When does cruelty become pathology?
June 23, 2012 4:47 AM   Subscribe

What qualifies as domestic abuse (or who qualifies as a domestic abuser) and what is just shitty relationship behaviour? Trying to come to terms with a long episode of nastiness in my past and failing.

A few years ago I was in a miserable relationship with a shitty boyfriend, "P". This person did awful-but-not-classed-as-abusive things like:

-Trying to get in the pants of one of his female colleagues for the first 6 months of our relationship, which didn't end until she left. I've no idea if he was ever successful or not. I know he lent her some DVDs before she finished so he'd have an excuse to keep in contact. Still don't know the full story. All his work colleagues, who socialised with me, knew about this. Of course I didn't discover till the end.

-Asked me to live with him but was writing love letters to his married ex, the first reply of hers landed on our shared doorstep four days after we'd moved in together, on my birthday. (again, found out later)

- Was at the very least, trying to mess around on me with another ex while I was undergoing treatment for cervical cancer (again, came out later)

-Not having sex with me because of 'erectile dysfunction' but watching 3+ hours of porn a day, sometimes while I was at home, in the same room (one time I was sat right across from him). I don't mind a bit of porn but I am not comfortable with this. Then he either booked off every afternoon for 2 weeks once or called in sick (I don't know) to spend 5+ hours a day watching porn. Obvious, constant leering at girls in the street, sometimes very young. No sex during this time obviously.

-Found viagra under the bed, still don't know if he was using that with me or not. Probably not though.

And then there's the stuff I know is out-and-out DV:

-Smashing up the flat (bookshelves, TV, wardrobe, bed, tried for the couch) after we had an argument. I ran out and cried and cried behind a nearby car, too upset to walk down the street properly. He emerged 10 mins later calm and untroubled, as if nothing had happened. I was shaking and crying for 3 straight days.

-Chasing me into the bathroom and cornering me in the shower because I had his phone in my hand (I shouldn't have picked it up)

-After an extended period of my absence, having rebuilt everything he smashed, got in drunk, had an argument with me and pissed all over the new wardrobe.

-Physically assaulted a teenager in the street who shouted something at him (he knocked him off his bike in the road).

Then just other generally-bad stuff like telling me he thinks consciences are pointless and how I shouldn't eat that chocolate or I'll get fat, and I eat 'council-estate food'. The most upsetting: saying my parents couldn't have abused me because he met them and they were fine. (He did - for 10 minutes).

I could go on and on, but I think this paints a fairly accurate picture.

My problem now is: although it felt extremely abusive, and I feel physically sick even thinking about the stuff he did now, it does not fit the classic pattern of DV. He wasn't jealous or controlling, he didn't try to isolate me, he didn't try to cut off my money. He wasn't jekyll and hyde. He was an extreme lowlife and had some abusive 'episodes'. Do I think of this as domestic violence and get therapy according to that, or do I chalk it up to experience as another arsehole, this one just much worse than the others, that I never have to see again, shit happens?

Please try not to judge me for putting up with some of this (I didn't know about more than half of it until the very end). I was in a very dire financial situation. I also know that overuse of porn and ED go hand in hand, and would explain the viagra. This has been really uncomfortable to write as I feel it exposes my worst weaknesses, not his. The other thing is that this person is someone with a 1st class degree in the arts who works for a national children's charity, who is vegan, who has lots of friends (not very nice ones, OK), who is charming and 'reasonable' and funny in company. Which is making me feel like I am mentally unbalanced and unreasonable and wrong. Please advise (and sorry for the length).
posted by everydayanewday to Human Relations (39 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Therapy. Not because there is anything wrong with you, but because it will help you heal from a lot of evil things that were done to you. Hang in there.

