Power and Control Wheel: Emotional Abuse
Putting her down. Making her
feel bad about herself.
Calling her names. Making her
think she’s crazy. Playing mind
games. Humiliating her.
Making her feel guilty.
I’ve been spending a lot of time reading since I’ve been at my parents’ house. I’ve started Co-Dependent No More and really didn’t get far in it. Reading that felt weird because if I apply it to my situation, I was starting to feel like this is my fault. Pinning abuse on the abused is just not going to work. I probably do have co-dependency issues, but while I’m dealing with the fall-out of escaping an abusive marriage (even if only temporarily – God willing), I need to concentrate on getting back on an even keel.
I’ve also read Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Bancroft. Wow. Simply wow. It was like having huge, honkin’ blinders taken off. Part of me was devastated at the realizations that that book gave me because I didn’t see so much of the abuse that was happening to me. Part of me was ready to jump up and down and do cartwheels because I’M REALLY NOT CRAZY!!! There were times that I would finish talking to him that I would sit in my room and wonder, “What just happened???? I know he said ‘x, y, z’ but he turned right around and denied it like it had never happened. I know he said it. Why would he deny it? Am I really losing my mind?” I just ordered that book from Amazon. I’m going to get a highlighter and start highlighting everything that applies to my relationship with him and our marriage. I know there seemed to be a lot but it isn’t like I could mark up a library book and I’m not in a place to take notes.
I’m also reading The Verbally Abusive Man: Can He Change by Patricia Evans. Again, wow. So much of what she is writing makes me think that she’s been bugging my house for years. What shocks me most is how it seems that all these men have taken classes or something to learn the exact same stuff. I think the single most important thing that I’ve taken away from that book so far is that I’m not too sensitive, it isn’t that I can’t take a joke or have no sense of humor. He would often say something very cruel and mean and when it hurt my feelings he would say, “I was just joking. Can’t you take a joke. Fine! I will never joke with you again!!!!!” all while he played the martyr. I would try to explain that it wasn’t that I couldn’t take a joke, I just found what he had just said mean and nasty and not funny in the least. Oh, how I wish he would’ve kept his promise to never “joke” with me again. But he would always forget that and “joke” with me again and again. I can’t believe there are other men out there doing this exact thing and blaming their wives for not having a sense of humor. I’m totally gobsmacked by so much of what I’m reading in these books.
I only have three more days to finish this book by Ms. Evans. I can’t renew it. I want to skip ahead and see but I’m riveted by each page.
That way my initial reaction to reading those two books for the first time. Even with the massive realizations I was having, I was still minimizing and justifying a lot of what he’d done to me. It was only after I got my own copy of WDHDT? and saw the sheer amount of yellow covering the pages that I began to truly appreciate the hell I’d lived in. That is what allowed me to finally stop minimizing and justifying and accept that I was, in fact, an abused wife.
Let’s go over the examples from the Power and Control Wheel one by one:
Putting her down. Bubba put me down constantly, but in a very sneaky way. He knew I was very self-conscious about my stomach. I’d given birth to three children and I was carrying about 30 pounds of extra weight. It was mainly centered in my tummy. One night I remember sneaking in to relax in a bubble bath. About 10 minutes after I started relaxing and enjoying myself, Bubba picked the lock and came in to join me. He didn’t ask. He just came in the bathroom and got in the tub with me. I didn’t have the ability to tell him no, because that would’ve caused a huge fight. It was easier for me to just accept that my alone time to read was over. He got in the tub behind me and pulled me back against him. After a bit, he poked my tummy and giggled like the Pillsbury Dough Boy. I was horrified and told him so. He acted all put off. He said my tummy was nice and cute, just like the Dough Boy’s. He just couldn’t understand why I was upset when he was just trying to give me a compliment. He got very defensive and I ended up being the bad guy for “misunderstanding” that he was complimenting me.
I can now see clearly that a normal response to this would’ve been for him to apologize for inadvertently hurting my feelings. The appropriate response would’ve been to feel bad that he’d made me feel bad. Instead, it was my fault that he’d hurt my feelings. Not normal!
Making her feel bad about herself. This was a normal state for me. He would put me down and I’d feel bad about myself. The goal of making the victim feel bad about herself is so that she doesn’t believe she deserves to be treated better than she is. If you put her down enough and she feels bad enough about herself, she won’t be strong enough to leave.
Calling her names. Bubba didn’t come right out and call me names often – or at least not directly. He never said, “You’re a bitch.” What he would say was, “You’re acting like a bitch.” He was very careful and deliberate with his words so that I could never accurately accuse him of calling me names.
Making her think she’s crazy. Playing mind games. I’m actually going to devote an entire post to this because this was Bubba’s main tactic. I think this deserves its own dedicated post.
Humiliating her. Bubba was really good at this. By the time I left I was afraid to go to any work functions or be around his co-workers because I knew I’d say something wrong. I knew we’d get in the car and he’d tell me how embarrassed he was that I’d said something or that I told his co-workers something that he didn’t want them to know. He would berate me like I was a small child. One time we were at a co-workers house and I’d mentioned that we were getting ready for a move. We thought it was a done deal and we’d started preparing for the move. When we got to the car, he said something about no one knowing yet that we were moving. Immediately I could feel a speech coming on because he hated when I talked about things like this. I immediately apologized and told him that I thought everyone would know by now. He looked at me like I was a simpleton and told me that it was ok that I’d told them because I couldn’t possibly have known better. Even when he didn’t get mad at me he was able to treat me like a child and humiliate me.
Making her feel guilty. Guilt was something I was well acquainted with by the time that I got married. My mother, Celia, was like the Cruise Director of Guilt Trips. The really sad part is that she didn’t know she was doing it. To this day, she would deny that she parented me with guilt and fear. I was parented very differently than my siblings were. That, however, is a topic reserved for later posts. By the time I married Bubba, I was very easily manipulated with guilt. I was a people pleaser of the highest order. I’d learned at my mother’s knee how to make everyone else happy, even to the detriment of myself. Bubba, on some level, recognized this and used it to his advantage for nearly two decades.
The biggest one was about money. I watched carefully every penny I spent. There never seemed to be enough money, no matter how much Bubba earned. Bubba also felt very entitled to buy whatever he pleased, whenever he pleased. The guilt around the money was indirect. He would spend, spend, spend and when I needed something, I felt like I had to call him for permission. He told me that I could just buy things but the fact was, I never knew how much money we had. What if I splurged and spent $20 on something and he’d just bought something for himself and that $20 would send our account into a negative balance. Bubba told me constantly to buy what I wanted, when I wanted. It was just never safe to do that because I never knew when a check would bounce. He had the best of both worlds. He had absolute control over the money while acting like a benevolent husband, telling me to buy things whenever I chose. He knew that I wouldn’t do that. I felt guilty over every penny I spent. It was only after I left and managed to go to the bank and get two years’ worth of statements printed out that I realized that while I was “splurging” on taking the kids out to eat each Friday and letting them order from the dollar menu at fast food places, he was spending hundreds of dollars eating out all the time.
Sadly, the things I described above were just my normal life until I read WDHDT? and saw Bubba and myself in the pages. I’d been so conditioned to not question anything and to just take everything at face value that I couldn’t see that I was living in some kind of Bizarro Land. I also started realizing that I hadn’t had many role models in my life to show me what a healthy marriage looked like. I was surrounded by dysfunction growing up and the majority of the friends I’d made along the way were also in dysfunctional marriages. What I needed was a few friends to model healthy marriages to me. Once I found those, the fabric of my marriage started unraveling as I started seeing that our marriages were vastly different and that I was the one who was miserable.