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.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Deception In Abusive Relationships

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When the awful truth finally hits us, when we realize that we have been deceived for years by someone we love, there can be an initial sense of relief. Finally we understand why we have felt so uneasy, why we knew something was wrong but could not but our fingers on it.

Yet this feeling does not last. It is soon followed by terrible sadness. How could we have been so stupid, so blind? How could someone we loved fool us for so long? And the sadness involves other things. Because with this knowledge comes something like a loss of innocence. Even if a person is 60 years old, something pure is gone; the dream that guided our lives now seems like a deception. We have lost not just our feelings of love, but our closeness, our ideas, our sense of the future. They have taken more than just their love from us, they have taken something we believed in.

"Even a wise man is easily fooled when he is told what he wants to believe."
I made up this saying, many years ago after reading fortunes at Chinese restaurants and trying to understand why smart people fall for the lies their loved ones tell them.

We all hear what we want to believe and this is as it should be. This keeps us going, gets us through the hard times and keeps the faith. It adds stability to our lives and gives us direction. You could not live in a world where you constantly doubted and questioned the motives of the people you love. It would produce chaos and be very destructive.

And we are often fooled because our loved ones work hard to hide things from us. I have found that abusive people are masters of deception. For openers, they do not believe they are abusive! They have hidden that side from themselves.

They deal in a fabric of lies and are so good at it, we are easy prey -- just amateurs to their expertise. Rarely dealing in outright lies, they often omit things, or by saying nothing give the impression that something is true. Their falseness takes many forms as abusers have a wide repertoire. When confronted with a lie, they become angry and indignant; they change the subject or they accuse you of the doing the same thing. Reality to them is quite malleable. They believe they are just shading the truth. So when we wonder how they fooled us for so long, the answer is that they are very accomplished.

I was watching the Lifetime Movie Unforgivable about the abusive husband Paul Hegstrom. Part of his cure was to talk to his son who felt stupid that he did not realize the beatings his father had given his mother. However, as the father explained the parents did everything to keep it from him. The mother used makeup to cover the bruises and when the marks were obvious, said that she had tripped or had fallen.

Yet the worst deception is the lies people tell to themselves. Initially both Paul and Judy Hegstrom did not realize the severity and frequency of Paul's violence, for example, and therefore did not deal with the problem.

Self-deception has played a major role in my own life. My first wife presented me and my family with a fantasy. She thought of herself as a mostly kind and caring person who had occasional bad moods. And while she could be quite loving, it was also true that she was bit by bit destroying me. Many years after my marriage ended, I realized that she had degraded most things I cared about, had ambitions for or that I had accomplished. Yet whenever I questioned her, she said that she loved me more than anything and that I should never doubt that and what was wrong with me? After a biting comment, she often smiled and said, "You know I don't really mean it" and I would comfort myself with that thought.

For most of my marriage, I believed her cries of love, yet now I see it was an act. When I became suspicious, she swiftly became caring, affectionate and we often made love. This restored my feelings and put my doubts at bay.

How had I gotten into this situation? When I first met her she was depressed and moody. I thought I could help her. I did my best to not judge her and to let her moods come and go. I felt that if she was secure in my love, she might overcome what was holding her back. So over the years her sudden shifts in mood did not bother me and I did not see that she was building an elaborate maze where she could always find a place to hide, to deny that she meant what she said.

Because in addition to her loving personality was a very dark side. This person was critical, angry, impatient, demanding and quite cruel. However, this dimension came out only in bits and pieces and seemed like part of her moodiness.

The loving person was definitely part of her as was the angry person. Yet the loving person was too perfect and she never acknowledged that the angry person existed. If I tried to pin her down, she would change the subject or become irritated or her demeanor would suddenly shift and she would become the loving person again. She was, in a word, slippery.

Our marriage floundered and finally ended because she could not see herself as a whole. If she had acknowledged her dark side, accepted responsibility for it, and dealt with it, our marriage might have survived.

Finally at a crucial juncture, I was not fooled. She had done something that was quite destructive and that she had promised she would never do again and which she knew could end our marriage. Instead of taking responsibility, she turned on her loving charm, almost like flipping a switch. And at last I saw it for what it was: manipulation.

So why was I taken in for so long? I was married to a truly gifted actress who played the role I believed to perfection. But her most convincing performance was to fool herself.

We often cling to our beliefs in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. A perfect and clear example comes from war. (NOTE: Much of personal psychology also applies to war time, for example, the term 'passive aggressive' was originally a military term.) In World War 2 the Allies knew that Nazi Germany expected an invasion at the Pas-de-Calais, France across the English channel. It was the shortest distance and came in close to major ports. And there was a lot of truth to this notion. The Allies probably would have preferred this route but knew that the coast was too well defended there. So instead they used the German's preconception to fool them. Employing a very sophisticated scheme, they convinced the German high command that the real invasion was to be at the Pas-de-Calais even as the largest invasion force in the history of warfare approached the Normandy coast on June 6, 1944, even as troops landed and even several days after the invasion. Now that's deception!


Blogger Anonymous-woman said...

Soooooo very true! Are u sure we are not brother and sister???:) I now say there are 2 kinds of people in the world: the actors (in your case, the actresses) and those who are REAL. My job is 2 figure out as SOON AS POSSIBLE which kind of person I am dealing with! The betrayal, oh yeah, that hurt sooo much, seeing the TRUTH, oh, that hurt soooo much also, me and my good love being taken for a stupid sucker for it, oh yeah, that hurt sooo much also and on and on and on I could go with this! Amongst all the pain you are living in, the truth is like a ENORMOUS FIST IN THE FACE that knocks you even further off course, but to all those in it, be strong, get out, stay alive for life truly is so much better ALONE, ALONE, ALONE than in a relationship with any of these types of people ever! I thank God every day that I am out of that living HELL ON EARTH!

4:15 PM  
Blogger Astrid said...

I say take off the mask of illusion, be real from the start. In my next relationship...."Let my Blind Eyes See" To stay and hope you can be better by being "good enough" is ludicrious. It steals your very Soul.

4:49 PM  

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