This is a question I struggle with myself on a regular basis. Can abusers really ever change or is it just theater to try to pull you back in so they can mistreat you again? Should you ever let a prior abuser back into your life if they seem to have changed for the good?
None of these are easy questions and there are certainly many contributing factors that should be considered as well. Perhaps abusers who once had drug or alcohol addictions and have now gotten clean for a significant period of time will have changed enough to give them a second chance.
What about those who lived for years with undiagnosed, untreated mental illness and finally get the help they need? How much of the abuse was who they truly were and how much was the influence of the untreated mental illness? This scenario is one I personally have experienced to some extent with my own family. How much responsibility should they hold for the abuse, especially any times they may have actually dipped into psychosis?
I know many abusers find religion at some point in their lives and claim to have been completely changed. I must admit I am suspicious of this claim. Perhaps religion truly does change the hearts of some, but much of my personal experience has taught me that if someone is a bad person before they find religion, they will likely be a bad person after they find it. Superficialities may change, but does their behavior/attitude/actions?
Unfortunately, I have no real answers to the question of whether abusers can ever change, but I hope that they can. I would warn everyone to be cautious in extending an olive branch to anyone who has deliberately hurt you again and again, but I do understand the desire to believe in the power of change.
Last night I was thinking about my history of abuse and how I grew up seeing so much of it. As far as physical abuse goes, I did endure some growing up, but it was much more common for me to see someone else physically abused in my family. There was a “scapegoat” in our family who seemed to be the target of much of the worst of the abuse.
Thinking back, I remember how when this abuse would happen, I would scuttle into the corner or hide in a nearby alcove, but I never tried to actually leave the room. Common sense would seem to dictate that when violence is happening, you would want to get as far away from it as you can, but I didn’t even try.
I questioned myself last night why this was so. I came up with several possibilities. First, perhaps I was afraid to leave the room because I thought it would draw further attention to me. My main goal when violence would erupt was to try to become invisible. Sometimes the rage would boil over and the physical and verbal abuse would extend to me if I happened to get caught in the crossfire, so I naturally tried to fade into the shadows. Sometimes, early on, I would try to distract and please the abuser in hopes of calming them down, but that never really worked.
Another reason I think I stayed to watch was because deep down I feared for the safety of the scapegoat and I wanted to make sure they didn’t die. There may have been some morbid curiosity tossed in there too, the way that human nature makes us crane our necks to see what happened when driving by a car crash.
Lastly, I think I stayed and risked my own safety because I felt responsible for trying to make peace after the explosion. I hated to see the division in my family and the anger and pain created by these confrontations. After the worst of it was over, I would often go to the victim and try to comfort them, and then I would even go to the abuser and try to comfort them. I would try to mend the rift between them, although obviously looking back with adult eyes, I see the utter futility of my efforts and sometimes feel anger that I felt responsible to hold the family together in the first place, as I was so little at the time (elementary school age).
For at least a year or two now, I have been debating with my husband whether we should get a handgun for home protection. You see, I have an intense fear of home invasions. I often have nightmares about it. I think part of it may stem from being robbed at gunpoint when I was 17 years old. Or maybe some of it comes from living in several areas over my lifetime that were crime ridden in one way or another. A history of physical abuse and c-ptsd certainly doesn’t help either.
That is why I believe that I might feel a little more safe with a handgun in the house (most likely locked up in a safe). My husband worries about keeping a loaded gun in the house though because of my intense periods of depression. I have bipolar type 2, and while I have never had a psychotic episode, have never tried to commit suicide, and do not think I am generally a danger to myself, my husband has seen me go through some extreme emotional lows that worried him. He fears that if we had a loaded gun in the house there is always the possibility that in a moment of intense depression I might make a rash decision.
