I recently read a very gripping and personal memoir of a woman who, during lockdown, decided to write about her life from the perspective of living as a colored woman in 1990’s in post Apartheid South Africa. She wrote in detail about the amount of emotional abuse she had to endure in her relationships and also how being a woman in her culture made her susceptible to view these relationships as normal. But, they weren’t. She only realized years later how fucked up all of this was. Just like I did.
Was she dealt a bad hand by fate? Or was it her choice to go through all of that? Life is about choices, so the saying goes. But no human chooses to be abused. Am I right?
While reading her story, I was filled with empathy for her and at one point I even started to get quite emotional. I felt like I knew her on a personal level; she was raised with the idea that a woman was supposed to endure these ‘normal’ behaviors and the fact that you stayed with that same man (through better or worse), made you some kind of hero. Yet, at the same time, when she was a child, she could tell right from wrong. She could not understand why the men would sit around all day drinking, lazing around, cheating and verbally slander the people in their lives – and still the women did the cooking, cleaned after cooking, complained about the men not doing anything and knowing about their unholy ways, yet they stayed and endured it. This is how it is. Period. This was the context in which she was raised in. These are the images embedded in her mind as a little girl. This was her ‘normal’
Let’s pause for a moment: It is important to take note that this is not an attack on any man reading this or to the male population at all. This is entirely what one woman’s experience was like from her point of view – the context, time period, culture, people and background. This article is not part of some type of feminist movement nor am I trying to dishearten any man out there. I am giving my personal experience in regard abuse too. And by the way, if you didn’t know; men can be abused too. Abuse does not choose a certain race or gender. It can happen to anyone, at anytime.
I was in a relationship for 6 years on and off. Our story goes way back to when we were 5 years old. We met in kindergarten and he told his mom he was gonna marry me one day. Pfff. Yeah right. Like a 5 year old knows what he wants in a woman. Anyways, so we went to separate schools and only again did we get in contact again in high school. So we started dating and made fun of the whole scenario about how we would get married one day. I think that idealized image was stuck in my brain too, which gave me hope.
Our relationship was amazing in the beginning. He was so charming, so romantic and so full of personality. He treated me like a queen and his family loved me like I was their favorite child. Especially his mom, who I would later get to know, played a huge role in why he kept coming back to me, after we would break up. I loved his mom more than mine, to be honest. We could sit for hours gossiping and drinking wine and just share intimate details of our lives with each other. Our hopes, dreams, regrets and fears.
At that point, I could definitely see her as my mother in law. We were like peas and carrots. She was my best friend. As things would eventually start getting heated between me and her son, she would always choose my part and make it very clear that she is on my side. ‘She is the best thing in your life. Don’t ruin it with her. You should treat her better; she deserves better.’ It made me feel empowered, like I won a war or something. I liked the feeling.
The feeling I hated was when he would criticize me. When I got dressed he always looked at me in a way that made me feel so small. ‘Are you wearing that?’. My heart would sink. And I would ask him what he thinks will look better on me. It got to a point, where, when I went shopping, he would choose my clothes for me. I would pay for it of course, not him. I can also give you a name for each part of my body, that I still remember him critiquing. From my hair, chin, cheeks, neck, arms, boobs, tummy, back, how I walked, how I sat on a chair, my feet, my legs, how my skin folded, how my face made when I smiled or cried, my ankles, my hands. You name it, I can tell you what he said about it. And it wasn’t anything cute.
As I write this, everything is coming back to me and I cringe when I remember, how I just took it. I was like a puppet whom he successfully controlled and played to his idea of how his woman should be like and look like. I took it. And I feel ashamed now for thinking this was normal and that he was the best man I could have. I represented him when we went out; I was his trophy animal that he hunted for and won. Unfortunately.
Throughout the 6 years, I never clicked what I was going through. I heard of abuse before, but the light never went on in my mind that I was experiencing verbal and emotional abuse in my own relationship. As I got older, studied, started to work and getting to know myself more, I started acknowledging the behaviors and that the fights we had (we had a lot) just didn’t add up logically. He always made me feel and look stupid. He would embarras me in front of other people on a regular basis and if I spoke about anything, he would belittle my opinion and make me seem uninformed. But, in a joking way and everyone laughed, cause man, he was so funny! ‘Why do you take everything so personally?’ or ‘You really have to grow a sense of humor’ , was something I heard constantly when we would drive back alone in the car. He was being funny and he was manipulative enough so other people couldn’t see him as the bad guy.
