite her friends in so that they may resume drinking (likely Tim’s liquor). It only falls apart when Tim announces that he can no longer cope with her destructive lifestyle and wants her to move out.
This opening is fine. What happens next creates the problems. Gloria never repairs/admits her abusive role with Tim. Instead, she continues to shut him out throughout the film, choosing instead to reveal her monstrous secret to the people she spends all night drinking with (clearly the responsible ones). This is what helps cement Oscar’s hold over her in the first place.
Tim tries to contact Gloria and talk with her. He scolds, clearly still angry from their bad relationship. He does, however, have one crucial exchange of dialogue with Gloria when he apologizes for always lecturing her and genuinely seems to care about how she’s doing. This shows a painful truth of abuse: It ultimately turns both people ugly. Tim appears not to be the lecturer of choice but by habit – his role in Gloria’s pattern of self-destruction.
We’re never sure about Tim because the movie is not interested in fully exploring his relationship with Gloria. We do know that he cares about her – maintaining contact after she returns home. We do know that he comes for her at some point, worried about her developing home situation. We do know that he lectures her, but with seeming regret that their relationship is not different.
The biggest failing comes at the film’s climax, when Gloria flies to South Korea to follow through her plan to neutralize Oscar. She shuts Tim out again through all of this (Tim is expressing worry and concern, even attempting a confrontation against Oscar) but that’s not the problem. The problem is her final phone call. Here is the dialogue (I’m paraphrasing) :
Tim: “I’m worried about you. You owe me an explanation as to what’s going on.”
Gloria: “No I don’t, you threw me out. You said I was too ‘out of control’ – well now I’m more out of control than ever!” *click*
In this final exchange, Gloria resumes her form of abuse. There is no scene in the movie where she really admits and attempts to discuss her problem with Tim. In this last exchange, she abandons her responsibility and throws her problems on him. Worse, she implies that everything that happened to her at home is somehow Tim’s fault.
Gloria never hits Tim but it is clear that she is the source of emotional abuse in their relationship. She is the self-destructive one who cannot handle her emotions and thus decides they are not her responsibility. By not having Gloria ever acknowledge and confront her own history of self-destructive behavior, it completely ruins the redeeming/empowering arch that the film’s writers were attempting to communicate.
The failings of Colossal hit me as someone who was a victim of emotional abuse. They also irk the hell of me as a writer. Anne Hathaway does such a fantastic job of playing Gloria that I want to be rooting for her at the end. It also seems like writer and director Nacho Vigalondo wants her story to be empowering, a rise of an abuse victim against the abuser.
And it almost is! That’s the infuriating part. Gloria and Oscar are done so well but the failings of Gloria and Tim ruin it. This, as is, is not the story of a victim rising up but rather the tale of one abuser getting the best of another and then presumably continuing her abusive journey. Who’s the next Tim? Who knows but there is reason to think there will be another.
If you’re a writer and you want your protagonist to fix their flaw and be likable at the end, you have to make sure they earn it. Otherwise it feels like you’re forcing an unnatural ending that the story does not support.
Abuse is a complicated subject to tackle as a writer. Believe me, none of my numerous blog posts or short stories have done it justice. It is crucial to understand these basics: there are multiple types of abuse, men and women can be abusers, and abuse is a disease that infects everyone. If you’re not going to tackle all appropriately then be prepared for me to tear your work apart. We need a better dialogue on this serious issue, not half-baked ideas of female empowerment.
Colossal could have been an achievement. Instead, it is an entertaining giant monster movie wishes it was something bigger.
Okay, so much for leaving this a trilogy, but this part will be a little different. I will not be diving anymore into what happened to me specifically. That tale is told and there isn’t much more to say besides abusive relationship was abusive. I have already done a reflection of what happened several months later, as well as writing two just weeks after the occurrence. It is my hope that reading about an emotionally abusive relationship at different stages will help others spot similarities or differences in their own lives, and that my example will be of some benefit. Enough talk has been said about what it feels like to be in an emotionally abusive relationship, however, now let me devote at least one article entirely to talk about the path of healing.
To give some reference: it has only been three months since my last real contact with my abuser. To many, this may not sound like a lot of time – and it’s not. Yet I write this now (as opposed to waiting years) to show what can happen in just three months. To show how quickly healing can take hold of the mind and the body, and to elaborate on what issues continue to be struggles, so that those with frustrations and continued hardship can know: you’re not alone.
