Step Off the Jekyll and Hyde Rollercoaster: Ending Emotional Abuse
- Monday, April 06, 2009
Editor's Note: This is a follow-up article to Dr. David Hawkin's piece, Life with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: The Verbally Abusive Marriage.
“I’m so tired,” Katherine said wearily, sinking further into the chair in my counseling office.
Brushing her hair out of her eyes, she continued, “You know the story. When it’s good, it’s really good. And when it’s bad, it’s really bad.”
“Yes,” I said sympathetically. “I have heard the story many times. ‘The Jekyl and Hyde relationship’, where he is nice one day, and mean-spirited the next. All the while, you’re never sure which man you’ll see at the dinner table tomorrow night.”
Katherine appeared painfully ordinary, the life sapped out of her. No longer wearing makeup, I pondered whether she was clinically depressed. She complained of withdrawing, not enjoying her friends as she had in the past. The rollercoaster ride of bickering with her husband, interspersed with more pleasant times, was taking a toll on her.
Katherine is one of thousands of women, and sometimes men, who struggle in emotionally abusive marriages. She has been coming to counseling for several months, learning about how truth-twisting, rewriting history and sarcasm are aspects of emotional abuse. She has discovered the abusive aspect of him playing the victim instead of taking responsibility for his behavior.
Others like Katherine suffer quietly, though many responded to my recent article on emotionally abusive relationships. We must continue our efforts to end the silence about emotional abuse and encourage action.
Thousands, like Katherine, are criticized for staying in obviously abusive relationships. Well-meaning people, when they learn of or recognize the abuse, tell their friends to simply leave or “stand up and don’t tolerate it.” But, this advice is simplistic. Often there are strong conflicting feelings in the abusive relationship: one of fear of the abuser, and one of positive feelings toward the abuser.
“I still love Gary,” Katherine told me. “He’s my husband, the father of our three children. And besides, he doesn’t always call me names. He isn’t always sarcastic with me. There is a good side to him, though I don’t see it as often as I’d like.”
“I’m sure there is,” I replied. “Most relationships are made up of good and bad. It’s actually that combination of good and bad that can create a very strong, painfully destructive bond the experts call trauma bonding.”
“What is that?” Katherine asked.
“When a relationship has a pattern of fear, abuse and exploitation, where a person has control and power over us, we begin to tiptoe around them. We are slowly being abused and traumatized, and may stay in a relationship for a long time without really fighting back. We’re often afraid to fight back because of the repercussions.”
“Sounds like how I am with Gary. His temper is so harsh, and he becomes so critical, I go along with what he says so I won’t have to deal with his nasty moods and temper.”
“At what cost?” I asked Katherine.
“Well,” she sighed. “That’s why I’m here. I need to end this ‘Jekyll and Hyde rollercoaster.’ I need to find myself again and start sticking up for myself.”
Together, Katherine and I methodically outlined a plan for her to regain her sense of integrity (wholeness).
Here are some steps everyone in a controlling/ abusive relationship can take:
1. Tell yourself the truth. Katherine spent numerous sessions detailing the behaviors her husband exhibited that were abusive. She learned what behaviors constitute abuse, explored ways she rationalized them, and decided she would determine what behaviors were intolerable.
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