I am thinking that perhaps I should discuss the possibility with my therapist and psychiatrist. I know both of them have said they do not think I would ever actually commit suicide. Personally, I agree that I am very unlikely to commit suicide unless my husband died and I was somehow left all alone without any help in the world. I do not think I could kill myself unless the prospect of living genuinely became worse than death. I also would not want to cause anyone who cares about me pain, as I know first hand what it is like to lose someone close to suicide.
This post will contain a collection of short journal entries I wrote recently about what it was like emotionally to grow up with autism. These thoughts specifically dealt with bullying and (for me) the most confusing time of adolescence, which was middle school and the beginning of high school. By the last couple years of high school I had figured some things out and learned how to “pretend” to fit in a bit better, even though deep down I still felt like an oddball.
I hated always being the butt of the joke – even among friends. I was naive. I was gullible. I was trusting. Too many times I was set up for humiliation or embarrassment.
In an effort to avoid this embarrassment, I quit trusting anyone. I quit taking anyone at their word. I became suspicious. I struggled to identify sarcasm, so I started assuming ALL was sarcasm unless I knew someone well enough to tell the difference.
Due to this struggle with recognizing sarcasm, how many “mean” comments did I take to heart that were meant in jest? How many cruel words that cut me to the core, were never even meant to be cruel? When boys would say they liked me and I would take it as them mocking me and choose to ignore them or laugh at their “joke”, did I instead end up hurting their feelings in an effort to save my own?
Bullied for my weight during middle school, accused of having a lack of “feeling” or frustrating others who thought I didn’t care about anything because I suffered from selective mutism under stress, constantly feeling reminded that I wasn’t “feminine” enough – this was much of my teenage experience.
The common thread throughout was that I unknowingly made myself a target for abuse. The way I dressed. The way I talked. The way I acted. I was so desperate for acceptance and approval, but I reached for them in ways that were socially unacceptable to those around me and ended up only painting the bulls-eye larger on myself.
Last night I had a bunch of nightmares. In fact, I woke up feeling like that was all I did all night – face some of my darkest fears. These nightmares didn’t feature vampires, ghosts, ax murderers, clowns, or spiders…they featured the person I love the most in the world, my husband.
In these dreams my husband turned cruel and cold. He stopped caring about me. He wanted to leave me or even kill me. The betrayals started small in the dreams, with him choosing friends over me and simply being uncaring and dismissive of my feelings, but they accelerated as the dreams went on and turned to him expressing extreme hatred towards me and even trying to stage an “accident” to get rid of me.
Let me say that these dreams ARE NOT representative of my husband’s treatment of me. We have been together 15 years and he has been wonderful. Caring, patient, understanding, loving, forgiving….all of these are adjectives that fit him perfectly. He always puts me first before anyone else, often, even before himself.
So why the bad dreams? My guess is PTSD. When you grow up in an unstable environment with mentally ill, abusive, and selfish people who often put their own desires before your needs, it fucks you up for life. You always feel unworthy. You always feel like the rug of security can be pulled out from beneath your feet at any time. You feel like you don’t deserve good things, and if you do happen to get love and affection, you are suspicious and paranoid about it. How I wish I could just forget the past.
Do you ever wonder if it all matters? I sure do. I try to be positive most of the time when I think about the things I do and whether they make a difference, but when I get depressed, the voices of doubt tend to get louder. They say some pretty mean things:
Are you just wasting your time writing and making art? Who really cares?
Why would anyone care what you have to say? Who do you think you are?
You try to support others, but do they even notice? Does it even help them?
You only focus so much on art and writing because you can’t keep a REAL job.
Your own family never cared that much about you, why would anyone else?
If you died today, barely anyone would notice or care. Your funeral would be empty.
You are selfish and everyone sees through you.
You are a drain on your husband and society in general.
I know these are very negative (some would even say abusive) thoughts, but when I am feeling low, they play in my head like a stuck record. By writing them out, I am hoping they will finally shut the hell up. Do any of these thoughts (or similar ones) ever haunt you?
By: Maranda Russell
The lace unravels.