(p.s. He was/is an abusive fuck)
posted by angrycat at 4:51 AM on June 23, 2012 [8 favorites]

I am going to say that he sounds like a total douche bag but I don't think that any of this counts as abuse except the cornering you with the phone, that sounds like it was pretty aggressive. The other things make him sound like a terrible person who was trying to hurt your feelings and did not respect you but again, I don't think that it was "abuse". I do hope you are able to move on from this horrible experience and I wish you all the best. Hugs.
posted by saradarlin at 4:57 AM on June 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

Smashing up the furniture is abuse.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:58 AM on June 23, 2012 [24 favorites]

My problem now is: although it felt extremely abusive, and I feel physically sick even thinking about the stuff he did now, it does not fit the classic pattern of DV. He wasn't jealous or controlling, he didn't try to isolate me, he didn't try to cut off my money. He wasn't jekyll and hyde.

Therapy because you should not discount your own feelings. It doesn't really matter if something fits a pattern or not, it felt abusive to you and therefore it was abusive to you. Your feelings are your own internal barometer for what is acceptable and what isn't in your life. Please listen to them.

This has been really uncomfortable to write as I feel it exposes my worst weaknesses, not his.

I don't see any weaknesses here - I see someone who went through a really shitty situation who's trying to make some sense of it. Seek out a really great therapist who can help you move to the next level with this.
posted by mleigh at 5:06 AM on June 23, 2012 [17 favorites]

The Internet doesn't have to vote to call it abuse in order for you to seek counseling.
posted by that's how you get ants at 5:15 AM on June 23, 2012 [43 favorites]

Abuse takes many forms and not all abusers fit the mold perfectly. My abusive ex mostly engaged in psychological/emotional/verbal abuse, but did not seem jealous or controlling in the typical sense. But he was undoubtedly abusive.

While not all of the things you describe, standing alone, would necessarily count as abuse, some of the things do. I like to think of abuse as a systematic pattern. The pattern you describe seems abusive as hell to me. Yes, the chasing and cornering you is abusive on its own. But physically assaulting the teenager might not be abusive towards you if that was a one-off event. But coupled with everything else, I would venture to guess that it was an indirect "threat" that he is willing to use physical violence against you--just another part of the systematic pattern.

The one thing you mentioned about him denying that you were abused by your parents really stuck out to me as a survivor of emotional abuse. Denying your reality and making you question yourself and your reality is common among abusers. They also will use your greatest vulnerability and sadness as a weapon against you. He probably did this many times over, but this one stung so much because it was so cruel to be memorable.

You are not unbalanced, unreasonable or wrong. Systematic abuse is designed to make you feel unbalanced, unreasonable and wrong, but it is merely a symptom of abuse, not the truth. Your perceptions are right on and it is okay to label this as abuse if it helps to your recovery. I think it might.

And FWIW, my ex was super-charming, well-liked and hid it well from others. But he was still an abuser.
posted by murrey at 5:21 AM on June 23, 2012 [16 favorites]

The Internet doesn't have to vote to call it abuse in order for you to seek counseling.

This, a gazillion times. You do not need a license or meet super-specific criteria to get help getting over something. Your ex doesn't have to have satisfied the fact pattern of a criminal act for your suffering to be legitimate. The fact that this felt abusive and causes you distress now is the only fact that matters.

But if you really want permission, you officially have mine.
posted by SMPA at 5:36 AM on June 23, 2012 [4 favorites]

Do I think of this as domestic violence and get therapy according to that, or do I chalk it up to experience as another arsehole, this one just much worse than the others, that I never have to see again, shit happens?

You don't have to attach a label to it. Your feelings are what matter, and what comes through your post is a lot of self-doubt, self-blame, guilt, and sorrow. You are emphatically not to blame for anything he did. You are not to blame for staying with him in a rough situation. He didn't need to be controlling if he knew you were in dire financial straits, by the way; the situation did it for him. Likewise, my abusive ex was never controlling or jealous. He didn't need to be, I was in a foreign country where I had no friends or family, was in dire financial straits as well (largely due to family, in fact), and I've always been the openly monogamous type: he knew I was dedicated to "working things out" because I always said so. He didn't have to force my hand on that.

