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Am I wrong?

By March 23, 2010 - 7:42pm
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Someone very close to me, is the victim of what I would term emotional and psychological abuse, not to mention an abusive manipulation. the problem is, she does not agree with my assessment. To list the facts, many provided by her, the rest witnessed.
She and her ex (now increasingly current) boyfriend broke up almost a year ago, about a year after they got into college. She, began to expand to fill her new horizons, he however just became more of what he was (very religious, and very conservative, neither normally a bad thing). the problem was, previous to this they had really only had each other as both made few friends and both came from traumatic homes. She began to make friends, form new ideas and opinions, and in general grow. He didn't, and became increasingly angry and demanding at her growing beyond him. the led to several months of fighting, mostly because she was doing things with her friends instead of always with him, and ended with him throwing a punch at her that barely missed her face and hit the wall next to her.

Over the next several months, he would alternate between cajoling her to get back together with him, apologizing & promising change, etc. And verbally harassing her, stating (this is a list overheard or given by her) "she was a bitch/slut/whore/worthless", that "their whole relationship was a lie and a sin", "he regretted ever knowing/dating/sleeping with her", "no one could ever love her like him/ and that his was a pure love that could only come from God"
This continued for months even while she was in another relationship, he continued to harass or plead with her to get back together with him in varied patterns. During this, her then current boyfriend would often be on the phone with her (they attend different colleges) for 8 hours or more calming, supporting and reassuring her, sadly never able to convince her to report him. The attacks grew to the point, she was at several times considering either running away from school, family, friends and moving to somewhere in the country nobody knew her just to get away from it. She also, at least twice considered suicide as an option.
The ex however, with some 5 years of intimate familiarity, knows all her triggers (both good and bad) and was able to talk her down from any fatal actions, immediately apologizing and promising her he would back off and leave her alone as "she obviously loves (her then current boyfriend) and he must be a great guy" so he (the ex) would let her "be happy".
Only to immediately start again, with the pleading and the assaults.
After months of this, he suddenly changed patterns, becoming as conciliatory and as kind as he could possibly be, eventually becoming one of the driving forces behind her leaving her current boyfriend, and is now close to if not actually dating her again.
Any discussion with her on this becomes defensive, where she insists that it isn't abusive, but that "he can be an ass" and she "can be a bitch" when upset. And glosses over the sheer number of times he verbally attacked her without cause, and all the times he lied to her in the process. If the physical threat is mentioned, she responds with "if you want to get technical, yes he punched the wall by my face, but I slapped him once when he called me a whore".
So, am I wrong in this? Is this emotional and verbal abuse with a emotional manipulation thrown in? (He has the power to hurt her like no other, but he is also the one who can save her from harm when he does so) I know what I believe, but so far no one else in her life seems to agree, or rather notice.

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Hi Kmayes

I don't think it matters if you are right or wrong. You're justifiably concerned. You used "Am I wrong?" as your title and also as the header into your last paragraph and I am wondering why you are worried about being right or wrong in this? Are you worried she will turn against you?

I think you're being a good friend to her but as Diane said, friends can only do so much. I don't think he was a driving force in her leaving her relationship. People can influence others, of course, but ultimately she is making the choice to stay with this man and it's her choice to make (no matter how unhealthy it seems to everyone else.)

Again, like Diane said, they have great commonality in terms of their childhoods and that seems to be bonding them. However, he is using religion and god in such a manipulative way that's it's worrisome. He wouldn't be the first person to do this.

All you can do is give her options. Let her know that your door will always be open to her and that you are there to help if she ever needs it. Forcing her to see things your way or "reporting him" will actually make her turn to him even more. They will remain together and you will come out the loser, because they think the same way and you don't. You think she is being abused and manipulated and she doesn't. Therefore she carries on with this man and you are the one left to think of all this as being a terrible relationship. It's all pretty twisted, eh?

It sounds like both need individual counseling before even thinking about a relationship with each other. But until one or both admits there is a problem, there is not much you can do to help, other than to be there for your friend when she needs you. Let her vent and don't give too much advice because ironically, she will resent you for it.

You are in a very tricky situation and I'm sorry for that. I think a situation like this resonates with many of us.

March 24, 2010 - 12:11pm
(reply to Susan Cody)

I'm not worried about her turning against her, but she fights me so forcefully on this point, with so many matter of fact counters to my observations, I started to wonder if my perception was being colored by my anger at his treatment of her. I think it is abuse, but so many including her don't seem to think so I had to ask an impartial audience. That's why I restricted my recitation to only those things personally witnessed, or that she related on her own. I have other information based upon observation of behavior, conversations (and evasive statements), but those things while potentially accurate, are not concrete. I just told what I have seen, and what she said.

March 24, 2010 - 4:07pm
(reply to Kmayes)


You're a good friend. I understand completely the position you are in. I am best friends with a woman who was in a relationship and marriage with a man for 22 years who also was emotionally abusive. After someone has some years invested in a relationship, it is so hard for them to break it off and decide that it's not good for them. It feels like a failure to do that, instead of a step in the right direction. And sometimes all they can do is take baby steps when others around them think they should be running.

