Bodies in the Basement Blog Series: Liberation

During the process of liberation and deliverance from abuse, many people go through a stage of severe self-criticism. “If I had only done this, been that or not been the other, he/she wouldn’t have acted the way he/she did.” It’s also common during these times of black thoughts to label oneself weak. “If I was a stronger person, he/she wouldn’t have been able to do this to me.” Let me explain to you in detail why that last statement is the exact opposite of the truth.

A tyrant will always find a pretext for his tyranny. So it is useless for the innocent to seek justice through reasoning when the oppressor intends to be unjust.
– Aesop’s Fables

Abusers Look For a Challenging Target

Abusers do not seek out the weak. The weak are not a challenge to them, thus they are not fulfilled when they are able to dominate a weak person. Abusers seek out strong, often very “energy attractive” people who are generally quite well-liked. They may be very intelligent, social people who are also accomplished at something. The reason for this is that achieving total control over such a person gives them the feeling of ultimate power that they crave, a type of dominance they can’t feel with a weak person. Think about it… is there any challenge or achievement in dominating a pushover? That’s like saying C.C. would be happy going for a hike in the woods. He isn’t. He must conquer mountains… MOUNTAINS, I tell you! In fact, that’s why we stopped going hiking as a family the last couple of years before he left. He would yell at the kids to “hurry up” and “keep up”, making everyone but him hate the experience. To this day, my older daughter won’t go hiking with me because it is such a bad memory.

When I go out into nature, I want to enjoy it. A beautiful mountain to me is not something to be conquered but rather savored. The trip up and the trip down hold as much enjoyment and value to me as the summit. Also, I am just as happy taking a hike through the woods on a trail that’s in the middle of civilization. I am fulfilled by the sheer fact of being among creation, looking for wildlife, enjoying butterflies and flowering plants. C.C., however, used to make us flat-out miserable when it came to things outdoors. His demands were so great that it got to the point where we could not do things as a family and, on those occasions when he would do things with the kids, they would come back and complain to me about how unpleasant it was. For instance, he is under the impression that hiking up a mountain is a race that he must win. I have literally pushed myself to the point of nearly throwing up trying to keep up with his pace. Even at my most fit, I am just not able to go as fast as he is. I am several inches shorter in the legs and clearly just don’t have the lung capacity that he does. Somehow, this always made me slow, lazy, not fun, a drag, boring, etc, etc. Whatever. Can you imagine how incredibly not fun that is for a little kid? Interestingly, my children and I love doing things outdoors together now. We picnic and kayak and play ball whenever we can. No one complains or even gives the slightest protest.

Abusers Know What They Are Doing

In thinking about how you may have changed over time at the mercy of your abuser, it is also easy sometimes to think that if you had “fought back” or stood your ground more, the abuser would have magically seen the error of his or her ways and changed accordingly. Or, the benevolent side of you that recognizes why your abuser behaves the way he or she does may kick in and make excuses for the behavior. These are both common but flawed ways of coping. Consider this list, taken from’s domestic abuse and violence page, which I highly recommend:

“Abusers are able to control their behavior — they do it all the time.

Abusers pick and choose whom to abuse. They don’t insult, threaten, or assault everyone in their life who gives them grief. Usually, they save their abuse for the people closest to them, the ones they claim to love.

Abusers carefully choose when and where to abuse. They control themselves until no one else is around to see their abusive behavior. They may act like everything is fine in public, but lash out instantly as soon as you’re alone.

Abusers are able to stop their abusive behavior when it benefits them. Most abusers are not out of control. In fact, they’re able to immediately stop their abusive behavior when it’s to their advantage to do so (for example, when the police show up or their boss calls).

Violent abusers usually direct their blows where they won’t show. Rather than acting out in a mindless rage, many physically violent abusers carefully aim their kicks and punches where the bruises and marks won’t show.”

As I have asked you to consider multiple times, how long do you think your abuser could function as an accepted member of society if he or she behaved toward everyone the way he or she behaves toward you? If C.C. treated one of his bosses the way he treated me, he’d be out on his butt in no time. These guys are masters at this game and have worked hard to convince people of certain “appearances”. Meanwhile, you are second-guessing yourself, berating yourself, criticizing yourself and maybe even doing his dirty work for him, calling yourself weak or boring or even useless. Guess what? You are none of those things! In fact, before your abuser identified you as something to be conquered, you were a vibrant life force! I would also be willing to bet that, like me, on those occasions when you did push back or respond to dominance with attempts to claim your own strength, the abuse was ratcheted up and you were even called the controller! Meanwhile, in the back of your mind, you let out a maniacal laugh, thinking how you had zero control over anything because he/she had taken it all from you.

It Is All About the Conquest

Just like those beautiful mountains that C.C. is now pathologically driven to climb, the summit is the only thing that matters to him… ”Dominating” that particular piece of earth is what gives him his rush. There is no enjoyment of the little things, the beauty, the wildlife, the journey itself. I guarantee he probably times himself, too, in order to see how fast he can reach the summit. It ain’t Everest, idiot… you won’t run out of air if you don’t get there fast enough. I, on the other hand, consider the journey the most important part. Like life, if you zip through everything at breakneck speed, you miss the most important and joyful highlights. I have missed exactly nothing in my children’s lives. I enjoy quality time with my friends and family (by “quality”, I don’t mean let’s go to the bar and see how many people we can hit on) and have no doubts whatsoever that the love I share with people will come back to me a thousand fold. In fact, it already has. I get enough of a “rush” from achieving a goal I set (of any kind!), hanging out with people I love and watching my daughter nail a volleyball serve or make a lacrosse goal that I don’t need any other “conquests”. Those are the ones that matter in the scheme of life.

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So, my friends, remember that you were chosen by your abuser not because you are weak or inherently flawed in some way. We all have shortcomings and weaknesses, of course, but you were not identified as the conquest because you are a pushover. You were the biggest, steepest mountain he or she could gain access to, making you the perfect object of domination. This is also why the abuser continues to try to dominate long after the relationship is over: you are a conquest! You are still that strong person with many wonderful qualities and light shining from your very core. It’s time to let that light shine again and make no excuses for it.

You are not weak, or dull, or unimportant. You are a brilliant, warm light in the world. Shine on!

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Aubrey Cole

Aubrey Cole

I survived a quarter century of psychological, emotional, economic and sexual abuse. When I got out, I vowed to help others do the same and founded the Emotional Abuse Survivors Network project in 2012. Now, I offer hope and healing to others on their journey as they rediscover themselves. My forthcoming books, Bodies in the Basement and Define Winning, chronicle my experiences, escape, and recovery. There is nothing so special about me that others can't emerge and thrive.
Aubrey Cole

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