Man oh man, this saying, while a fun little nursery rhyme, is completely wrong. It would be if your parents closed with “Never pancakes and seldom a tart but greasy transfat is good for the heart.” No matter how well it rhymes, it isn’t true. This out of date ditty has caused horrors for those who have suffered from emotional abuse. The idea that, if someone does not physically strike you – they don’t hurt you, has made many victims feel ashamed of their pain. Well never do. Emotional abuse can be just as bad, if not worse, than physical (including horrors like sexual) abuse. Forget the notion that you’re weak if you’re harmed by words. It is just foolish.
“Forgive and forget.”
This one is personal for me. I grew up hearing this saying and, as a result, I always associated forgiving with the act of giving a clean slate. Everything was equal again after forgiving, after all – I had forgiven, and by nature that meant that I was okay with what happened, right? Wrong. Forgiveness is not about being all right with what happened and agreeing to forget the incident entirely. If it was, forgiveness would be nowhere near as powerful as it is. I will get more into this later but for now let me say that – whether you forgive or not is entirely up to you. No one can force you to ever forgive someone for something you don’t want (or are not ready) to forgive.
Adopting a Healing Attitude
How we perceive the world affects our world. I believe I have already spoken about the importance of taking both the negative and the positive in life and how it can influence who you are/your behavior – but let’s take a different approach. Imagine your went through life focusing on the pain, on how much the abuse really hurt you. You would likely define yourself as injured, broken, wrong ,whatever way you choose to express it. A healing attitude does the opposite. Yes, the hurt is real and I am not asking you to invalidate it by pretending it doesn’t exist.
Rather take strength in how much it does exist, and how it has not stopped you from being you. By putting emphasis on how injured you are, you give power to your abuser. Given how most abuse occurs from an abuser taking too much power already, this is something no victim likely ever wants again. In my research and reading, I have found that the best way to obtain this attitude is to perform the “best friend exercise.” Here is how it works:
Write down everything bad that happened to you as a result of the abusive relationship. How your abuser treated you, how it made you feel, everything. Next, write down a list of your best positive qualities. Everything you’ve always liked about yourself. Okay, now pretend that you aren’t the one who wrote down part one (the list of negative things that happened) and instead, your best friend just told you all of that. How would you respond? What would you say to them? With luck, the positives listed in step two will come in real handy in writing your response to your “best friend.” I have found this exercise to be extremely helpful when I am feeling down on myself.
By seeing yourself in a positive and progressive light, you will be that much closer to putting the pain behind you. Remember, while we have been injured, we are not broken. We are healing.
Understand How All Relationships are Connected
Have you ever known someone who just goes from relationship to relationship without ever seeming to be in a healthy one? Have you been that person? Have you ever heard someone say “well last time it wasn’t, but this time it’s real!” only to be subsequently let down and heart-broken again. The sad reality is that many people underestimate exactly how much all of our relationships are intertwined. I’m not just talking about the obvious ones like all the romantic relationships – obviously those all fall in the same group. Yet I know I personally underestimated the role of relationships encountered much earlier on, namely family structure, and how they can dramatically influence all relationship expectations.
The family is the blueprint for emotional reaction. When thought about, it seems obvious. Who do we encounter first in life? Who is literally our whole world for at least the first ten years of our lives? Families, and in particular the relationships within their structure, are everything. A child raised in a family where parents were unfaithful and treated one another with lies and manipulation will think that normal, how could they not? There is no other family blueprint to compare it to. By nature, we all believe we are born into a normal-ish family (unless the behavior is so abusive or jarring as to create the immediate knowledge of bizarreness). To better understand oneself in relationships, I suggest starting with taking an objective and honest look at the family. This can be difficult as it is a challenge to alienate what is so familiar. Yet it is crucial to help stop and prevent abuse. That cycle is brutal. Those who have been abused are far more likely to abuse someone else. Those who grew up with parents who were abusive may well believe (even if only subconsciously) that this is the normal way of life and anything else is foreign or a lie.
If there is a pattern of emotional abuse in romantic relationships, odds are it began in the family. The good news is that it is a pattern that is easily broken. One cannot change their family, but it is possible change your personal level of family interaction. If you have a family that is always sarcastic and very critical, be genuine and positive with them (for as much as you are able). It will lead to interesting results. View your family as people, flawed people (aren’t we all). By fixing the personal relationship with the family, by learning and admitting that their abuse was wrong – one takes a vital step towards leaving the cycle behind forever. Sample questions to ask:
Do you feel like you were important to your parents? Was there anything more important to them? How did that make you feel?