You can go to therapy for any reason you want. Your therapist and you will eventually build up a rapport and a foundation to where things will be come increasingly clear in time. The great part about therapy is that with a good therapist, other things will come into light too; your whole life can be touched in a healing, constructive way. It's absolutely worth it with a good therapist. The only "requirement" is that you want that for you.
posted by fraula at 5:45 AM on June 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Personally, I don't think that the issue is deciding whether or not this guy was "technically abusive." The line between "asshole" and "abusive" is a hell of a lot murkier than society would like. (And quite aside from your situation, too many women stay in terrible relationships because they worry about which side of that line their relationship falls upon.)

The issue is that you are hurting. The issue is that you feel abused. That's why you're asking this question, right? You want to know that your feelings are valid.

But if you poll the Oh So Wise And Hardly Ever Wrong Internet, and the Internet happens to conclude that your situation is not technically abusive ... Would you magically feel better? I doubt it. I think you would feel worse: you would still feel abused, but now also invalidated.

So I agree with that's how you get ants. Don't look to the Internet to validate these feelings. They are your feelings. You don't have to justify them to anybody, least of all the Internet!

Please seek counseling. I wish you the best. You don't deserve to feel like this.

And also ... *hug.*
posted by hypotheticole at 5:48 AM on June 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

Anything that involves breaking or cornering is no-questions-needed abusive. You do not need to be personally hit to be abused, and destruction of proprerty and intimidation, direct or indirect, both qualify. Regarding the rest: what I see is a person with severe psychological problems, & classifying as abuse/not abuse seems to me largely a waste of time. This person was not fit to be in a relationship. Chasing everything that moves while in a committed relationship is not normal. Calling in sick to work to watch porn and/or jerk off is not normal. Urinating on items in the house? So not normal it's ridiculous.

It is easier than most people think to get stuck in relationships with Very Weird Shit going on. I'm sorry you went through that experience. But I want you to know that this guy was truly not normal, not right, broken in serious ways. Keep that firmly in mind as you try to let go, because that, all by itself, will explain so much of what happened. You can't hold yourself (or other men) accountable for what went down when you were mired down in crazy-person land.
posted by Ys at 5:48 AM on June 23, 2012 [10 favorites]

His behavior was unacceptable. So, so unacceptable. I'm sorry that you experienced all that.

Sadly, many of us accept behavior that is objectively unacceptable from people in our lives. The reasons vary, of course, but you are not alone in accepting behavior that you felt maybe you shouldn't, and of course it isn't your fault.

I very much hope you seek a provider for therapy. This experience obviously was very painful for you, and for that alone you deserve to work through it with someone. Perhaps even with time to heal and repair, you will be able to think about how to not accept that which you find unacceptable, and thus see a brighter future for yourself as well as come to terms with the past.

That's later though, for now, take care of yourself. It can feel so weird and disorienting to leave a world of unpredictability and deception like you described. If the question of whether it was "abusive" is throwing you off, perhaps you can table that for yourself until you feel more sure and able to address it.
posted by newg at 5:52 AM on June 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you're looking for labels to help you better understand the situation, then "traumatic experience". That alone is enough to seek counseling. Once there you can develop insight into whether you need a different definition or need one at all.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:53 AM on June 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I was doing a course on telephone counselling last year, and we covered domestic abuse quite thoroughly. It consists of the following:
  • Physical - not mentioned in the article linked to, but in our studies it mentioned displays of physical aggression, such as punching walls or breaking things
  • Spiritual
  • Verbal/Nonverbal - including psychological, which applies in your case, with how he spoke to you about eating - emotional, with how he was carrying on with other women and not particularly caring with how it was affecting you
  • Sexual - sexual exploitation (such as forcing someone to look at pornography)
  • Emotional
  • Financial/Economic
  • Stalking
More in-depth, here, at this article Domestic Violence and Abuse: Types, Signs, Symptoms, Causes, and Effects. Importantly, a quote:

"Studies show that verbal or nonverbal abuse can be much more emotionally damaging than physical abuse."

