“Or Have I?” — The Art of Abuse Minimization
Abuse Minimization (by the target) in emotionally abusive relationships:
A conscious or unconscious defense mechanism to protect oneself against the cognitive dissonance of the confusing Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde personality of the abuser.
Many women who have been in domestically abusive relationships tell themselves, “It’s really not that bad. I’m sure others have it worse. This isn’t really abuse, anyway. Sure, he often calls me stupid or an idiot, but at least he’s never called me a bitch.” Or, if he does make it a habit to hurl even the most brutal insults on a regular basis, along with blaming and accusations and crazy-making, circular talk and all the rest, she may try to minimize her situation by thinking, “Well, at least he’s never hit me.” If he has hit her, “at least he’s never broken a bone.” If he has broken a bone, “At least I’ve never been knocked unconscious.” And on … and on.
This minimization isn’t a deliberate effort to excuse the behavior of the abuser, but rather to try to make sense of the nonsensical. It’s so difficult to believe you’re a victim of abuse, especially if that abuse is of the passive-aggressive, covert kind, and especially during the “love-bombing” phase of the abuse cycle.
What does it look like inside the mind of an emotionally battered, tattered, and bewildered victim of IPV? Like this:
I’ve never been physically abused. (Or have I?) Sure, my husband can get violent from time to time, but only toward inanimate objects; punching holes in walls, smashing (my) things, destroying furniture (but only small pieces, nothing big), shattering glasses by hurling them across the room, aggressively slamming doors so hard they break and will never shut in protection again … but I’m never the target, so I haven’t been physically abused.
(Or have I?)
Sure, my husband has done things to me sexually that I haven’t been comfortable with — things I can’t let myself think about because I don’t want another panic attack to begin — but he’s never raped me, and I haven’t been aggressive enough when I’ve tried to say “no,” so I’ve never been sexually violated.
(Or have I?)
Sure, there was that one time he flew into one of his “Mr. Hyde” rages over something, I don’t exactly remember what. But maybe he was right. Maybe I was being impossible, like he says I am. I don’t know. But finally when he was done spewing his verbal venom at me, he stomped out of the room, slamming doors and breaking things as usual, leaving me in peace for a half hour (or at least as much “peace” as I could muster, since I was by then on full trauma-induced alert, afraid he’d come after me again). Then he told me it was time for me to go to bed. He said it nicely. I was happy and relieved that he was being nice again. So I went.
And sure, that night, just thirty minutes after his vicious, spewing, rage-filled verbal attack, he put his arms around me as I attempted to maybe, possibly sleep. But he didn’t put his arms around my waist or shoulders in a loving embrace, as he usually does. This time, he put his thick, strong arms around my neck. And squeezed, tight. Then he “hugged” me tighter. And sure, I knew his hand gun was next to him on the bedside table, his rifle beneath the bed. But those are for protection, in case some hooligan breaks into our safe community and picks our house as a target. After all, our neighborhood has a zero crime rate, so we’re due for something to happen. He has to be prepared. To protect me. He has never once threatened me, or even made any kind of gesture to suggest that he would. He’s never been violent. And that night he kept murmuring in my ear, “my baby,” and “I really do love you,” over and over again.
I think he didn’t even realize his arms were so tight around my neck and not my shoulders. My terror was ridiculous. It was all in my head. He was just hugging me. Tightly. Around the neck. Because he loves me. Besides, I didn’t move to get away. I didn’t tell him I was uncomfortable, so he didn’t even know. I should have said something. He would have understood, if he had known. It was my fault that he didn’t even know, so he’s the innocent one. I’m not sure why I didn’t say anything. It’s not like he was hugging me that tightly, anyway. I mean, it’s not like I had trouble breathing or anything. I wasn’t choking. I was just slightly uncomfortable. Not much, even. I fell asleep at some point. So it was my fault, for not speaking up. And besides, it was no big deal.
I admit, too, that he did try to pick the lock of the bedroom door one night when I’d locked myself in because I was afraid of his raging (which again is so stupid, because I’ve never been physically threatened, so there’s no reason I should have been on alert and afraid to sleep). When, at 3 AM, he finally decided to go to bed — not in the guest room after all, but with me — and found the door locked, he was even more enraged. But I get it. I mean, it’s his bedroom, too, right? He then proceeded to try to pick the lock, which terrified me, because I knew if he was successful (and he probably would be), then I’d be in for it. So, I unlocked it myself. I let him in. That was my choice, right? Plus, he’s never physically hurt me, so my fear was ridiculous. My fear and gut intuition is ridiculous. It’s all in my head (and my stomach). I don’t know why I feel this way. I’m being an idiot, and stupid. After all, I’ve never been physically abused.