Would you be comfortable going up to your mother/father and hugging them, telling them that you love them and that it’s okay. Why or why not?
Think of your sibling (if you have one). What memories come to mind first? If they were negative, how do you think that made you feel?
Be Thorough in Your Approach to Healing
The brain is like the body in a lot of ways. Think of emotional abuse as having the same effect as eating nothing but junk food and not moving from your couch/bed ever. It’s not the healthiest way to live. To change it, would you simply stop eating a certain type of candy? No, of course not. Especially if you were serious about getting into shape. Getting the mind/soul into shape after abuse requires this same level of commitment.
For starters, while search engines like Google are a helpful tool, do not simply google “how to heal from emotional abuse,” read the first article and feel like you’ve cracked it. This knowledge I’m writing now did not come solely from online articles. Read books (preferably by those with degrees). Read more than one. To date, I have read two entirely and bits of many others and they have helped so much more than any five-minute article from Buzzfeed. Get informed, get as informed as possible on what has happened to you and how best to heal.
And remember (title time), you’re not alone – and you should not do this alone. While a sad taboo is still associated with therapists, they are a wonderful idea. Think about it, someone whose job it is to help you. Someone who has spent years learning how best to help you deal with problems such as the ones you’re experiencing. That sounds pretty awesome. Seeing a therapist is no admission of weakness. It is a sign of maturity. You are admitting you are not perfect and signaling to all that your happiness is important. Everyone could use someone to listen during their lives. Friends are nice, but friends didn’t go to school and study exactly what to say in that kind of situation. These people did.
And it should not end with a therapist. The sad truth is that emotional abuse can have severe physical repercussions. Emotional abuse can cause physical symptoms like muscle pain, panic attacks, fatigue, and many other wonderfully not fun things. No one is weak for feeling any of these. They are the body’s natural response to a horrific incident. The good news is that professionals exist to help with all of them. Nutritionists, physical therapists, massage therapists, and even regular doctors can help if they are informed. While your abuser may have wanted to see you in pain: not many other people do. Be thorough and take a balanced approach – it will pay off quickly.
Consistency is Key
Imagine someone walked into a room and declared “I am all about peace and being passive” and then punched you in the face. “Diplomacy is awesome” followed by another blow. “I never want to hurt another living thing as long as I live.” Kick to the gut. Odds are you would be confused to say the least.
Actions matter and words matter. One might matter more than the other… but I feel like that is arguing particulars. Point being, many abusers sadly fit this model. They will often declare one thing and do another. Well this can also work the other way too. If you’re someone who enjoys helping others, yet you call yourself worthless: that is the same disconnect. If you say “I have to heal and I’m willing to do whatever it takes” and proceed to go out, get drunk, hook up with someone and start a relationship – that is the disconnect too. It can mean slowing your actions and thoughts down, but you want to be consistent. It may be hard but it is so important. No one likes a hypocrite and this goes into being a person you can like/love.
Respond, Don’t React
This can be one of the most important pieces of advice to remember. Odds are, even if you were the victim in an abusive relationship – you behaved in ways you did not like. You may have snapped, given into an argument, or just not spoken up for yourself when you would have liked to. No one is perfect and it is impossible to be fully healthy in an abusive relationship. Even after the relationship is over, you may find yourself getting angry at anything that reminds you of that dark time – and taking it out on someone in the present. Odds are this makes you feel less than great, and hinders a healthy self-image.
We are creatures of emotion, this is true – but we are also creatures of reason. Take a moment (whenever possible) and simply think. “This is making me sad/happy right now, but is it really this or something else? What is that something else? What can I do about it? How do I ideally want to respond to this situation?” How would the ideal you respond? Think that and try to make it happen. Perfection won’t be achieved, but you’ll likely spend a lot less time committing to actions you will later regret.
The Power of “I love you,” “I forgive you,” and “I’m sorry”
As we have recently discussed: words have power. Some words have more power than others. I personally believe that the three sayings highlighted above may be among the most powerful words out there. The emotional weight attached to each of them is staggering. “I love you” is self-explanatory. When spoken with genuine emotion, there is little these words can’t do. Yet that is the catch with all three – it has to be genuine. This also goes back to consistency. If an abuser says “I love you” followed by a slap, a lie, or a cheat – then the words become a lie. This is horrible, and one of the greatest things to watch out for. Never say “I love you,” “I’m sorry,” or “I forgive you” without meaning it. Such an act will undo all the power of the word and turn it into one of the most damaging forms of emotional abuse there is.
