“Which jail would be easier to escape from,” I ask.  “One where they feed you, or one where they starve you?”
We’re in group, where two women are describing their inability to end abusive relationships.
“I kicked him out two weeks ago,” one says.  “Now I can’t stop texting him.”
“Me too.  Every hour,” the other admits.
“What are we, crazy?” the first asks me.
I reply with my question about jails.
“The jail that starves you,” the first woman answers. “Because you’d want to escape more.”
“But motivation’s one thing, strength’s another,” I say.  “And how can you escape if you’re too weak to run away?”
They look at me.
“That’s what’s happening here. You’re not crazy.  These relationships have just weakened you to where it’s hard to escape.”
“Weakened how?” asks the second.
“Starved of acceptance, approval, affection, respect — everything that makes someone strong enough to stand on her own.  The same thing happens in dysfunctional families, which starve you emotionally as a way of keeping you attached.”
“Yes, on some level.   Abusive partners and dysfunctional families know just what they’re doing.  They know each time you knuckle under you become less confident, less able to escape.  It’s why they discourage you from entering therapy, attending self-help, even taking meds.  Those things might make you stronger. And they need you weak and dependent.
“Because — more than anything else — your weakness is the lock on the jailhouse door.”


12 responses to “Jails

  • d00fus

    i so relate to this right now. thanks for the message i need to hear.

  • d00fus

    filed everything. a load off my shoulders. on to the business of living well hopefully. also–i propose a topic that you may want to tackle related to this post. how an emotionally controlling person causes you to doubt your perception of what happened and how you should trust your inner voice and memory (even while recongnizing that memory and perception are imperfect). one of my friends told me to think about whether i generally have had fraught relationships with other boyfriends, co-workers, or relatives to evaluate whether i had unrealistic expectations of my spouse, or a was a generally ungrateful person.

    • Steve Hauptman

      You wrote, “One of my friends told me to think about whether I generally have had fraught relationships…to evaluate whether I had unrealistic expectations of my spouse or was a generally ungrateful person.”

      First thought: Are you sure this is a friend?

      Second thought: When others make us doubt ourselves it’s usually with our cooperation; they have only the power we give them. That said, it’s also true that self-trust takes a while to develop, especially if it’s never been very strong. And the best way to do that is spend more time with people who validate your feelings and perceptions, and less time with those who undermine.

      Third thought: Congratulations on filing. 🙂

      • d00fus

        Thank you. I think what she was trying to say was to think through things logically. She was saying that if in general I seem to be in functional relationships and this particular relationship causes dysfunction in areas/situations which have not been problematic before, then the relationship may be the problem, rather than my character/tendencies. That is, have you been a nitpicky roommate or difficult colleague or an unreasonable family member? [She was trying to say that this was not true for me, as far as she could tell]. Does that sound better? 🙂

  • d00fus

    my ex picked up his things after causing a fair amount of drama. told me that since i broke up with people before him (i am 29, 22 when i met him, had 2 serious relationships and a couple flings before him)–his therapist said that i feel that “i am too good for anyone.” i am reeling a bit from all that he said, but the rest hasn’t struck me that much. it is him avoiding responsibility for things that he did do to me. he’s 38, 31 when he met me (had 2 serious relationships, 1-2 non-lengthy dating experiences). i am not sure i feel anyone is too good for me. i worry about every attribute of myself and whether someone will ever love me again. i don’t know what to think. i guess i am asking is what is a good way to process all of this. he looked great today, i almost want to tell him that.

    • Steve Hauptman

      Yes, this is how narcissists react when you try to break out of their jail.

      Three suggestions:

      1. Making you doubt yourself is his only revenge at this point. Resist the temptation.

      2. If possible, surround yourself with people who will remind you why you ended it.

      3. You might ask yourself: Why is it that someone this emotionally abusive “looks great” to me?

  • d00fus

    Thank you. First of all, you are a very insightful person. I will try # 1 and # 2. The answer to # 3. When I wrote hurriedly I forgot to convey the part which led to that observation (sometimes we feel that the person whom we are communicating to does not have the information we have). He accused me of failing to consider the “good things” he did for me (as though that is a license for doing hurtful acts). He feels he cannot be on facebook (he left soon after the wedding; I believe because he did not want to be tagged in more wedding pictures or indicate whom he was married to). He wants to move to a more islolated state (or says he wants to), because he can’t face other people. I do not understand why. I have not contacted his (admittedly few) friends or even our mutual friends in his area to tell them about the divorce at all, so he can tell then whatever story he wishes. Finally, he said that I have ruined his life, he had trusted me and wasted his thirties on me, and now he won’t find anyone else. He was looking good. He is very smart (objectively so, PhD in Comp Sci from a very, very prestigous university), a millionaire through being an early stage employee in a start-up that IPO-ed (although he is comically miserly, one big reason that led to the breakup***), very funny, and charming when he wants to be. He is even very tall 🙂 Why is his life ruined? If he works with a therapist, it’s possible he can find a mate and have a good relationship. The looking good comment was an honest appraisal of his “prospects,” if I may be so crass.

    *** I did not depend on him financially and it was a pretty even relationship, although he does bring up instances of when he spent some money on me to show that he is a generous person. I definitely bought more gifts, did more housework, cooked more (he shopped and to his own taste), and was responsible for practically all social obligations/relationship maintainence. He paid off my student debt (it was an uncharacteristic gift out of the blue, he said his money wasn’t earning interest and that since I was employed and doing very well, I could take care of the down payment for a future property purchase) but demanded it back (immediately pay the first installment!!) a couple weeks before the wedding, which I started paying off and will be done paying off very soon.

  • d00fus

    Thought you might like this poeme. It contains the themes I have seen in your blog, perhaps in a much more stark way.

    by Carolyn Kizer

    Now, when he and I meet, after all these years,
    I say to the bitch inside me, don’t start growling.
    He isn’t a trespasser anymore,
    Just an old acquaintance tipping his hat.
    My voice says, “Nice to see you,”
    As the bitch starts to bark hysterically.
    He isn’t an enemy now,
    Where are your manners, I say, as I say,
    “How are the children? They must be growing up.”
    At a kind word from him, a look like the old days,
    The bitch changes her tone; she begins to whimper.
    She wants to snuggle up to him, to cringe.
    Down, girl! Keep your distance
    Or I’ll give you a taste of the choke-chain.
    “Fine, I’m just fine,” I tell him.
    She slobbers and grovels.
    After all, I am her mistress. She is basically loyal.
    It’s just that she remembers how she came running
    Each evening, when she heard his step;
    How she lay at his feet and looked up adoringly
    Though he was absorbed in his paper;
    Or, bored with her devotion, ordered her to the kitchen
    Until he was ready to play.
    But the small careless kindnesses
    When he’d had a good day, or a couple of drinks,
    Come back to her now, seem more important
    Than the casual cruelties, the ultimate dismissal.
    “It’s nice to know you are doing so well,” I say.
    He couldn’t have taken you with him;
    You were too demonstrative, too clumsy,
    Not like the well-groomed pets of his new friends.
    “Give my regards to your wife,” I say. You gag
    As I drag you off by the scruff,
    Saying, “Goodbye! Goodbye! Nice to have seen you again.”

    • Steve Hauptman

      Hell of a poem. “Stark” is a good description. “Ashamed” and “bitter” also come to mind. If this were written by someone I knew, I’d hope she’d find her way to a more compassionate view of her own behavior. Many of us end of feeling this way occasionally, but nobody ever volunteers for bitchdom.

      Thanks, d00fus. 🙂

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