Wednesday, January 19, 2011

When Prince Charming Isn't

Please note that this article could be triggering to those who have a history of abusive relationships

There's no way anyone could be more perfect. He's funny, he's romantic, he's the absolute definition of charming. As time goes on, you spend more and more time together, blowing off your friends every so often- I mean, this may not last forever, and they should just be happy for you while it lasts. But as time goes on, you can't imagine what life would be like without him. So your friends fall to the wayside, and so do your studies or your job. Your parents say you seem different. You brush them off ; you secretly think maybe something's not right, but you can't put your finger on what it is. It's not your boyfriend, of course- the longer you're together, the more sure you are of that, and his insistence that he loves you more than anyone else seems to support it. This slowly turns into him telling you that he's the only one who'll ever love you. On those rare occasions when you go out, you constantly have to check in with him via texts or phone calls, otherwise he gets angry. No matter how much time you spend together, he starts to seem incredibly jealous when you're out with your friends, and if you invite him along, he spends the whole time making fun of you with thinly-veiled insults. He gets more and more aggressive, especially while you're being intimate. By the time you realize something's wrong, you feel like you're in so deep that there's no way you can dig yourself out.

Sound familiar? I hope not. This is practically the textbook definition of an abusive relationship. I have seen this happen far too often among the people closest to me, and a surprising number seem to occur with young women who live on the fringes of society: the outcast artist, the rockabilly pin-up girl, or, of course, the lolita. Really, I suppose this shouldn't be a surprise. How many lolita secrets are there of girls bemoaning the lack of love in their lives? It may be that the reason I haven't seen this from mainstream women because I haven't looked for it, and it won't surprise me to learn that this is true. However, no one can deny that alternative females often find themselves feeling as though they'll never find anyone who completely accepts them, very public idiosyncrasies and all. I feel that this is the underlying issue that draws followers of subculture to abusive individuals and therefore abusive relationships: this innate desire for acceptance, and the unwillingness to let go of that acceptance after finding it.

Disclaimer: I realize that this article is already not only creating an atmosphere of heteronormativity but also a sexist attitude towards males. Allow me to say, as someone who has seen both ends of the spectrum, that women can be just as abusive of men as men can be of women. I have known men who were sexually abused by their female partners, and know that women are just as likely to abuse women and men to abuse men as one sex is to hurt the other. However, since I'm speaking here from knowledge gained from my own experience and that of my loved ones, I will continue to speak of this relationship as a male abusing his female partner.

Too often I see women caged into the excuse, "But he loves me." I know the feeling. I've been there. I was in a relationship for two and a half years with a man who turned emotionally abusive. I don't even think his name anymore- I call him "Old What's-his-face" in my head when I think about him, otherwise everything gets kind of fuzzy and panicky. Sure, at first it was lovely, but after a while, things took a predictable turn for the worse. He made me feel like I was nothing unless we were having sex. He wouldn't speak to me for hours or full days if I refused him. He insulted me at every opportunity, especially in front of our mutual friends. He pressured me into texting him all the time I wasn't at our apartment, even when I was at work or with my family. I suppose I should consider myself "lucky" that he never raised a hand against me or forced himself on me. I know I did plenty of things to harm him, too, but that time of my life is admittedly rather foggy due to the mental stress it caused me, so I can't quite recall many of the details. The worst part? We started our relationship truly loving each other, and ended it with nothing but negativity towards each other.

And my friends knew. My friends could tell that something was wrong, and they could tell he was wrong for me, and they knew we weren't treating each other right, but instead of voicing their concerns and trying to help me out of a bad situation, they told me it was normal and thought, "Well, whatever makes her happy." Of course, it was after we broke up (mutually, more or less, or so I tell myself) that they told me all of this. That's the one thing I regret: I wish I had asked them for their honest opinion while we were dating, because even though I knew something was wrong, I thought the problem was something inherent to myself. Hindsight is twenty-twenty, because now I see what I didn't see then: there was nothing wrong with me. There is nothing wrong with me. Or him. We were two damaged individuals living through a difficult time in our lives, who couldn't let go of something that had gone rotten and so lashed out against each other as punishment for our own wrongs. I couldn't see the truth because I had been looking at our relationship through the rose-colored glasses of ~love~.

