©2018 Cindie Chavez
I wasn’t really eavesdropping, it was just hard to ignore since the conversation down the hall was getting louder. I think it could be described as “heated”. “Donald Trump is a fascist” – “No I don’t think he is.” My inner dialogue was chiming in at this point, “It isn’t an opinion, there is criterion for fascism and he meets them!” I’m sure you’ve overheard these sentiments yourself, or at least witnessed conversations like this one on social media. It’s an unfortunate realization, that the current President is checking all the boxes on the fascism checklist. And I’m reminded of that old saying, “If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck.”
For me, this realization brought back memories of the day I realized I was in an abusive relationship. For years I had reframed so many of my experiences to convince myself and others that everything was fine, our relationship was fine, the way he treated me was fine. But it wasn’t, and my inner knowing, my “gut” was constantly telling me that something was wrong.
This might seem ridiculous if you don’t understand that abusive behavior can be covert. How in the world could someone be in an abusive relationship and not know it? But not all abuse is physical, and not all abusive behavior is loud and obnoxious – some of it is veiled and stealthy. It flies under the radar. It whispers instead of screaming. And it’s very easy to reframe as “normal” or acceptable behavior.
Reframing was pretty easy for me since the abuse was so surreptitious. For instance, I just decided he was “the strong, silent type” when what was really happening was “the silent treatment” – this was him not speaking to me for hours, or days, or even a week or more, without being willing to tell me why. This would leave me wondering where I went wrong. Was it something I said? What did I do, now? Of course, those questions were met with silence, too. The silent treatment is an intense form of verbal and emotional abuse.
I tried not to take it personally when he discounted my thoughts and opinions, instead of recognizing that his comments were belittling to me. His opposing views were never qualified by “I think” or “I believe” but instead just presented as the correct viewpoint. He always seemed intelligent, so for the longest time, I just gave him credit for knowing more about a topic than I did. He wasn’t usually sarcastic about correcting my statements, he just knew more. Until I realized it was happening even when discussing topics where I was certain of my own expertise. Then I started agreeing with him just to see if he would change his view in order to still have an opposing viewpoint from mine. He did. That’s when I realized it was abusive and personal. (And now, decades later there’s a word for this – “mansplaining”. The misogynistic presupposition being that he knows more since you’re a female. This falls into the category of sexism, as well as verbal/emotional abuse.)
I decided that he was just stressed out over finances when he would choose to work over-time instead of join our family in celebrating a birthday or an anniversary until I realized a pattern – he would always make sure he had the day off for a playoff game. If you want to know someone’s priorities, find out what they do with their time and their money. The truth was football, baseball, hockey, golf was his priorities, and I wasn’t. Ouch.
Eventually, I discovered some information detailing the phenomenon of emotional and verbal abuse. Upon studying it I realized that almost every description of covert emotional abuse was part of my daily experience. He was abusive. I was a victim. I still remember the knot in my stomach as I made that connection. The last thing I ever wanted was to be described as a victim. But there it was.
If a person’s behavior is consistently abusive, they are an abuser.
It’s fairly simple to identify physical abuse – if someone is hitting you, slapping you, pushing you, throwing things at you, strangling you, tripping you, or performing any other type of physical battery upon you and it isn’t in self-defense – they are abusing you physically.
It’s fairly simple to identify overt verbal abuse – it usually shows up as name-calling, blaming, yelling, mocking, sarcasm, snide remarks and insults.
It’s harder to identify covert emotional and verbal abuse since sometimes these only happen when the abuser is alone with the victim, there is often no yelling, the insults might take the form of “backhanded compliments”, the abuser might tell you he is pointing these things out to you “for your own good” and he is “only trying to help you”, and when you finally communicate your hurt feelings the abuser claims he doesn’t know what you’re talking about. Covert abuse includes gaslighting and other types of crazy-making behavior; the goal is to keep you in a space of believing you’re the one with the issues.
Being in a verbally and emotionally abusive relationship is exhausting. And because this type of abuse is most often known only to the victim and most of it happens at home, it’s quite possible to look outwardly like the happiest couple on earth. This is a common experience, and it was my experience. Until it wasn’t. Until I was so miserable that I couldn’t fake a smile anymore. Thankfully this “breaking point” was also the catalyst for me to educate myself on what was happening, and it has served me very well over the last decade or so. I am now enjoying a healthy relationship, and have the knowledge and tools to help others.
The person on the receiving end of this type of abuse can attempt to reframe it, but eventually a victim of emotional abuse most often ends up in a place where they feel miserable, they second guess themselves, experience extremely low self-esteem, lose their ability to be truly spontaneous, have trouble feeling confident about anything, and begin to experience other health issues as a result of the stress this type of experience causes.
However, there is hope. Once you recognize the signs and indications and make the choice to correct the situation (by creating “new rules”, strong boundaries, or leaving) it is possible to rebuild your self-esteem and learn what healthy relationships look like. I know, I’ve done it.
It was a rude awakening the day I woke up to the fact that I was living as a victim in an abusive relationship. But as rude as it was, I’m glad I woke up.
And perhaps one of the most important things I learned is communicated best in the Maya Angelou quote: “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”
And that quote brings me back to where I started this essay – “criterion”.
You can decide your own opinion, but you can’t decide your own facts. And the fact is that there is a definition for abuse, just like there is a definition for fascism, for authoritarianism, for dictatorship, for tyranny. It’s shocking to me how many parallels there are between our current political climate and living in an abusive relationship – from the gaslighting to the total lack of respect – respect for norms, for human dignity, for women, for the truth, for the rule of law.
There are criterion for abuse – when you can check those boxes you know it’s happening.
There are criterion for fascism – when you can check those boxes you know it’s happening.
Those who support Trump can attempt to reframe as much as they want, they can defend his sexism, his racism, his lies, his misogyny, his egotism, and his obvious attraction to dictators and dictatorial behavior. But, if he meets the criterion, he meets the criterion.
You know the saying, “If it quacks like a duck…”
It’s quacking like a duck, and it’s time we wake up.
More by Cindie:
Cindie Chavez is known as “The Love & Magic Coach”. She is the creator of MOONLIGHT™ – A Course in Manifesting Love and she has some great free stuff for you at her website: www.cindiechavez.com
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