Also, what everyone else is saying. You are feeling trauma from this relationship. The guy was a douchebag, and even IF his behaviour was just of a cheating douchebag, and nothing else, and you were traumatised by it, therapy would still be a good idea. It can help you to get coping strategies, at the very least.
posted by owlrigh at 6:10 AM on June 23, 2012 [14 favorites]

You have every reason to get therapy. I suggest someone familiar with abuse because while some of the stuff you describe is just shitty behavior, a lot of it is domestic abuse (anything that make you feel unsafe in your home or with your partner is abusive.)

Therapy will also help you understand how you ended up in this kind of relationship, and how to do a better job of selecting partners in the future.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:27 AM on June 23, 2012

If my calling it "abuse" is what it will take to get you to seek therapy:

It was abuse.

posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:28 AM on June 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

Actually, another thought.

The difference between "cruelty" and "abuse" is "when you start questioning whether it's abuse in the first place."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:29 AM on June 23, 2012 [4 favorites]

A systemic pattern of doing scary, hurtful stuff on (as far as I can tell from your post) purpose is abuse, whether or not it fits the conventional rubric. Also, breaking things and chasing someone - what the fuck? We aren't talking just "ooh, I flipped out and broke a plate without threatening anyone", which is juvenile but not abusive; we're talking about destroying your stuff in order to display anger.

A side note: I've been in a milieu full of vegan sensitive new age guys for a long time, and there are abusers here. It's disorienting to compare the public persona and the private one.
posted by Frowner at 6:48 AM on June 23, 2012 [4 favorites]

I get it. You want a classification for the things that happened.

1. Adultery is a sure-shot relationship breaker and grounds for divorce according to Mr Forgiveness Himself, Jesus Christ. One may or may not choose to break up over it, but you would have grounds to. So first of all we have something that counts as the Dealbreaker Which Breaks All Deals, whether or not it is abuse.

2. Patterns of adultery which qualify him as a Player in the taxonomy of Lundy Bancroft. This is characterised not only by the cheating but by playing women off against each other and heavy amounts of manipulation. Especially since cheating itself exposes you to social humiliation and STDs as well as draining resources, habitual and ongoing cheating patterns qualify as abuse on their own. Also, because that level of deception can't be pulled off without extensive manipulation and gaslighting.

3. Symbolic violence - hitting, destroying, or breaking objects, sending a clear signal that you could be next. This counts as violence even if he never hits you - you always know he could. This counts as domestic violence in anyone's book. Also, his assaulting someone else wasn't abuse towards you, but it was information that told you he could and would cross the line into violence towards others, therefore the threat that you could be next was completely real.

4. Destroying your property. See 3, plus, your property got destroyed.

5. Undermining: remarks about your food/diet/weight etc, telling you your parents didn't abuse you when you are in a position to know that and he isn't. This counts as verbal abuse and is described in the taxonomy of Patricia Evans.

6. You economically couldn't get away. This is economic abuse whether or not he directly controlled your access to money, as he was depending on your inability to leave so as to indulge in abusive behaviour while still keeping you around.

You're blaming yourself because your parents, the douchecopter, and society as a whole says it's your fault. Or not your fault but your responsibility, or some shit like that.

You think it wasn't abuse because your parents, the douchecopter, and society as a whole says it wasn't abuse.

You feel bad asking the question of whether it was abuse because your parents, the douchecopter, and society as a whole says (for various reasons, some well-intentioned and others not) that the question doesn't matter. Actually the question does matter, because if you go by what you want or what seems right to you, you could be wrong. You know this because you watched the douchecopter do what he wanted and what seemed right to him, and it's clear to you that his behaviour was at the very least immoral, and also because getting victimised was sometimes (or seemed to be) a result of doing what you wanted or what seemed right in your own eyes. Therefore, you are looking for a theoretical framework for making sense of your interactions, which is external to both of you and doesn't depend solely on the subjective perceptions of either you or him. I get it. That is completely sane.

Also, having words for it helps you to construct counter-narratives and elevator pitches that explain, even if only to you and only in your own mind, what happened without requiring yards of explanation and can't be picked apart so as to easily prove that it's your fault or you just took it the wrong way.