Keep close to her. Let her know that you support her no matter what is happening in her life. That doesn't mean you keep your opinions to yourself, but it does mean that you're there for her when she needs a shoulder. I suspect this will not be the first time they get back together -- and that it wasn't the last time they will break up. Abuse is a complicated dance between those dishing it out and those who believe in some way that they deserve it. It's very, very hard to break that cycle.

I'm glad she has you in her corner.

March 25, 2010 - 8:50am
(reply to Kmayes)

The problem with this type of abuse is it's insidious and leaves no visible wounds. It's brushed off as a bad day or bad temper or anger management/coping problem but it's more than that. It causes damage just as painful as being hit. The effects are long lasting and can become crippling. I understand exactly when you mean when you refer to manipulation and that kind of thing strips the abused person of their ability to validate their own feelings and make good decisions. I feel for you, and particularly for your friend, and I hope she begins to see what's really happening with this man and gets away from him.

March 24, 2010 - 4:16pm

It's abuse. The very best thing she can do is discontinue any and all contact with him. He won't stop without intensive therapy and it sounds as though he doesn't think he's behaving inappropriately to begin with. Send your friend to www.violenceunsilenced.com; she may see herself in some of the stories there and begin to realize that her situation is unhealthy and potentially dangerous. It would be beneficial for her to seek some counseling as well so she can learn to recognize abuse, avoid it and improve her own self-esteem so she doesn't end up in future abusive relationships.

March 24, 2010 - 11:47am
(reply to naimhe)

I'll send her the link, but I don't know is she'll take it seriously.

March 24, 2010 - 4:01pm


What a difficult situation. It's complicated and multi-layered and doesn't seem good for anyone involved.

I'm not sure what you mean by "an abusive manipulation," exactly, but yes, it does seem as though this has been an emotionally abusive situation (and almost physically abusive). Anytime someone yells, screams, belittles, calls another person profane names and threatens them, that's emotional abuse. Loving people do not do these things.

I'm not sure that's a crime, however, and to "report him" wouldn't do much good unless there were some laws broken somewhere along the way (as in physical abuse).

Is your friend in counseling? It sounds like what is most needed here is someone to help her objectively see her situation and help her work through it, in her own time. Friends can only do so much. You are obviously close to her and supportive of her, so you see what I mean. Has therapy been suggested to her? Would she be in favor of it? Most university systems do have student health care, and counseling would be covered.

Since both of their childhoods were rough, it is possible that neither he nor she has ever had a good relationship as a role model. And a five-year history feels comfortable -- even if it's not healthy. It fits old patterns.

You mention that only you feel that this is emotional abuse. What do other people in her life say about the situation?

March 24, 2010 - 11:45am
(reply to Diane Porter)

What I mean by abusive manipulation is that by having intimate knowledge of her, he is able to trigger certain responses in her (admittedly, I do not know whether or not he does it consciously). He knows full well how to hurt her the worst psychologically, as well as the best ways to talk her through a crisis (such as when her family hurts her). When he hurts her he makes her as vulnerable as she can possibly get, to the point of considering suicide, and at that point he changes course and uses those supportive skills to deescalate the crisis. This in turn creates a dependency on him, after all, when shes at her lowest she can count on him to help her out of it. In effect, she becomes his own emotional yo-yo.
Actually harassment of this nature is a crime, sadly where she lives charges still need to be pressed by the victim, which she won't do. He likely wouldn't go to jail, but could have a restraining order against him, which would send him to prison or at least get him expelled if he continues to persist.
As for other people in her life, frankly as far as I can tell any one of the following is true;
1) They don't know. A sad fact, but all to often people are very good at ignoring what they don't want to see. Several of these altercations have occurred in public, but most in private. She herself stated on several occasions she was "glad" nobody actually saw him throw the punch, or saw all the "fights" as it would have made things worse. As it stands, when it happens it public it is referred to as a "fight"
2) They take her word for it, rather than relying on obvious evidence. She will at every turn defend the situation, even when she is so emotionally shredded she can barely talk or breathe from crying.She insists it is just "how they fight", and that he doesn't mean it, he just says the worst things he can when mad.
3) They just don't care, or at least think it a problem. Her family is emotionally and from reported history, physically abusive. Her mother will verbally harass her, her grandmother, stepfather and little brothers. The ex-boyfriend in question comes from a similar background. From everything I have seen, I don't know that her family would even bother to help her, or think there was a reason to.
Several other friends know of the situation, but never attempt much in the way of intervention.
I suggested counseling once, but she returned with a story about going to a psychiatrist once when someone reported her parents for suspected child abuse, but that doctor took her mother's every word against hers, so now she doesn't trust psychiatrists. I don't know if this is true, but at the least, she still doesn't think there is a problem.

March 24, 2010 - 3:58pm
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