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 (well, there were actually many times, but I tend to forget about them all because it's easier that way, and safer ...) Anyway, there was that one time he flew into one of his "Mr. Hyde" rages over the fact that I had a glass of wine. He said I drank over half the bottle because it was nearly gone, but I’d only had one glass. I’m sure of that, I was watching myself. I have to “be sober and watchful” (1 Peter 5:8) around him. I was being careful. But maybe he’s right. Maybe the one glass went to my head and I had more that I wasn’t aware of, and I drank all his alcohol like he said I did. So finally when he was done spewing his verbal venom at me (but after all, I had drunk his wine, so I understand, it was my fault), 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. So 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.
Or have I?
The Art of Abuse Minimization
Sexual abuse isn't limited to the overt, physical aggression of domestic rape; it can be more subtle, insidious, and difficult to detect.
Many women don’t realize they’re victims of sexual abuse because they haven’t experienced the extreme level of spousal assault—rape within marriage. Yes, rape can and does happen within committed relationships, and the effects are horrific and tragic. However, there are other forms of sexual abuse that are crucial to understand, and that’s why in this post I’m focusing on the sad, subtle, and insidious manipulation of sexual coercion.
Not giving consent to sexual contact isn’t limited to an overt and obvious no. Many women don’t realize they’ve been victimized because they argue, “well, eventually I did say yes” after coercion, guilt trips, and after their spouse refused to take no for an answer. However, finally agreeing to a sexual encounter simply to get him to stop verbally pressuring and guilting you isn’t true consent, nor is it an act of mutual self-giving or love.
I repeat (because this needs repeating, again and again):
"A conjugal act imposed on one’s spouse without regard to his or her condition, or
personal and reasonable wishes in the matter, is no true act of love, and therefore
offends the moral order in its particular application to the intimate
relationship of husband and wife."
(Pope Paul VI)
This year I had the most glorious Mother's Day, spent with my mother and with my two fantastic (adult) children. All of them have been a huge source of love, support, and strength for me, and my daughter gifted with a gorgeous poem I need to share with all.
A Mother's Day Poem
by Keariel Peasley
Your wings were blue,
Like the heavens, like the sea, like melancholy,
They knew instinctively that flight was their fate, were created solely to soar,
That they guided you to flowers, that the nectar was sweet,
That your realm was limitless; you could reach any height.
Your wings were blue, a most royal blue,
Painted by God and passed down through Grammy,
For no lineage is superior
To that of Love.
Your wings were still blue,
Even when they were clipped,
Rendering sweet flowers too high and the sky an impossibility.
Their blueness remained even when folded behind you,
Where you couldn’t see them, forgot they were there,
Their presence seemed a dim memory,
When you crawled on the ground, thought you’d get nowhere,
But I saw your wings, brilliant blue tucked away,
And I knew that with enough faith and strength,
You’d recall their presence, unfurl them,
To match the vibrance of the celestial sphere,
To feel the wind carry you, to taste the sweetest flowers again,
For wings serve only one purpose:
So, my dear, your wings are still blue,
And I see them still now,
As blue as God painted and Grammy gifted,
As blue as my eyes that know their splendor,
And know that a butterfly lives to soar; let the wind be your guide and the flowers revive you,
As you open your wings in the sun and they shimmer
In their brilliant hue.
For no matter how long they’ve been hidden,
Your wings will always be there.
AND THEY WILL ALWAYS BE BLUE.
A musical interlude for all my "sister survivors":
I am unwritten, can't read my mind
I'm just beginning, the pen's in my hand
Staring at the blank page before you
Open up the dirty window
Let the sun illuminate the words that you could not find
Reaching for something in the distance
So close you can almost taste it
Release your inhibitions
Feel the rain on your skin
No one else can feel it for you
Only you can let it in
No one else, no one else
Can speak the words on your lips
Drench yourself in words unspoken
Live your life with arms wide open
Today is where your book begins
I'm Jenny duBay, a domestic abuse survivor and now advocate. My degree is in Christian theology with a concentration on spiritual direction, and my vocational emphasis is on helping those who have suffered from domestic abuse to heal and reclaim their true selves.