So, yes it does matter whether this was abuse or not. And yes it was abuse.

It doesn't matter if he was a vegan and a lead of the local chapter of Friends of Broccoli and Small Woodland Creatures, or whatever. All that's just a public image. Look what he was like to someone who knew the real him. He is, for practical purposes and until and unless he chooses to change for the better, the scum of the earth. You are not. You are guilty of nothing. You have no grounds for feeling shame or guilt of any kind. It is not your fault you were confused by this because your parents, the douchecopter, and society as a whole all worked together to deliberately confuse you so that you wouldn't know whether, or how, to stand up for yourself. You did nothing wrong. You are not guilty. He is guilty. You have nothing to be ashamed of. He should be ashamed.
posted by tel3path at 7:08 AM on June 23, 2012 [24 favorites]

Here is my take:

The sum of

-Trying to get in the pants of one of his female colleagues...ASSHOLE BOYFRIEND
-...writing love letters to his married ex...ASSHOLE BOYFRIEND
- ... trying to mess around on me with another ex while I was undergoing treatment for cervical cancer...WORTHLESS ASSHOLE BOYFRIEND

-Not having sex with me ...watching 3+ hours of porn a day, sometimes while I was at home, in the same room... constant leering at girls in the street, sometimes very young...If he exposed you to porn while you made it clear it was too much, even if he was just watching it in the same room...SEXUAL ABUSE. The leering to other women/young girls...CREEPY AS FUCK, EMOTIONAL ABUSE TO YOU
-Smashing up the flat ...ABUSE
-Chasing me into the bathroom and cornering me ...ABUSE
-pissed all over the new wardrobe...ABUSE (WTF?)
-Physically assaulted a teenager ...ABUSIVE, but not to you
-fat comments, disregarding your abusive experience...COMPLETE ASSHOLE/ABUSE depending on how often it happened.
= Abusive, scary, completely selfish partner.

You were abused. Some of this things on their own are abuse, even more so seeing them together.

What is more, nobody can invalidate your experience of abuse. Just like you told us about how he dismissed your parents' abuse after meeting them for 10 minutes, we have no right to dismiss your abuse with merely an account of what happened. Part of disregarding your parents faults was making you doubt about his own faults. So, to me, a complete stranger, it was abuse, but even if I told you the opposite, what matters is how you feel. Give yourself permission to feel the way you feel, and give yourself the consideration of trusting your gut. Take care of yourself.
posted by Tarumba at 7:08 AM on June 23, 2012 [12 favorites]

Plus, withholding sex especially while observably directing his sexual energy elsewhere = Withholding.
posted by tel3path at 7:11 AM on June 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I forgot to say, I am so sorry this happened to you. My advice: don't let it bring you down. Things like these can traumatize you or just shock you, but make you stronger. A therapist can help you achieve the second alternative. A therapist will help you heal so you can leave this in the past and move on to a happy future.
posted by Tarumba at 7:15 AM on June 23, 2012

I think other people have covered the abuse angle pretty well, so I want to address this bit at the end:
The other thing is that this person is someone with a 1st class degree in the arts who works for a national children's charity, who is vegan, who has lots of friends (not very nice ones, OK), who is charming and 'reasonable' and funny in company. Which is making me feel like I am mentally unbalanced and unreasonable and wrong.

It sounds to me like what you're saying is that someone who fits all of these qualifications can't possibly be a bad person, so you're doubting your own judgment. So let's run through the list, shall we?
-1st class degree in the arts - I've met a bunch of art students. Some of them are lovely people. Some of them are some of the worst people I've ever met.
-works for a national children's charity - we'd like to think that this tells you a lot about someone's personality, and 9 times out of 10 it probably does. But Jerry fucking Sandusky also worked for a children's charity. It's no guarantee.
-is vegan - see art students above. I know some terrible, terrible vegans.
-lots of friends (not very nice ones) - you can tell a lot about someone by the type of friends they have. Notice I didn't say the amount of friends.
-charming and reasonable and funny in company - I do comedy, and I know tons of people who fit that description who turn out to be really unpleasant underneath.