The smaller holes
become bigger tears
as the candle wax
hardens on the soft,
but the altar
Lately I’ve been dealing with a lot of resentment and anger towards my mother. To explain why, let me share a specific incident that kind of illustrates why I am upset.
When I was 14/15, my mother worked with a guy named Danny who met me and developed a huge crush on me. He was in his late teens or early twenties, but was definitely an adult already. I DID NOT share his romantic interest and made that plain. I had absolutely no interest in dating him or getting to know him better. He bought me an expensive bracelet as a gift, which I immediately returned to him to make it clear I wasn’t interested.
Even with my mother knowing how I felt and that I was stressed out by the attention, she actually egged him on in spite of how I felt or what I wanted. She even gave him our home address and told him when I would be home. So, he ended up coming to my house while I was there alone and banged on the door and called my name for what felt like forever. He yelled about how he knew I was home because my mom had told him so. I never answered the door or responded to his calls. In fact, I hid in the closet because I was scared at the aggressiveness he was displaying.
I felt like I was being stalked, and worst of all, my own mother was encouraging it. This is just one small incident that portrays an issue with boundaries and respecting my privacy that was even more disturbing in other ways which perhaps I will share someday if and when I am ready to do so. I know it might sound odd, but I almost have a feeling like my mother WANTED to whore me out for some reason. I can’t even describe what that did to me psychologically.
Recently my therapist and I have been talking about and working on my hypersensitivity to criticism. I have always had some hypersensitivity to any kind of criticism or rebuke. As a kid, I was the one you could make cry by looking at me wrong or even gently scolding me. I still tear up over things like that, even though I wish I didn’t.
This inability to deal constructively with any kind of feeling of failure has haunted me throughout my adult life, especially in the work world. I think this fear of not living up to expectations is partly why I struggle with immense anxiety around any kind of authority figure (bosses, teachers, doctors, police, etc.) Many times this anxiety is so strong that I am almost struck dumb (probably a type of selective mutism), such as when I have had to go for job reviews or any other kind of personal evaluation.
I have noticed though that my hypersensitivity to criticism focuses mainly on 5 areas. If I am criticized on something outside of these 5 topics, I am likely to be able to shake it off better or not let it bother me in the first place. Here are the subjects I am referring to:
- My art or writing. I am extremely sensitive to any criticism about my art and writing. However, I think this one is fairly normal for creative types. We all put a bit of our heart and soul into the things we create, in a sense they are our “babies” and we gave birth to them. This does create problems for me when it comes to having the confidence to share my art and writing publicly, especially in person.
- My looks and weight. I have always felt that I was rather plain or average-looking, so I have a bit of an achilles heel here. I was bullied quite a bit in middle school when I gained some weight after my dad died, and although I lost the weight a couple years later, those mean words about being “fat” have stuck with me. I have always relied on my intelligence, not my looks, to get me anywhere. I am proud of that fact, but sometimes I wish I felt more confident about the way I look.
- Any accusation of laziness or incompetence. I think the laziness thing bothers me because my mom would accuse me of that all the time. “Lazy”, “good for nothing”, “useless”…words like that stick with you. As for the incompetence, it doesn’t even have to be someone else that says something. If I feel even slightly incompetent (at anything) within myself it is enough to send me into a meltdown, probably a result of my perfectionism.
- Any perceived insult to my intelligence. As I said before, I have always relied on my intelligence to get through life, so if that is questioned or doubted, I feel worthless.
- Any insinuation implying that I am childish/immature or a crybaby. I have a lot of “childlike” qualities, as do many with Aspergers syndrome, and those can be endearing, but when people turn it into a bad thing and accuse me of childishness or immaturity, I feel misunderstood and hurt. I am extremely sensitive in some ways, but I hate the term “crybaby”.
So, what do you guys think? Do you share any of these insecurities? Are you also hypersensitive to criticism in these areas or others?