This post is a rough one for me; I had to do a lot of personal reflection and reading my journals. It meant remembering a lot of what I went through not only with my ex, but also some of his family. Since I struggle with PTSD due to the abuse and infidelity I experienced, a lot of what I was reading and remembering brought me right back to feeling small, unimportant, and insecure, just like my interactions with him make me feel. These feelings are exactly what my abuser wants me to feel. As long as I feel small, he can be in control.
I didn’t grow up in a household where kids or spouses were held down to be forced to listen to someone or to “calm them down.” I never saw my Dad pound his fist in front of my Mom’s face. No one slapped me or hit me or screamed at me. My parents didn’t criticize me or make fun of me for things I did or said, nor was I made to feel stupid when I made a mistake or didn’t know something. I view these behaviors as abusive and I assume most people would. But it seems that children who experience this often become adults that not only see it as normal, but as behavior they’re entitled to. It’s ok to be cruel, loud, critical, and mean because that’s what their parents did. While I feel for adults that grew up like this, I have very little sympathy for those who are told this behavior is wrong and still defend it and do it. When you know better, do better. Those who don’t choose to do better, create very toxic relationships, and I am all for removing them from our lives.
- Toxic people always seem to find those that have the biggest hearts. Those that love big and believe in commitment. They find those that are kind and caring, the ones who will do what is necessary to make relationships work. They need someone willing to stick with it when times get rough, someone who won’t walk away, someone who will fight for the relationship. The controller needs someone who won’t abandon them, because the longer they can keep them in the relationship, the more control they can gain.
I tried for so long to make my abuser understand how he was hurting me and the boys. I talked to him, I sent him articles, I bought him books, I begged for us to go to counseling; all to no avail. He would repeatedly tell me how and why I was wrong, and I would make the changes necessary to be better and make less mistakes so his life would be easier. Yet, whenever I would point out changes I needed him to make he would get defensive and cruel. So, I would work harder on the relationship and myself, which is exactly what he wanted. I was giving him more control.
- Toxic people are all about control. They want their needs and wants met without having to worry about yours. In fact, I don’t think they can even see anyone else’s needs without being told what they are. They just can’t see past themselves. Everything is about them and what they want.
I have often said that I didn’t live in my world, I lived in his. We did what he wanted and went where he wanted. When we would do something that I wanted to do and he didn’t want to do it, he would complain the whole time, ruining it for me. It was just easier to only do what he wanted so I didn’t have to hear about it for months later. We all just did what he wanted. The boys would ask me on Saturday what Dad’s plans were for Sunday (his day off) so they could get prepared. We all knew it was easier to do what he wanted and then we walked around on eggshells that whole day making sure it was a good day for him. It was exhausting and we began to dread Sundays.
- Toxic people make you feel small and insecure. You’re put in this box and you have to stay in this box or pay a price for trying to get out of it. The abuser doesn’t want you to feel strong or confident or you might realize the relationship is very one-sided. If you grow too big or too strong, then the abuser can’t feel bigger and stronger than you, and they have to bring you back down and put you back in your box. They are insecure, so they need you to feel small so they can feel more confident. So, the control increases- the criticism begins anew, the voice gets louder and sterner, the insults begin, and if you fight back against the control you may get pinned against the bed or a floor or a wall because the abuser wasn’t successful in verbally controlling you, so he chooses to physically do it.
This process is not sudden or quick. It’s a very gradual process that you don’t even see coming or realize is happening. I spent years constantly trying to figure out what I was doing wrong to make him so angry at me. I would self-reflect over conversations we had or my actions to see what I did or said, so I could do better. I worked hard to be the perfect wife he wanted, and I would constantly tell the kids to behave better, be quieter, and clean up more so they could be perfect, too. Anything to keep the criticism at bay or to not be made fun of for being imperfect. He had me on this pedestal of desired perfection, and I had to do everything correct to stay there or I disappointed him. As long as I was behaving how he wanted, our relationship was great, and I was a wonderful wife. He needed a perfect family to feel confident and good about himself, so he controlled and manipulated us into being that for him.
