(About a 5 minute read)
It is quite easy to see and dismiss non-physical abuse as merely to-be-expected normal day-to-day interactions between men and women. This dismissive attitude is helped along by our tendency to think of abuse as in all ways extreme.
For instance, if a man punches a woman hard enough to leave a bruise, most of us would see that as abuse, but how many of us would if he only lightly punches her arm, or merely slaps were face with much less than head-turning force? The assumption seems to be that that actions must be notably hard or harsh to constitute genuine abuse.
The same principle applies even more so when it comes to non-physical abuse. Here, some people don’t even recognize verbal, emotional, or psychological abuse as abuse at all. Furthermore those that do, tend to — again — demand it be harsh or exceptional before they see it as abuse.
A man who reduces his wife to uncontrollable tears with his loud criticisms of her weight and figure is one thing. But if another man merely unnecessarily criticisms her housekeeping? How can that be real abuse? Isn’t that just normal, daily living together as a couple?
But one way to look at abuse is to ask ourselves: Is someone — man or woman — better off with their partner than they’d be alone or with someone else? It can be done, but I think it’s hard to argue that, if your behavior towards someone makes them feel worse about themselves and life than they would otherwise, you should consider you might very well be abusing that person.
However, I think a much better definition of abuse might be this one: “Abuse is any behavior towards another person that results in their becoming unnecessarily alienated from their true self.”
Now sometimes it cannot be called abuse to alienate someone from themselves. For instance, to alienate a pedophile from molesting children. Who would argue that’s abuse?
But such cases aside, I think it’s a good working definition of abuse to consider it unnecessary alienation. Note, however, that this would mean many things not often considered genuine abuse would now need be considered so.
For instance, if I were to criticize your singing skills in such a way that you felt developing them further would be a waste of time — that would now be abuse. Nevertheless, I prefer alienation as the hallmark of abuse because I am a fierce advocate of our human right to be true to ourselves.
Now and then on this blog I have mentioned that my second wife was abusive, and I have even a few times mentioned that I abused my first wife. In both cases, I mean alienation. Only the means were different. My second wife’s abuse of me would be recognized as abuse by most people, I think, despite that she never physically abused me.
My abuse of my first wife, however, would most likely be thought of by most folks as routine husband/wife interactions.
My abuse of my first wife had a profound effect on her. She became over time an intensely unhappy woman, withdrawn into herself, and scared to express her own needs and views around me. Ironically, I blamed her for that, saying she was dull and boring.
The immediate cause of my abuse was a felt need to cage and control her. The larger cause, however, were my insecurities. My wife was one of the most beautiful women I’ve known. She was jaw-dropping and could hush a room for a moment or two upon entering it.
On the other hand, I’m only average looking, and I’m aware of it. So, almost from the start, I felt she might wake up and realize she could do so much better than stay with me. Consequently, I sought to cage her, to control her. Basically, I went about that in two very closely related ways.
First, I intimidated and dominated her intellectually. Her opinions on any topic were all wrong and in need of correction. And not just her opinions, her tastes, talents, and values were out of wack too. Consequently, she needed my guidance merely to think straight about nearly anything.
But I didn’t stop there. I sought to alienate and then isolate her from her family and friends, especially her mother. I did not do that to the extent some abusers do it, but the effort was there nonetheless.
Now expressed as I just have, it might look more pronounced than it was. At the time, there was not a person around us, not even her mother, who considered my behavior abusive. It was all just normal couple dynamics. Nothing to see here, move on.
But as I mentioned, it did have the consequence that she was alienated from herself.
Today, I have known so many similar cases that I’m almost willing to believe partner abuse is pandemic worldwide. And one of the most notable things about it to my mind is how widely it is accepted as normal.
From time to time I get emails from blog readers describing how unhappy they are, even though they don’t know why, and then asking me if I happen to know what’s wrong with them. Is it them? Is it their partner? Is it their life circumstances? Usually, once I’ve asked some pointed questions it turns out to be their partner is abusing them.
But the striking thing is, they so seldom know it until it is pointed out to them. Only then does it become obvious.