That's why it's so important for witnesses to stand up. I'm not blaming my loved ones for this: they did what they thought was right, and I made the same choices as them at other times in my life. I'm not blaming the victims of abuse, either; like I said, when you're in love, you can't always see the truth. Therefore, it is not your responsibility to make sure your friends stay out of an abusive relationship, but it is your job to be the eyes for someone who may too be blinded by love or infatuation to see the dangers of her situation.

Below is a list from of the signs of an abusive relationship. Please, for your own sake and that of your loved ones, become familiar with them. Memorize them - most of the are pretty obvious, so it shouldn't be too hard - and make sure they're never far from your mind. I hope you never need them.

Your Inner Thoughts and Feelings Your Partner’s Belittling Behavior
Do you:
  • feel afraid of your partner much of the time?
  • avoid certain topics out of fear of angering your partner?
  • feel that you can’t do anything right for your partner?
  • believe that you deserve to be hurt or mistreated?
  • wonder if you’re the one who is crazy?
  • feel emotionally numb or helpless? 
Does your partner:
  • humiliate or yell at you?
  • criticize you and put you down?
  • treat you so badly that you’re embarrassed for your friends or family to see?
  • ignore or put down your opinions or accomplishments?
  • blame you for his own abusive behavior?
  • see you as property or a sex object, rather than as a person?
Your Partner’s Violent Behavior or Threats Your Partner’s Controlling Behavior
Does your partner:
  • have a bad and unpredictable temper?
  • hurt you, or threaten to hurt or kill you? 
  • threaten to take your children away or harm them?
  • threaten to commit suicide if you leave?
  • force you to have sex?
  • destroy your belongings?
Does your partner:
  • act excessively jealous and possessive?
  • control where you go or what you do?
  • keep you from seeing your friends or family?
  • limit your access to money, the phone, or the car?
  • constantly check up on you?

If you fear you or a loved one may be in an abusive relationship, or would just like to learn more for future reference, please check out the full page on HelpGuide. Know that abusive relationships are a very touchy subject- usually the victim knows something isn't right, but refuses to admit what that is, and can become defensive if confronted about it. It's important to approach the situation in a respectful manner, admitting that you don't know everything about their relationship but from what you've seen, they are exhibiting this or that warning sign. Preface this with the fact that it is only because you care for your friend that you bring it up at all, and that you aren't trying to insult her or her partner in bringing this to her attention. The worst thing she will do is explode in anger at you, and unfortunately, this is a sign of denial and might mean that your suspicions are true. In this case, unfortunately the change has to come from within the individuals- all you can do is know that you tried and hope you've given your friend some insight into her situation. In my case, Old What's-his-face realized that we were harming each other and broke it off. He came home at 3 AM from a little soul-searching with two women who at the time were two of my best friends and told me to move back in with my parents because we needed to break up. I slept in that bed next to him, though "slept" is not quite the term for sobbing myself into morning (looks like I had finally started believing him when he told me that I was only with him so I didn't have to be alone, because I couldn't get anyone else), and left for work the next morning with a broken heart, a battered soul, and lots of shattered promises, but ultimately the knowledge that every ending is another beginning and that it was all for the best that this particularly gruesome chapter of my story was complete.

Would I change it? No. Despite the fact that I wish one of my more observant friends had sat down with me and told me what was really going on, I do feel that the conclusion that came was for the best. However, I was lucky that my story ended where it did. Too many people suffer in silence as the abuse gets more and more severe, and too many friend find themselves attending the funeral of someone they could have helped, if only they had spoken up when they had the chance. Please, if you see something that worries you, take responsibility and stand up and say something before it's too late, and if you find yourself in an abusive relationship, remember this: you are beautiful. You are beautiful and amazing and strong and just as deserving of a loving relationship as everyone else. If you stay in an abusive relationship, you are only hurting yourself, and by facing your partner and telling them that you have had enough, you are not only freeing yourself - you're taking your fate into your own hands and changing your status from "victim" to "survivor."

For more:
When the Prince Isn't Charming at Her Curious Elegance
Love and Stockholm Syndrome

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