This is the third in a six-part series on emotionally abusive relationships.
You may be used to thinking of yourself as a healer, a fixer, a problem solver – and you may very well be all those things. But watch out! – anything in the hands of a covert abuser can become a weapon – even your own empathy, compassion, dedication to peace, desire to heal, to solve, to fix whatever’s not working. You’ve done it with everything else in your life, what’s so different about this?
This is one problem you can’t fix – because you didn’t create it – he did. In this case, despite what your mutual friends, couples counselor, mother-in-law or own mother may tell you, it’s not you. It’s him. They may have only seen the side he’s shown them – the charmer, the man you felt so attracted to when you first met him, the man you fell in love with – remember the courtship? Wasn’t he very different then from now? Didn’t you only ever see little glimpses of a darker side – perhaps when someone cut him off on the highway, when he’d had a bad day at work, when you made an innocent comment that somehow got taken the wrong way?
Often you and the children are the only ones who’ve ever seen this other side, the darker side. For everyone else who hasn’t dared to get this close to him, all they ever see is the tip of the iceberg, the illusion, the spell he casts as the perfect husband, the devoted father, the respected professional, the innocent victim. Remember how successful he was in casting this spell over you?
If you’re not careful now, you could end up being seen as the problem – because he is that convincing, that persuasive, that charming.
Sometimes your own extended family can fall under his spell. Aren’t you still struggling to break it yourself – even with all you’ve seen, and partly because he’s not horrible all the time? There are still those moments, those quiet peaceful times when hope rises once again, and you think the man you fell in love with may still be in there. Now’s the time to start a secret journal so you can begin to see the pattern emerge. Even if it’s only bullet points, setting the record straight can help lift that opioid fog that can otherwise, Dorothy, lull you back to sleep – and that’s when the flying monkeys can come get you.
The problem is, you don’t ever get one side without ultimately, inevitably getting the other. You may know some of his triggers, and you and your children may build your life around trying not to set them off – but you can’t know all of them – because it’s not always that offhand remark you made, not always what happened at work. What sets him off is not always what happened inside the home or outside the home, but what’s inside him. Simmering just beneath the surface is the rage-filled boy who’s grown into the rage-filled man – and that, you can’t control.
So, the sooner you can break the spell, the safer you will be – and if you have children, the safer they will be. Because the longer you stay, the easier it will be for him to cloud your mind, your ability to see straight, think straight and recognize the man behind the mask.
The tragic, horrifying epiphany is this: You fell in love with Dr. Jekyll. And only then met Mr. Hyde.
Learning to recognize early warning signs of controlling behavior can go a long way toward helping you get out earlier, before the hooks sink in too deep.
Part 4 in the series will present questions to ask to test for early warning signs of an emotionally abusive relationship.
Ruthven Darlene, M.A, is founder and executive director of WomenSV, a local nonprofit that in the past 10 years has served more than 1,000 survivors of coercive control and covert abuse. For more information, call (833) 966-3678 or visit womensv.org.