In short, nothing that you've listed here disqualifies him from being the absolute worst, which it sounds like he is. So you're not crazy. But you should still go to therapy, because that's a helpful thing when someone does a number on you like this guy did.
posted by Ragged Richard at 7:32 AM on June 23, 2012 [5 favorites]

Please go to a therapist who understands abuse issues, many do not, which is another reason why it matters whether or not this can be classed as abuse.
posted by tel3path at 7:35 AM on June 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm so sorry this happened to you - you did not deserve it.

Yes, this was abuse, as everyone has said.

And I think you know that you don't really need to "classify" it one way of the other to feel the pain you're feeling and get some help with it. Nobody can invalidate how you feel.

You said it doesn't fit the "typical pattern of abuse" -- but according to some newer research, it absolutely does.

Some people working with domestic violence have suggested there are two predominant patterns -- intimate terrorism (which is the constantly threatening controlling behavior commonly thought of as being DV) and situational couple violence (occasional acts of violence emerging out of some otherwise really messed up behavioral stuff). Your situation sounds exactly like that second one -- a very clearly recognized form of domestic violence.

This typology is somewhat controversial in the therapy community and I don't mean to endorse it (since I am not a professional in this area and don't know enough) but I just offer that to show what you have experienced does truly fit some patterns that are written up in books and journals and taught in psychology courses. If that helps at all.

Take care of yourself.
posted by pantarei70 at 8:06 AM on June 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Why does it matter what it is called? You are hurting, get help.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:16 AM on June 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

The other thing is that this person is someone with a 1st class degree in the arts who works for a national children's charity, who is vegan

If I had a dollar for every person working in a "good" field, helping others, who treated the people closest to them shittily . . .

Some narcissists do "good" works because they want credit from others.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:19 AM on June 23, 2012 [8 favorites]

I'm really glad you got out, and you're not with this guy anymore. We have this weird idea in our culture that only the absolute worst behavior is abuse. Then we feel guilty if we experience things that are, say, a 5 out of 10 on the abuse scale. Every person I know who's been abused has said something like "It could have been worse at lease they didn't [ X horrible thing that happened to someone they know]". But all abuse is wrong. Or, as somebody on MeFi brilliantly phrased it:

"Your shit sandwich doesn't make my cup of piss taste any better."

Things like smashing your furniture to frighten you... yes, that is abuse. You are right to feel pissed off and hurt, and you are not overreacting. And even the asshole-but-not-abuse things (like cheating) are plenty traumatic. Lots of people are in therapy because their non-abusive partners cheated on them. It might not be domestic violence, but it's still devastating and hard to get over.

In addition to therapy, I very much recommend doing something with your body. Like dance, trapeze, yoga, Pilates, self defense classes, judo... physical activities really help violence survivors. You will feel stronger and more empowered, and the exercise endorphins can help with depression and PTSD. Exercise also helps with that floaty, "not-in-my-body" feeling that can result from long-term stress. Many domestic violence shelters have added movement classes for this very reason. Good luck!
posted by Nibbly Fang at 9:49 AM on June 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm a public prosecutor -- if you'd testified what you've written here before me I'd would right away start to fill in criminal domestic violence charges against P.
posted by przepla at 10:08 AM on June 23, 2012 [6 favorites]

I am so sorry that happened. Yes, it's abuse. But you can call it whatever you won't and you don't have to name it at all either.

When I first started counselling, I thought my partner had done a few things that were questionable. My counsellor asked me if I was familiar with the power and control wheel. I didn't think that, other than these questionable incidents, there was anything else on that wheel. After a lot of therapy, I was able to see that he exhibited behaviours from every part of the wheel and that the overall history and context made some of the "lesser" events actually ever worse. That's the thing with relationship abuse - it becomes complex. Eventually, even a look can be paralyzing. In a healthy relationship, that same look might be a one-off thing. But in an abusive relationship, it can be incredibly loaded.