What Does it Mean to Forgive
Really, you should decide this for yourself. I mentioned above that I don’t believe forgiveness should be associated with forgetfulness and I stand by that. When you forgive someone (or when someone forgives you) that is not an admission that what happened in the past was okay. While I have been recovering, this was something I struggled with. A part of me did not want to forgive my abuser because I was scared that doing so negated the abuse. In the past, I had been abused whenever I tried to bring up past abuse after forgiveness (usually to compare it to current abuse) because I had forgiven her. I forgive – so it doesn’t exist anymore, right? Wrong.
Forgiveness is not wiping the slate clean, it is not an admission that, whatever happened, you have decided to be okay with it. Abuse is never okay and no act of forgiveness and erase wrongs. What I feel forgiveness is, is the ability to look past what happened, acknowledge the pain, but find it within yourself to still say “there is something more to you, something worth my continued investment, openness, and caring.” That is powerful and takes a lot of personal strength. Again: no one can ever force you to forgive.
One thing I realized very quickly after my last run in with emotional abuse was that it wasn’t going to affect just that relationship. I shared several friends with this person. When you’re a friend, it can be very hard to know how to react. I learned this because, a short time before my abuse happened, I watched similar events transpire between two friends: one whom I was very close to, the other whom I was only fairly close with. In this case, the one I was closer to was the abuser.
I wanted to confide in my friend, wanted to talk and understand, but I realized I wasn’t helping them. Frequently, emotional abusers are high-level narcissists and giving them attention does nothing except fuel their need for validation. My old friend talked about change, talked about improving their life and becoming someone who they could love. This friend had been as quick to condemn Sinda as they were to follow in her actions. I don’t hate my friend for this, but I knew that I (wanting to change my life and heal) could no longer be part of their inner circle.
I caution against judging from a perch, as I have written before – the line between abuser and victim is slim, but escaping the cycle means escaping it entirely. I could not champion this cause against my own emotional abuse without condemning every act of it. Were I to say “that’s horrible” to what happened to me but only “I understand” elsewhere, not only would I be a hypocrite but much worse – I would be validating a wrong act. Emotional abuse is incredibly harmful, being friends with an emotional abuser (without confronting them about their problem) is very similar to being friends with a rapist or a molester. Compassion can be a wonderful emotion or a crippling enabler – try to know when is when. It was horrible to confront my friend and tell them I could no longer be there, but it has helped in my healing.
Maintain Balance Between the Emotional and the Logical
As has been strongly hinted at by now, pretty much all of these improvements require the ability to detach and view your personal life through an objective lens, as devoid of emotion as possible. Without the ability to objectively look back at past actions, it is very difficult to make any sort of change. That said, do not abandon emotion. Our emotions are a powerful and natural part of who we are. They define us as surely as our ability to reason and reflect. Abandoning emotion can lead to severe problems with intimacy and will ultimately hurt any attempt at a future relationship (of any kind). Human beings are social creatures, we evolved that way. It wasn’t solitary skill that propelled us to the dominant race on the planet. I’m not saying go be the life of the party every night, but try to keep at least a couple of souls you can be truly honest with. On the same token – do not let your emotions run free… that way is no good either.
Being Drunk and Being Angry
Have you ever had someone say “well I was drunk” as an excuse? Have you ever had someone say “you were angry, you meant that”? Were they the same person? There is a lot of debate as to whether we are more truthful when we are angry. Personally I have always said no (well, more no than yes). Anger lowers inhibition, this is true. You are more likely to just say what you’re thinking when angry… but you’re also angry when you’re angry. Anger is a passionate emotion that has to burn and looks for fuel constantly to stay alive (that is why thinking about something in the past can make you angry in the present). It is also an emotional response to sorrow, as human beings prefer to be angry than sad or emotionally hurt. It is a defense mechanism, meaning your guard is up. How honest are we at that point – I don’t think very, but we will say what is on our mind.
Same with being drunk. Being drunk lowers the inhibitions and allows us to say whatever we’re thinking, but there is no correlation between inebriation and honesty. It is the same distorted state, simply distorted in a different way. Before of any decisions or actions in these states, as most people are not fully themselves. Our inhibitions exist for a reason – we need that logical part of the brain.
