A critical aspect of healing from abuse is to admit your pain. Part of that is recognizing the weapons that were used against you and the impact they really had.
You can figure out what the villain fears by his choice of weapons.
The Bridal Season by Connie Brockway
It doesn’t matter what methods your abuser chose to control you. The weapons this person has used against you—whether parent, partner, boss, peer, or spiritual leader—created a power gradient you constantly had to contend with. Words control. Silence controls. Sex controls. Disapproval controls. Hands control. Belts control. Weapons, no matter their method or origin, control.
Weapons of Abuse: a Buffet
I’m reminded of a stellar episode of Law & Order: SVU titled “Behave”. In it, Jennifer Love Hewitt plays a woman who is stalked and raped repeatedly over a period of 15 years by the same person. She moves, it happens again. She changes jobs and habits, it happens again. She changes her name, the torture continues. She would arrive home to find her underwear missing and things moved around.
It turns out, her stalker/rapist is this outwardly respectable, upstanding professional with a great image in the community. Of course, he works hard to portray her as a lunatic whose advances he rejected. If you watch carefully, you realize the multitude of weapons he uses against her: constant fear of the next incident (psychological/emotional), rape (physical), economic (moving, changing jobs, hiding), and, once he is identified, portraying her as “crazy” and “bitter” to others (psychological/emotional).
Dead is Still Dead
When talking to people who don’t understand that abuse isn’t just physical attacks, I typically use the analogy of the autopsy. Someone dies and a choice is made to perform an autopsy to determine the cause of death. Yes, it explains what ultimately took someone’s life, but dead is still dead. It doesn’t solve the problem, only identifies the source. You do not ever have to be physically attacked to be abused. In fact, there is a plethora of anecdotal evidence that most abuse survivors who were not physically attacked actually wished they had been.
Physical attacks are clear and undeniable, sometimes shaking the survivor out of the denial state and providing proof of abuse. Psychological, sexual, verbal, financial, and spiritual methods of abuse are actually far more powerful because they can exist undercover. It’s not easy to hide a broken bone or badly bruised face. It’s incredibly easy to be misled when the abuser’s weapons leave no outward signs. Make no mistake: just because that table saw my ex threw at me didn’t hit its mark doesn’t mean I wasn’t physically attacked. Lack of communication and withholding of sexual intimacy are weapons of punishment, as well.
All Weapons Cause Damage
In the early stages of my recovery, I often caught myself saying, “Well, at least he never beat me up.” Not long afterward, I was working with my therapist and he said, “So what? How would that have made a difference?” I told him I always knew that was my no-tolerance line and if he had ever hit me, I would have left. He expertly pointed out that I was beaten… over and over and over. It’s just that I didn’t feel it on the outside.
Weapons of abuse, no matter whose hands they are in, all result in the same thing: a target who loses his or her sense of reality in favor of a parallel existence dominated by the whims of another person. This is why I frequently call it “soul murder”, because it kills off everything that makes you who you are, even if temporarily. No matter the weapon, your core suffers severe damage.
Oh, But She/He Has It Worse…
The most important step in your recovery from abuse is to accept your own truth and not compare it to anyone else’s journey. I used to think, ‘Well, at least I don’t have cancer’ or ‘At least I’m not paralyzed or blind’. It was my way of trying to keep myself grounded in the idea that I had a chance to get better. The problem was that it discounted my experience. It told that young, loving, trusting girl that her pain was not important, because others had it so much worse. How did that “kids are starving in China” argument usually work to get you to eat your Brussels sprouts?