It's not your fault. I hope you can find a counsellor who understands abuse and PTSD.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 11:07 AM on June 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

He is, provably, a nasty, dishonest, useless, jerk. You are out of the relationship, and want to analyse him. Stop. Analyse why you let him behave badly to you. Work on valuing yourself so that you recognize jerk behavior faster. Work on believing that you deserve better. Spending more time on him is making the worst of a bad situation. You can prove he was abusive, but it won't matter until you prove to yourself that you deserve love, kindness, understanding, honesty, and fun.
posted by theora55 at 1:06 PM on June 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

If something in your life is upsetting you to a degree where it interferes with your normal daily life, don't hesitate to seek therapy. Don't even waste time trying to classify it yourself - just call a therapist.
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 1:50 PM on June 23, 2012

Thank you everybody for your insight, it's helped me to think more clearly about this. It doesn't interfere with my daily life as much as just contribute to a base-level feeling of shock and horror and worthlessness, and the feeling that my own natural instincts must be somehow incorrect because he genuinely didn't see a problem with any of his behaviour. And the outside world, his friends and colleagues, continue to validate him. Indeed he was exasperated by my getting sadness and anger and my 'dwelling' on it.

The other people closest to me are abuse survivors too so it's good to get an outside perspective.
I'll be looking for a therapist dealing with abuse going forward.
posted by everydayanewday at 2:03 PM on June 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

His behavior was abusive. No question. He betrayed your trust on numerous occasions by hitting on other women. He physically threatened you, and attacked others in front of you. He insulted and demeaned you.

There's no reason to pussyfoot around with mealy mouthed explanations about how "it doesn't really matter if it was abuse" and "if you feel it was abusive, then it was".



There, now we have that out of the way. :)

I would also suggest that he might have been a sociopath, as his comments about how "consciences are pointless", along with his abusive behavior, leads me to believe that he might not have a conscience. It is unclear from the research whether sociopaths are missing a conscience from birth or lose it during childhood (or if there are two subtypes), but they often notice their lack of a conscience and sometimes rationalize it as a positive trait. That he rationalizes that consciences are not important, while doing things that hurt other people (and that a conscience would notice), might indicate that he has this disability.

Either way, though, you were definitely abused. It is NOT your fault. Abuse happens to a lot of people: healthy and sick, strong and weak, rich and poor, gorgeous and homely. Don't blame yourself for "putting up with it". You likely did not know what you needed to know to prevent or stop the abuse, especially if your parents were abusive as well. And it sounds like he had long-standing problems that would have made it unlikely for you to be in a relationship with him at all without being abused.

Things will get better, I promise. Striving to understand this experience will make you healthier and stronger.
posted by 3491again at 3:36 PM on June 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

It doesn't even matter whether you term this abusive or not. It was a really unhealthy relationship for you. And it seems like it was hard for you to see that and to rate your own needs and requirements as high as they should be. So here's one more person saying please, go to therapy; you'll thank yourself later on. Don't opt in to another one of these situations. You're better than that.
posted by Miko at 9:36 PM on June 23, 2012

the feeling that my own natural instincts must be somehow incorrect

This is what therapy can help you with.
posted by desjardins at 9:54 PM on June 23, 2012



Please don't listen to any suggestion that you are asking the wrong question. It is a question you crave answers to and therefore it is a reasonable question. You are not wrong in your thinking for wanting an answer to this question. Trying to classify it yourself is not a "waste of time" nor would you be automatically better served by deciding not to think about it before putting yourself in the hands of a therapist in order to be taught to stop desiring these answers.

You can believe you deserve love, kindness, understanding, honesty, whatever, and still find yourself in an abusive situation through not understanding what abuse is and what it's not. OP, you didn't move in with an extreme lowlife, you moved in with a vegan who worked for a children's organization, a person that everyone thought was a great guy.

You didn't know about more than half of this until the end. When you were getting yelled at and cornered in the shower, you were living with him, in a dire financial situation, and it was hard for you to get away. Abusers rarely start up with the overtly abusive behaviour until it's difficult for their partner to get away. A lot of the warning signs that come before that look like anything but warning signs, except to people who understand abuse. Once you've been in it for a while and are invested, even some of the more clearly negative stuff seems like issues to be worked through in a mostly healthy relationship, until working it out doesn't turn out the way you expect.

