The tricky thing with emotional abuse is there are no bruises. And when you’re criticized, then threatened, then blamed, then lied to, then apologized to, and then loved again, you wonder if you’ve imagined the whole thing. Perhaps the best clue that something is amiss, once you’re in that deep, is that you start to think you’ve gone crazy. Even the therapists I spoke to missed it. Friends and family were enamored of my husband, charmed by how much he seemed to love me. And he probably did.
In fact, I don’t believe he consciously knew what he was doing. Which led to my thinking the issue was some error of mine. When he’d yell and scream, I often found myself apologizing through tears. I’d drop everything to stay home and cook for him. I once returned a houseplant for fear it might set him off. I still can’t believe it happened to a smart, strong woman like me. But it did.
In a healthy relationship, there should be a balance of power. When emotional abuse is involved, the scales are tipped to one side. In my case, it started slowly. I lost my confidence little by little with each insult. I didn’t notice it was happening. I went from being an inspired, successful woman to simply feeling stuck, unsure what to do with myself. Is there even a problem? I found myself wondering.
My husband’s criticism was often disguised as help, with expertly painted negative portrayals of everyone. "Your new friend is totally taking advantage of you," he’d say. "I’m only telling you because I’m trying to protect you." Or, "You should read some of my grammar books before you share your writing with anyone. Don’t worry; it’ll get there." And even, "That doctor just told you he wanted to see you twice a week because he wants money. I bet there’s nothing even wrong with your back."