In her wonderful article on abusive interactions, Susan J Elliot, who runs the wonderful site Getting Past Your Past describes the deviousness of the interactions in this paragraph :
It makes as much sense as saying, “How can I care about someone who wears yellow on Tuesdays? I’m sorry but I can’t.”
But those are the messages and the CRAZINESSof the messages that we receive. I’m sorry oh-unworthy-one, but it’s your fault I act like a complete and utter crazy person. It’s not me, it was that wearing-yellow-on-Tuesday thing you do…I mean who can live with that? If you just straightened up and wore the appropriate colors, I would not be such an insane person.
And we buy it. We run around and eradicate all the yellow from our lives. And next Tuesday we wear pink but that’s wrong too and then black and purple and blue and orange and they’re all wrong too and then the day comes when the abuser says, “You’re so stupid you don’t even wear yellow on Tuesdays.” WHAT? Wait, I thought yellow on Tuesdays was bad. It’s not? Oh let me run right out and get some yellow. There must be something wrong with my hearing or something wrong with my head. So you put the yellow back. And of course it’s “I TOLD YOU that yellow on Tuesdays is NEVER appropriate!!! You just do this to make me miserable!!!”
And so it goes….
The funny part is in most cases the victim doesn’t recognise this pattern and stays in the abusive relationship or work partnership for years. Sometimes he/she never realises and dies believing this is how life is supposed to be and he/she is fed crappy concepts like luck to keep the victim from realising.
One of the hallmarks in any abusive pattern is that the abuser creates a fear in the mind of the victim and plays into the low self esteem or ignorance of the victim. Most abusers go for a secrecy pact. The common one in abusive families is the stricture ‘Don’t wash dirty linen in public.’ Over a period of time the victim starts believing the abuser’s tall claims and starts doubting himself/herself. This usually happens after the victim has done all he/she can to convince the abuser that they are good human beings. At this point, two things could happen. The victim could either realise that he/she has done all so it is the fault of the abuser and get out or the worst case scenario where the victim stays and gets into a self harm pattern that could culminate into suicide. The lesser evil is of course where the victim just stays on as a mere shadow, a puppet in the hands of the abuser.
So how does one recognise abuse? If the victim is true to oneself, they can always recognise that something doesn’t seem right, this is more of an instinct, but caught in the cycle of abuse, most victims ignore this and try harder to please the abuser. So the first thing is to listen to your intuition, there is a reason it is telling you something.
Once you start listening to your intuition, observe how the abuser behaves in front of and with others. Most abusers will present themselves as ‘goody, goody’ boys and girls and will be admired, even loved by others. It is only when they are alone with you that you see them behaving badly, either verbally or physically. This huge neon sign is missed by many victims, because to them the very reason that the abuser behaves better with others is because everyone else is alright and the victim is wrong. Yes, yes, low self esteem does that to you. But the victim needs to know that emotionally healthy people are the same with everyone, they are not two faced. Some abusers genuinely believe they are doing this for your own good.
Once the victim realises this, the next step is to leave. Many victims stay on because the familiar abuse looks safer than the unfamiliar, out of comfort zone feeling of fending for oneself alone. Victims do look for some sort of validation from outside parties to confirm what they know about the abuser is true. This may or may not come from those around them as everyone is relating to the abuser to further their own ends or fuel their own dysfunction. That should not discourage the victim. Yes, easier said than done. But once the decision to leave has been made, the victim has to be extra cautious because this is when the abuser might try his/her hardest to trap the victim and further erode their self esteem or he/she could become more violent. A good strategy would be to behave as usual and then quietly slip away when the abuser is not paying attention. Once you are gone, the abuser might still try to get back, with pleas and cries of how you are so important, never ever make the mistake of returning because all this is just an act to get you back. So once you leave, never look back.
How do I know all this? Well had years of practice listening to circular No yellow on Tuesday kind of stuff and still have the ocassional twinge about wearing yellow. Have got out but still on the way to a new destination.