How does abuse in relationships really start?
I have a few friends I keep in touch with weekly and one of such friends is Kwadwo – he is the person I normally go to when I want to see things from a male’s perspective. I bounce ideas off him because he is unbiased in his views and is not easily intimidated to change his views no matter how stubborn I get on my stance. So like most weeks, we got talking about an incident that had been all over social media last week. A woman had thrown her husband’s clothes on the street and as she was in the act of throwing these things out, her husband recorded and posted the video on social media. The public was divided on the behaviour of the lady and whether she was justified to act the way she did. As the public debated this, new videos came out showing the abuse this wife had suffered at the hands of her husband. So I engaged my friend Kwadwo to understand why relationships that start off loving can become so toxic and why the abused stay in these relationships.
In several videos posted by this grieved woman, her husband was verbally and physically abusive and she had put up with him for years. In some of the videos and audios that came out, this man abused her in the presence of their children and when he no longer had any more hurtful words for his wife, he resulted to insult her family. In one of the audios, I perceived that he had hit her and then proceeded to restrain himself because the children were present and also because she was recording. As I discussed this with Kwadwo, he expressed his disappointment in the man – however, he was also of the view that the man was empowered because his wife had allowed it. He stated that she should have left as soon as the first abuse happened – I did not fully disagree with him, but there are several factors to consider in these instances. As we debated about this, I made a statement that got me thinking about my own past relationships as well as what friends had shared with me about their own relationships. There are many people in abusive relationships who have no idea that they are being abused and like myself, there are several women who were in abusive relationships and did not know until they got out!
There are many people in abusive relationships who have no idea that they are being abused and like myself, there are several women who were in abusive relationships and did not know until they got out!
He could not seem to grasp this fully because he believes the signs are always there and one should be able to identify them easily and remove themselves from these toxic situations. But the reality is, that most abusers are very good at manipulation, so much so that their victims may never know that their relationship is toxic. I shared my experience from a previous relationship with Kwadwo and though I don’t think much about this previous relationship, I decided to delve into what happened then – to help someone by sharing my experience. I hoped this could help explain fully to Kwadwo why some victims in abusive relationships never know they are being abused or how the abuse started in the first place. I did not want to blame this woman for staying with this man all this while – perhaps, like many, she did not see the abuse start or it could be that all she had known in her life was abuse and to her, the idea of love is someone constantly being abusive to her. Maybe she did not have anywhere to go should her relationship end – whatever the reason may have been, I thought the human thing to do was to look fully into how people are manipulated in relationships and why they stay.
Most abuses start mentally before it moves onto other forms – the abuser always seeks to get control over the victim and the first step most times is to get the victim to doubt their own mind. Once the victim starts doubting themselves, then the manipulation and abuse can easily begin. There are many times I have heard people talk about how they felt something they had seen or heard may have been their imagination because their abuser had made it seem like they were making it up! It is only when they had finally accepted they were being abused that they finally realized that whatever they saw, heard, or perceived was in fact true. I was watching a popular comedian turned talk show host hold a symposium on relationships between men and women – one word that was thrown about loosely any time one of the ladies tried to assert what they expected in a relationship was the word CRAZY! At the time when I was watching this particular show, I laughed when the word crazy was being thrown around but as I thought of it more, I realized how bad it sounded to be labeled as crazy when you are simply stating your needs. If one is not able to live up to another’s expectation, simply state so and move on but to result to calling women crazy is quite ridiculous.
So my story happened when I was 24 years old – I met this seemingly charming young man who always knew the right thing to say and do in every situation. And while I may have come across as confident, he picked up on my need to be affirmed and my fear of disappointing people I cared about, and boy did he capitalize on that. At the start of this relationship – he was very attentive, very kind, and exhibited self-awareness, but I would soon come to realize that this was all false. He was never the person portrayed at the beginning of the relationship. He was emotionally abusive and very manipulative – it was years after it all happened that I finally identified how the abuse started.
I have always been an avid reader, this was something we had in common – he had a few books I borrowed to read – I am a fast reader and would return these books in a short time after I had borrowed them. A few weeks into our relationship, he would randomly ask me to describe an object wherever we were or describe it in an essay from a book I had borrowed to read. It seemed innocent to me then, but looking back, that was how the manipulation started. He wanted to exert his superiority intellectually, so he would pick statements I made apart and point out how ridiculous something I had said sounded. There was nothing wrong with these statements looking back now, and even if there was, who really wants to live with their teacher 24/7? Then I started to notice that if I stood up for myself, I am argumentative and if I decide to be quiet and simply ignore him, I am difficult to deal with. This went on for weeks and everything had to be done on his terms – to the point that even my Christmas gift was not good for him because I had not consulted him first to find out what he wanted – I simply could not do anything right by this man. Eventually, I felt I was the problem and I needed to do more to be good enough for him. Whenever I made plans for us, it was never good enough – the final straw was when I realised that he did not want any of his friends and family to know about me. I started having doubts about the relationship and started to question his character and I found no answers to his questions in him!
Months into the relationship, I was not the same person – I was self-doubting and started feeling that I was not enough for anyone. How I got to this place eluded me at the time, and I felt ashamed and rejected when he ended the relationship after I questioned some of his actions. Years later, I met a young lady who was dealing with a difficult breakup – through her tears she told me how her cheating boyfriend had broken up with her and made her feel like she was the reason for the breakup. As I listened to her and watch the tears stream down her face, I stated “You must feel shamed and not enough, right?” – she immediately looked up in surprise and affirmed my statement. As I recounted my experience to her, I told her it was not her fault. We had both encountered abusers who had capitalised on our affections for them and used it against us – while speaking to her, I was finally free of the shame and rejection I had carried from this past relationship.
When I told my friend Kwadwo this, he backed down from his view a little bit – not much but a bit. You see, I did not realise that I was being manipulated – to me they were little comments here and there and the negative criticism about actions that I took was his way of correcting me – but what needed correcting? Eventually, I started doubting myself and was at the mercy of this man. When confronted about his actions, he suddenly needed a break because I was hard work – and I started believing that perhaps I was hard work. I think this is the case for many victims out there – little by little, your abuser will chip away at your self-confidence and then proceed to attack and chip away at your self-respect also. So while Kwadwo and I went back and forth on the issue at hand, together with some feedback I had been receiving from my weekly posts, I was convinced more than ever that these stories needed telling so these abusers can be stopped. I believe strongly, that once a victim is able to identify that they are being abused, they start getting their power back to take actions in their favour. If one does not think they have a problem, then any help offered is redundant.
When this man decided to film his wife throwing his things out – he forgot to include what had led to her actions; he wanted to manipulate the world into thinking he was the victim instead of his poor wife. As I get feedback from my posts and explore my own stories as well as friend's, I am convinced that this issue is multifaceted and I need to make more time to explore it further. A good place to begin is to identify and explore how it all starts – as time goes on, I hope to explore other forms of abuse in relationships. I encourage you to make time to reflect on your relationships – are the people you love trying to change you into someone else? When you speak up are you listened to or seen as a problem? Do you feel enough or are you made to feel lucky you have been chosen? Are your needs being met in your relationships or are you constantly looking for ways to make the other person happy?
I am sharing my story today in the hope it will help someone out there identify whatever toxic situation they find themselves in and take their power back. I would love to hear from you if this had been your experience or if you have just become conscious and realised you are being abused. Do get in touch and let’s effect the change needed by sharing our experiences.