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Q: I know I should be celebrating that I’ve finally gotten out of a relationship with my abusive husband, but I’m hung up on this thought that he hates me. All I hear from him day in and day out is how I made everything up, wrecked our family and am an awful person to keep him from his kids. I know he hates me because he doesn’t think he did anything wrong, even though I know the truth. I lived for years in fear of him coming home and screaming at me and the kids and finally had enough of it. But part of it still hurts, that this man I once believed was in love with me now really, really hates me.
A: “Hate” is a strong word, isn’t it? When I hear people say they hate a TV show or spiders or mayonnaise-based salads, I think, that’s a bit extreme. Those things aren’t your favorites, but surely, you don’t have a visceral disgust for them that dominates your life. Hate is a word that feels violent in nature—it’s started wars, caused genocides and is the foundation of terrorism. When weaponized as an insult toward an individual, “I hate you” can hurt just as much as if someone slapped you. In fact, many victims of emotional and verbal abuse attest that these nonphysical forms of abuse left just as many scars as did the physical violence an abuser would also inflict.
Likely, you did at one time love this person and that they likely said they loved you back. You trusted them with your feelings and your vulnerability. But their conditions for loving you included being able to control you, torment you, intimidate you and degrade you whenever they felt like it. This exchange isn’t right. When you stood up to this person and said a boundary had been crossed, they chose to make you feel bad about this by turning the blame onto you. Again, this isn’t a healthy relationship. It’s also not your fault. You’re allowed to have boundaries—both emotional and physical. You’re allowed to put limits on what you’ll endure. And most of all, you’re both allowed and entitled to feel safe with a partner. That’s what a healthy relationship entails.
When he accuses you of making things up and claims he did nothing wrong, even though everything in your gut is telling you something different, this is called gaslighting. Gaslighting is a manipulation tactic that causes a survivor to question their reality. In doing so, the abuser is able to take back control of the narrative and retell the story in a way that paints themselves as the victim. If you’re to blame for his anger, then it’s not on him to fix it—it’s on you. How convenient for him.
Of course, this can only work so long as the abuser is able to brainwash a victim successfully. One of the best ways to break that spell, so to speak, is by putting some distance between yourself and your abusive partner. It sounds like you’ve done this by getting out. Hopefully, you can now clearly see the pattern of power and control and how you didn’t play any part in causing that. It was he who made the choice to not resolve his anger in a healthy way. It was he who hasn’t taken responsibility for his violent choices. And it was ultimately he who is responsible for not being able to see his children. At the risk of sounding too much like an armchair psychiatrist, it sounds like the person he hates isn’t you, but himself.
If you haven’t already, it might help to try and find a support circle. Who are those people that can validate your feelings without judgment? This could include a trusted friend, a family member, a support group or an advocate at a local help line. (Find a shelter or program near you.) If your support system isn’t showing up, don’t forget that you have yourself. You can be your own best cheerleader. Consider one or more of these self-care activities:
- Pick up a few well-reviewed self-help books that focus on what you’re going through.
- Look toward your future in a positive way by making a bucket list of things you would like to do
- Work to recognize the signals that come from people who are not supportive
- Try writing in a journal
- Sign up for a class or course and possibly make a new friend
- Care for yourself by prioritizing eating and sleeping well and exercising
- Seek out a trained domestic violence therapist if you find yourself slipping into old patterns
- Remind yourself that you’re not a bad person if bad things happen to you
Remember that trauma-related guilt is a liar. As Beverly Engel, licensed marriage and family therapist and author of It Wasn’t Your Fault told DomesticShelters.org, “It is important for survivors of domestic violence to realize is that they can’t save their partner, he has to save himself and that their responsibility is to themselves and their children.” You’ve done your part by getting yourself and your children to safety—there’s nothing you need to feel guilty about.
Ask Amanda is meant to offer helpful resources and information about domestic violence. If in crisis, please reach out to your nearest domestic violence shelter for the guidance of a trained advocate.
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