If you go to a therapist who doesn't understand abuse, and you are unlucky with that therapist, you may learn to put your own framework aside in order to focus on asking yourself why you allowed this unhealthy relationship to go on for so long. Two people build an unhealthy relationship together, whereas abuse is one person attacking another and then turning it into the victim's fault.

The purpose of abuse is to confuse you so that you cannot tell when you are being caught up in a systematic situation which is designed for you to be attacked by your partner over and over again. It is intended to confuse you about whether it was abuse or something else. It is intended to train you to behave and think in ways that cause you to emit signals which other abusers are looking for, so that they can pick up on them, disguise themselves as someone who loves you, and victimize you again; the purpose of this is to reinforce the idea that there is no escape and the abusive situation is the best you're going to get. It has complex psychological effects on the abused person which make it hard for her to respond to the first episode of overt badness by simply saying, "oh well, good riddance to bad rubbish" and walking away just like that. It is a system of manipulations intended to blame you for not being a better person, because a better person wouldn't get abused.

One of the ways in which society as a whole enforces that system is to uphold the ideal of this better person who would a) not ask this question, since it would be obvious to her that it's not even worth asking; b) value herself that she would never allow anyone to treat her like this in the first place; and c) have all the resources, including financial, to walk away stat the moment something bad happened; d) have therapy in which she addresses her responsibility for allowing herself to be treated that way; e) celebrate because she dodged a bullet and is now free of this asshole, woohoo!

The twist is that it is completely possible to become that kind of person (leaving aside the reality that we don't always have full control of our financial resources; and the reality that ending a relationship with someone you love, while accepting the realization that their intentions were very different from yours, is likely to be highly emotional for most people). Asking the question you asked is a great first step to becoming that kind of person.

And oh, by the way, yes it was abuse. Good question, OP. Keep looking for answers.
posted by tel3path at 2:32 AM on June 24, 2012 [8 favorites]

Please try not to judge me for putting up with some of this (I didn't know about more than half of it until the very end). I was in a very dire financial situation. I also know that overuse of porn and ED go hand in hand, and would explain the viagra. This has been really uncomfortable to write as I feel it exposes my worst weaknesses, not his.

I don't really care if you were an heiress, it doesn't make any of his actions your fault, and they are still abusive. What your situation was and the reasons that you were with him have 0 bearing on the question you asked, which was whether or not he was abusive. You do not need to justify yourself, at least not to me.

The other thing is that this person is someone with a 1st class degree in the arts who works for a national children's charity, who is vegan, who has lots of friends (not very nice ones, OK), who is charming and 'reasonable' and funny in company.

Soooooooo many abusers are like this. If only I had a nickel for every time someone told me, as a child, "Your mom is only doing this because she loves you!" No, she was actually something of a sadist, but people don't really think of church-going, preschool-teaching, middle-aged mothers as sadists. But some of them are. So, I get you.
posted by cairdeas at 6:48 PM on June 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

And also about that -- I know this guy in New York. He beat his girlfriend and doesn't think there was anything wrong with it. His preferred age for "women" is 15 or 16. He's a vegan. He loves animals, but he hates women. Vegan doesn't mean anything about how someone will treat you. (Also when I first encountered this guy, he was studying to be a primary school teacher. (!!!))
posted by cairdeas at 7:09 PM on June 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

OP, some more answers for you:

Refuge's page on recognising abuse

Notice what this page doesn't say. It doesn't say the question is irrelevant. It doesn't tell you you should be in therapy instead of asking the question. It just answers the question.

I'm pretty sure that by answering the question, they're saving lives in the literal sense, not to mention the hearts and minds of many whose lives aren't (yet) in quite that much danger.
posted by tel3path at 5:43 PM on July 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

« Older Whose money is it?   |   Nicknames on my Android Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.