Like I mentioned, he was charming as fuck. When we went out, people loved him. He knew exactly what to say and how to say it. He had many friends, he was the life of the party. And he thrived in a social setting. Even my mother loved him like her own son, cause he showed his ‘good side’ when other people were around. One day, I built up enough courage to tell my mom what has been going on behind closed doors.
I told her how he treated me, how he criticized me, how he would blatantly tell me when we went to the mall ‘I would totally tap that’ if a beautiful woman would walk by. How he would stare at women and wink at them with me by his side whilst reminding me that I should be lucky to have him. In response to my monologue, my mother did not believe me at all. He got his grip into her too. She told me I was being sensitive and that ‘he is not that type to do that’, ‘he is a sweet and caring guy.’ I am literally laughing out loud right now.
I can go on and on and on about the situations I was in and the context of my emotional abuse. But the one thing that I want to highlight, is the one thing he said to me one day: ‘ You will never find someone who loves you as much as I love you; you should be grateful.’ This is something you never say if you really love someone, you need to feel it. It stuck with me, and my husband who I married years later, has never said this to me, yet I feel more loved than ever before. Well, guess he was wrong. Someone actually did love me much more than he did.
Being in an abusive relationship leaves invisible scars. It leaves a deep feeling of not being good enough – and I have allowed one man to make me criticize myself, even today. I can still hear him saying things about my body when I get undressed and I look in the mirror. Wondering, if I had stayed with him and if he would have seen my body 4 years later, what his comments would be. I am still comparing myself to other women when I walk around with my husband, waiting for him to say something or stare. I keep an eye to see if he does the same. I still easily feel stupid when I say something and I overthink what I wear and how I speak, before and after an encounter with people. It gets better, but it is a long and difficult process to ‘unbrainwash’ my mind. The wounds will heal, but the scars never fade away completely. Ask anyone who has been in some kind of abusive relationship.
In our conversations, he was always the victim and I was always the villain. He was brilliant at twisting things in such a way so that he could fall in a hole of self pity, and in the end, I would comfort him. Even though I was hurt too. He projected his insecurities onto me. I was his boxing bag and I took it for 6 years. Why? I still don’t know why. I could never acknowledge what he was doing, even though I knew something was wrong. The glimmer of hope the abuser gives you, makes you stay I guess.
There were magical moments, when his sweet and kind side would shine through and this gives you some kind of confirmation that he is still that man you met in the beginning. I wanted to believe he was a good man, I wanted to convince myself I was right, that I knew who he really was. And I believed him when he said I would never meet another man again who would love me- the abuser lives for control and feeds off of the fear he instills in you. He even threatens you with suicide. ‘If you leave me, I am going to kill myself.’ Does it sound familiar? This is where I decided to leave, for real.
He has used the threats before, a lot of times. But on this particular day, I was emotionless. I was mentally exhausted and tired from a day’s work and I was sick too, now that I remember. He came home and he started questioning why I am feeling bad if he is there – he is supposed to make up for everything. I didn’t even respond. I just kept on dishing up the food to feed him after his hard day at work. Cause his job is much harder and more complicated to do than mine too FYI. I asked if I can go lie down, cause I was not feeling well and I wasn’t in the mood for him. I climbed into bed and he followed and he tried to touch me to have sex. I got angry and said no, and I said he needs to leave. Immediately, he fell into self pity and said I never give him any love anymore and he is tired of it. Again, I said, he should leave and never come back. He then said, okay, but then I must know, he is going to kill himself, cause he needs me. And for the first time I said ‘ Go right ahead. You will be doing us all a favor. Have fun.’ And he left whilst mumbling a few insults, his warm cooked meal still on the table.
As I was looking at the door, I felt the warmness inside my chest and on my face – anger and relief. The first time I did not comply with his rules, I did not give in. I was not going to play the fool anymore. I was in control. If he was going to go and kill himself, that is HIS choice. And I had a switch that went on in my head as I was looking at the door. I door slammed that bastard. Literally and figuratively. I was DONE. And I have not looked back since. Did he commit suicide? Hell no, not even close. People like him are cowards, his God-like complex won’t allow it.
He went on with his life, and I saw the other day, that he met some poor girl who he is dating now. I wish I could tell her what she is in for. I still feel uncomfortable about it, and seeing him with someone else, brought up a lot of emotions and memories. The memoir I read also had me clenching my fist at times and made me emotional. And it brought me some sort of comfort to know that other people also went through this type of abuse. Whether physical, emotional, verbal, it doesn’t matter. Abuse is damaging and no human being deserves it.
Animals don’t even abuse each other, people do.
What are your thoughts?