- Toxic people do not respect your boundaries but do expect you to respect theirs. The controller expects loyalty and respect while not giving it back in return. In a toxic relationship, on one side there will be lies, deceit, cheating, and manipulation. The other side must be faithful, honest, and true. This is a big reason why a toxic person will choose to be with someone who is kind and committed. That person is more likely to be trusting and trustworthy and will fight for their relationship. They will strive to better themselves and the relationship, and will do the work necessary to improve it. This gives the abuser the relationship they desire without having to actually do any work themselves. They blame their partner, and their partner will fix it.
I read books and articles, went to counseling, joined small groups on my own, anything to make myself a better person so our marriage would be better. He refused to do much of anything. He expected me to make changes to accommodate his desires but was unwilling to address my needs in the marriage. My boundaries were constantly crossed or flat out ignored, but I was expected to abide by his. I was made to feel very unimportant in our marriage, like I was just an extension of him, put on earth just to be his wife.
- Toxic people never take responsibility for anything that goes wrong. Nothing is their fault, and things usually just happen to them. They will blame you, their kids, their parents, their boss, the other woman, the circumstances, the alcohol, but never themselves. They never admit they made a bad choice or did a bad thing. The situations they find themselves in are never their fault. Someone at work lied about them, the other woman pursued them, the children are unreasonable, you pushed his buttons, but it’s never them. There is an exception to this. If it benefits them to admit responsibility, they will. This usually comes into play when trying to keep a relationship from falling apart, or in a new relationship. They have to reel you in somehow, and false vulnerability works great on big-hearted people!
My abuser is not at fault for anything. If he admits fault, then at some point he’ll change his mind or claim he never said he was at fault. It’s not his fault when he gets fired, it’s not his fault when he loses his temper, it’s not his fault when he falls into bed with someone else, it’s not his fault when he lies, it’s not his fault we all “misunderstood” him, etc. It’s always an accident, a mistake, something he didn’t mean to have happen, or someone else’s responsibility. Everyone else is the problem, it’s not him. This can also manifest as explaining away bad behaviors as “love” or “not wanting to hurt you.” Such as, “I lied because I didn’t want to hurt you” or “I didn’t tell you because I was trying to protect you” or “I didn’t want you to know because I love you.” These are just more ways of taking the blame off themselves and putting it on you.
Getting out of a toxic relationship is incredibly painful. This is because the harder you try to climb out of your box you’ve been stuffed into, the more your abuser will fight to keep you in it. This is where I am today. The pain of being in the box became too great to bear. I couldn’t stay in it another minute, but we are all still paying a price. When his sweetness and niceness don’t work, he gets angry and mean again. When the boys refuse to give him his way, he gets mad and blames me for alienating them against him. When I call him out on poor behaviors, he gets condescending and angry and blames me for them. The very fact that we refuse to move boundaries for him anymore or accept his abusive behaviors any longer has caused accusations and anger to fly. He refuses to accept consequences for his choices and goes against the boys’ requests, because he selfishly thinks he should always get what he wants. He keeps doing what he’s always done, because it’s always worked before.
Yet, we continue to push our way out of the box. What we are dealing with now is still better than the every day crap we went through. My youngest will go days without hearing a word from him, though I usually hear from him daily. I don’t think my oldest hears from him at all, now that he has finally told him exactly where he stands and has held firm to it. So we keep going, until we are free completely from this box, because we know that love does not put people there. Love accepts growth and strength and change, it is not selfish. When we love someone, we want them to have a life that is their own, thoughts that are their own, and feelings that are their own. Love is not toxic; it makes you feel safe and secure. If your relationship, any relationship, makes you feel small and worthless, it’s ok to walk away from it.
I have always been a huge advocate for family, but lately I have realized that sometimes it’s just better to walk away from the toxicity of conditional love. It really is ok to choose yourself. There will be guilt and you often second guess your decision, but I have a suggestion for that. Make a list of the ways your toxic person has hurt you. Write it in detail, specific occurrences. I call mine “Reminders.” It is my constant reminder of how he has made me feel and how he still makes me feel, because sometimes my brain forgets and tries to remember only the good. When I am feeling guilty for my choice to divorce and break up my family, I read my list. When I am feeling bad for not accepting his behaviors so that my family would be whole, I read my list. When he once again makes me feel small and insecure, I add to my list. That list keeps me out of that box he still tries to put me in.
Love and control do not exist together. They are complete opposites. Those that seek to control us, do not love us, no matter how many times they say they do.