Upside-Down & Inside-Out: A Blog About Abusive Relationships

Living with an abusive person means learning to live in a topsy-turvy world where normal rules do not apply. It is like the movie the Poseidon Adventure where the ship gets turned upside down and the floor is the ceiling and the ceiling the floor. Yet, somehow I did break out of the invisible cage my first wife had built around me even though it was the hardest thing I've ever done. So this blog is about how we learn to live with abuse and then unlearn; it's based on my personal experience.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Betrayal In An Abusive Marriage and Other Relationships

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Betrayal. Just the word is enough to send shivers down your spine.

Yet I think betrayal is much more common than we want to recognize. A divorce is often a life changing event for many children and a betrayal of the security of family.

Soldiers who are sent to war are often betrayed by the governments who send them. Look at the turmoil still experienced by Vietnam vets. In my own case I was raised by a father who suffered from post traumatic stress syndrome. He idealistically volunteered to 'make the world safe for democracy' in World War One only to see death and destruction on a scale than no one at home could imagine. Even today tears come to the eyes of World War Two vets when they talk about the young men killed in Sherman tanks that the higher-ups knew were inadequate to protect the crews.

Betrayal comes in many flavors and sizes. It can be a wife not standing up for her husband when her father makes fun of him. It can be a husband not really caring if his wife is overworked and over scheduled. It can be the refusal by parents to acknowledge that one of their children is bullying the other.

Betrayal is so damaging because of what the name implies. Not only was a wrong done, it was done by a person you most trusted, who you counted on for support and security. And because betrayal is caused by those closest to us, we often do not see it or want to see it.

A lot of work is being done now on betrayal trauma which is a kind of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). While most trauma's are often caused by something sudden or violent or dramatic events, betrayal trauma is caused by an injustice or abuse that is long term and close by. People, especially young children, are shaped and distorted by this. Because they both depend on parents, for example, and yet are abused by those same adults, either sexually, physically, emotionally or verbally, the children get very confused. They cannot leave and yet they do not have many options; they love their mother or father and yet the children feel very hurt. They are not comfortable in their own skins.

The effect of betrayal on children and, as I have found, betrayal even in marriage is drastic. Children often describe sexual abuse as though it were happening to someone else. Husbands and wives make excuses for their spouses, not wanting to consider the true nature of their mate's cruelty. The reason that victims minimize the damage is simple. To see the situation for what it is would be too painful.

Many victims of betrayal cannot remember what actually happened, because in order to simply survive the situation, they had to tell themselves a story they could live with.

So is this the reason I cannot remember much of what my brother did to me day to day? I do remember that he pushed me off the dock on my birthday, in my new birthday clothes with my new watch into the soft mud of the pond behind our house and humiliated me before all my friends. And I remember the time he held me underwater until I came up gasping for air and he laughed. Yet I am also quite sure that he pushed me around every day we were together, shoving and punching, but these memories are not there.

And is it the reason that I cannot remember the time my first wife slapped me while she was in the middle of an affair that was destroying our marriage? All I can remember is many days later, when she was about to slap me another time, and I yelled, "You are not going to hit me again!" So I know that she did hit me but I don't remember it actually happening.

We have this model in our minds, that we are individuals who move through time and things happen to us whether we like it or not, and those memories of those things are there somewhere in our minds, a kind of reality that exists independent of us. But I'm not so sure. The memories may simply not be there. What is left is the story we tell ourselves so that we can go on, living with the people who abuse us, relying on those people and loving them. We do not want to know that we have been betrayed because then what do we do?

And so betrayal even takes away memory or accurate memory which is what we need to deal with the harm that has been done. In a sense we have identified with our captors, like the hostage Patty Hearst. It is the Stockholm syndrome where the kidnapped begin to trust and rely on the kidnappers. It is a labyrinth that even psychology is only just beginning to grapple with.

Read more about trauma and betrayal at my web site:


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