See the Good and the Bad in Life – but Focus on the Good
Over the years many people have tried to simplify life. Life is like a box of chocolates, life sucks, life rules – there’s a million “life is…” statements out there. I have found that life is life. An entity completely independent from us in a way. It has existed before we were born and will very likely continue long after we’re gone. Life is what happens when we’re busy making other plans.
Anyway, there is good and bad in life, but the importance is to focus on the good. This harkens back to the healing attitude. This absolutely does not mean downplay the bad – noooooo. Pretending the negative does not exist can be a very dangerous idea. Imagine breaking your arm and just going about your day. You never get treatment, you never even get any over the counter pills. It’s not a big deal, right? You have two arms.
People behave that way a lot when it comes to emotional damage. Yes they cheated but it’s fine – it happens. No. That is a completely wrong way to look at it. Like an unchecked broken bone, the pain will go away, but the healing will be nowhere near as complete. Allow the pain in, but look for the silver lining. I believe that there is a positive in every situation, even when I look back on what happened with Sinda. This does not validate her hurting me, it just means that I choose to take what strength I can from the pain, rather than simply surrender to it.
It Will Never Be Simple
(Update 9/4/15) In my first write-through of this, I missed an important lesson. It will never be simple, your feelings toward your abuser. Some people will tell you “it’s okay to hate” or “you should forgive” but really, odds are you will be doing both for a long time. This can lead to problems when you tell yourself “how can I miss him/her after all they did?” or “am I stupid for still caring?” The answer to this lies in a wonderful part in our being: the proof that we are governed by both logic and emotion. It is natural to miss someone you love, but it is logical and rational to understand what they did and resent/feel negativity towards it. Too much emotion and everything is forgiven: who cares? Too much logic without compassion is they are horrible – a horrible, inhuman monster: f*ck them! Neither one of these is a truly healthy view, regardless of how good or right they might feel in the moment.
I am a firm believer in that there is no such thing as simple as a “bad person.” The abuser wasn’t all bad, or else you never would have fallen for him/her… but they clearly were far from all good or else the abuse would not have happened. It is okay to remember the different layers and shades of the relationship. Your feelings never have to fit into one clean definition. Just don’t let it consume you, don’t think about it too much.
On Future Relationships
A question has been asked since I left my abusive relationship: when will I start my next one? There is no time table, nor should there be. I will use an analogy to make my point. Going for a relationship can be like going food shopping: never do it when you’re hungry. You inevitably come home with at least one thing you don’t want. Loneliness is like sadness: we hate it. We hate feeling it. Sometimes, we can hate it so much that we will do anything to change it. Yet loneliness should never be the primary reason (or really a reason at all) to start a relationship. Most healthy relationships are born out of a desire to share, and a trust that you can be fully open with another person. The problem with loneliness, in addition to being an emotion we try naturally to get rid of, is that it is selfish. You’re beginning a relationship, involving another human being, just to make yourself feel better.
In my time healing, I have had many nights where the desire is strong to go out and find someone, anyone, just to distract me from what I’m feeling – but feeling is part of healing. It really is. Time, and attention devoted to equalizing the parts of life (job, hobby, passion) will help far more in the long run than hopping from relationship to relationship. That is akin to opening a wound every day. Sometimes things need to heal. There are other ways to relieve the primal needs to loneliness, ones that don’t involve other lives.
The day you should enter the next relationship is the day you have found someone you feel truly open with, and want to share something.
Well, that will do it for sagely advice for now. Again, most of this came from much wiser people than I – and I advise you to seek those people out, whether it be through written word, counseling, support group, or whatever method you take. Perhaps I shall write an update in a year and report on how healing has changed. I hope that this series has been helpful to you so far. My goal was to give writings at every stage, from the immediacy of the next day to the reflection of months down the road. Who only knows what new lessons will turn up in the next year.
I hope you continue to heal. It is a hard journey, and sadly not one everyone makes. There are those who never recover from abuse and their lives appear controlled by solely the negative of what life has to offer. You’re worth more than that. Every soul on this planet is. I will leave you with one last exercise idea. Write down what matters to you and who you want to be. Look at what you have written. Say it out loud, say it as confidently as possible. Were there parts where your voice faltered? Right down what can be done to fix those weak spots.
Move forward. Move slowly. The road is long and full, but so is life. Take your time, you are worth it. You’re not alone.
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.