Most emotional safety that is found while still in the abusive relationship is by empowering oneself in every safe way possible.
Just as “domestic violence” is sometimes misunderstood as being physical beatings only, boundaries are sometimes misunderstood as being confrontational. While still being subjected to your abuser, you learn that the very last thing you want to be is confrontational. You have already been trained to know your abuser’s triggers and avoid them like the plague. Why stick your head in the lion’s mouth? You can actually create for yourself a number of healthy protective mechanisms if you are still in the confines of the abusive relationship.
If you are, by the way, just know that you are not alone and you are not a loser. Statistically, it takes 7 attempts on average for a target of abuse to get out and stay out!
Being Empowered Means Developing Mental Toughness
I don’t mean this to sound as hard-edged as it likely does, however, there is a certain amount of mental training you can do in order to combat the ongoing abuse. I’m not saying you should become an angry, impervious person of steel. Retain who you are, but learn mental self-defense.
For instance, in the later years of my marriage, I got exceptionally good at mocking him in my head. I worked hard to create this caricature of him by learning all about covert abusive behavior. When he would rage, I would picture him as an out-of-control 5-year-old who hadn’t gotten his way, instead of taking on his rage as my fault. That wasn’t too hard to learn, since he would frequently jump up and down or stomp his feet. When he would ignore me for days, I would picture him as a rebellious teenager actively trying to make me feel guilty for setting a curfew. It might sound ludicrous, but I found a lot of mental power in those final years and in the early years of my escape by looking at him as a complete absurdity. I got there by accepting the fact that no one who “loves” their family would ever, ever treat them the way he does.
The “Love” Isn’t Real, So Begin Letting Go To Gain Strength
At some point, right around the time my younger daughter was 4 or 5, I conceded the fact that the “love” I had for him was not real. It was what I wanted, it was what I needed, but I was given a sense of clarity to accept that I loved who he pretended to be when he needed to. The times he got the closest to being what I wanted a husband to be were when I said I was finished and the marriage was over, or when I would just leave for some peace for a few days. You all know the pattern, I’m certain of it.
Somewhere in that, I realized that any healthy and real love relationship would not function like this. My parents’ marriage didn’t. I remember reading Patricia Evans’ book The Verbally Abusive Relationship and having an a-ha moment: “So many times, I wished he would hit me, because I knew that was wrong and I would have left.”
By beginning to create a different view of him in my head, I could learn to see his abusive behavior as the craziness it was. That took a huge weight off my shoulders.
Strategy Is Everything
One tool that helped me immensely was having a pre-practiced plan for how I would react, both externally and internally, when he would become abusive. I sat for a long time with a piece of paper divided into two columns: one side said, “His Bullshit” and the other said, “How I’ll Deal With It.”(I had to employ a wicked sense of humor to keep from falling apart) I actually sat and wrote out a plan for what I would do each time he exhibited one of his abusive tactics. The funny thing was, the more I stuck to my plan and empowered myself, the less I paid attention to what he was doing. My reactions, or lack thereof, meant that he was no longer getting the same high from being abusive. It set him off his game quite often.
The most important time that I set a boundary he never thought I would was on July 28, 2010. That was the day of our final divorce hearing. He had not argued a single point of the agreements I had created, didn’t hire a lawyer, didn’t travel from New York to Georgia for the hearing. Why? He based his judgment on past experience that I would not go through with this particular boundary.
He was sadly mistaken.