I had an epiphany while I was out wandering around avoiding other humans today. Here’s the TL;DR:
My brain is an abusive boyfriend.
Let me ‘splain.
I experienced a fair amount of abuse as a child. And I’m not talking about discipline, like a light spanking or having toys taken away for misbehavior. Actual abuse. There’s a difference.
I also had no frame of reference or consistently good examples for a healthy adult relationship. Daddy was a raging (and I do mean RAGING) asshole; mom was (in retrospect) almost certainly dealing with mental illness of her own; and my siblings all abandoned me, each moving out as soon as they were legal and never looking back.
So I never knew what good relationships looked like up close. Worse, I received no advice or coping strategies or “this is how to navigate the real world” training from ANY of the people who’d ordinarily provide such. (Hell, not one of them even made an effort to teach me how to DRIVE back then.) As a direct result, I fell into some pretty bad situations when puberty dropped and the boys began to notice me.
I didn’t know my own value.
As a blossoming young lady, I had no idea how attractive I genuinely was. In fact, I believed I was hideous, fat, and pimply, with misshapen breasts and uncool hair and clothes. Seventeen Magazine, gifted every year for Christmas by a brother who knew nothing about me, didn’t help matters. Seeking refuge in my older sister’s makeup stash (until she, too, moved out), I risked a beating every time, trying to sculpt an attractive version of myself. I got my hair (disastrously) permed at thirteen, and again at fourteen when the first one grew out, hoping it would make me pretty. Mom’s disinterested insistence that I “looked fine” wasn’t enough to persuade me that a boy would ever want me. Appearances aside, I was also considered “weird” by everyone (gee, I wonder why).
Then, when boyfriends did start to appear, I was shocked that anyone would take an interest in me at all.
Blood in the Water
A manipulator can smell a damaged soul the way a shark smells a papercut a mile away. Low self-esteem, inexperience, a sheltered (in terms of information) upbringing, and “daddy issues” are all the scents of prey. I had no chance.
The goal of the abuser is always to isolate you, make you dependent on them and them alone. That’s how they maintain control. They’ll brainwash and deceive you into believing that they are the only one who will “put up with you.” They won’t physically hurt you right away; they might never even need to raise a hand to you, but they will teach you to fear them. Before long, you’re terrified of saying the wrong thing, cowering in the corner, cringing if you accidentally drop a glass or close a door too hard. You never know what’ll set them off, but you ALWAYS know it’s your fault, not theirs.
I dated a lot of people (and married one) who latched onto my damage and used it as a weapon. Some were just incredibly manipulative; a couple actually did me physical harm; and my idiot ex-husband not only completely ignored all of my needs but also wrecked me financially as the cherry on top of the Suck Sundae that was our brief marriage.
It wasn’t until I became a born-again Christian that I began to see and understand the nature of real love: what it is, and what it isn’t. Studying the Bible and spending time around adults who actually comprehend and practice genuine devotion towards each other was like landing on an alien planet.
Of course, I still continued to make missteps in my own liaisons, particularly in the workforce. Inevitably, my jobs become relationships, and I sometimes form attachments that are less than healthy. No doubt this is at least somewhat related to the above-mentioned “daddy issues.” I always want to impress the boss: Look at me, look what a good employee I am, you don’t need to punish me, don’t send me away, please accept me and acknowledge me and tell me I’m good.
Take This Job and Shove It
Of course, bad leaders can be just as damaging as bad intimate partners. Like the owner at my last job, whom I spent two years serving with fierce loyalty until I finally realized he was using me and abusing me and gaslighting me every time I tried to stand up for myself.
The whole time leading up to the day I severed my ties with him, I was filled with self-doubt. I wrote and re-wrote and re-re-re-wrote my resignation, but kept backtracking: “What if he was about to give you what you asked for? What if he was going to do the right thing this time, and your letter pisses him off? What if this makes things worse?”
THAT inner monologue was when I realized I’d been sucked into yet another abusive relationship. I simply hadn’t noticed because we weren’t having sex. Whenever you’re terrified of defending yourself or asserting your rights because you’re afraid of how the other party will react, congratulations! You’ve got yourself an abuser.
My Point, Finally, Drumroll Please:
My brain has been doing the same thing to me all this time. Telling me I need to avoid my friends. Whispering that I should keep my dire straits a secret because everyone will laugh at me behind my back if they find out. Isolating me, instilling fear.
Like, say, I dunno, Satan.
For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. (KJV)
I am BLOWN AWAY by 2 Timothy 1:7 right here. POWER (God’s). LOVE (not manipulation). SOUND MIND (discipline, self-control). All the things the Adversary comes to steal, and to kill, and to destroy.
If I Haven’t Seen It, It’s New to Me
I have spent more than forty years fighting off the abusers in my life, sometimes very poorly since I didn’t know I was being mistreated due to my normal being broken. These last several years I’ve gotten somewhat better at not giving my power away so easily, but as noted, I still fail.
The idea of the Accuser, via my brain, as just another gaslighting asshole boyfriend or boss is MIND-BOGGLING to me. THIS IS HUGE. It’s like I’ve been trying to read a book written in a foreign language that I vaguely understand, when suddenly I’m given a copy that was written in my mother tongue. “ABUSE! I’m FLUENT in abuse! I CAN READ THIS BOOK!”
I haven’t felt this excited in a while. It’s…kind of awesome.
The Abuser — for so I shall now call him — is already whispering in my ear that this little boost won’t last. He’s reminding me that I have to go back to church tomorrow, where I’ll probably face yet another rejection. The friends I’ve been avoiding for fear of further humiliation, they’re probably making fun of me anyway. That method of self-termination I was looking into, it’s still on the table, juuuuuuuust in case.
BUT! I now have a perspective on his tactics that I didn’t have before. A connection that I somehow never made all this time, and incredibly, nobody else did either. The fact that this particular lightbulb has finally come on is encouraging to me. I’m fighting off another episode of the Hungry Like the Wolf Incident (“Don’t enjoy this! If you let your guard down, bad things will happen!”) even as we speak, BUT.
I’m having a pretty good day.