When we hear about spousal abuse we automatically think about a man physically abusing his wife or girlfriend. But, is it always the case? Not!
I recently read an article a woman wrote about how she verbally abused her husband for years and finally stopped when she realized it was not normal to abuse him like that. Eschia! (Take it easy, eh)
Can you imagine? She thought it was normal behaviour to yell at her husband and call him names and a failure. She also told him he was awful at taking care of her and that he “could get the hell out” if he didn’t want to be in their marriage. Whoa!
To top it off, she would work herself up so much that she would slam doors, throw things and hit the wall with her fists. But, she never hit her husband, who was usually quiet as a mouse. All sound familiar?
One day the cops came to her door while she was in the middle of one of her tantrums, which included giving the walls a good beating. She was really getting into it, at the top of her game, making her husband feel two inches tall.
Her neighbours had called the cops telling them that the woman was getting beaten up, so the police were ready to arrest her husband for spousal assault. She had to explain it was her making all the noise. Sad, yet funny.
This brush with reality made the woman realize she had a problem. Well, ya.
It all started when she was 18 and she stopped her dad from hitting her brother by jumping in and shoving her dad away. Her dad stopped and took off.
She says this taste of power through aggression made her feel invincible and in control, like she couldn’t be beaten.
She ran with it, using aggression to push people around to get her way. She became an expert at it and did not stop until the police showed up ready to arrest her husband. It was then that she realized she had turned into her dad. Scary stuff.
The woman decided she had to change, but it was hard and took time. She had yelled and raged to feel safe, so when she stopped she felt unsafe. She felt helpless and isolated, but luckily her husband still loved her and was willing to help her.
Stopping the verbal abuse
Change came very slowly. The couple saw a lot of therapists separately and together, which really helped.
And they couldn’t find a 12-step program for abusive habits, but key in her recovery was to tell the truth and take responsibility for her actions, which are tools used by adult children of alcoholics.
She also kept an “anger diary,” where she kept track of the good and bad days. For years, she worked to increase the number of good days between the bad days. She often felt like she was a junkie trying not to have another fix.
To rediscover a relationship with her body she tried things like yoga, meditation, massage and working out. She was still getting angry, just not as much.
Her breakthrough was when she listened to a coach who said to “feel things fully”. The coach could have said “stop and smell the roses,” which is a reminder to slow down, to look for and enjoy the beauty of life and to take a moment to simply breathe and reconnect with herself.
This helped her to create a new habit to pause and feel. The new practice made her realize just how much pain she had been putting her husband through. No kidding!
Very importantly, the husband also started to learn how to stand up for himself and she had to learn to accept it when he did so. Now you’re talking.
Eventually, she started to feel grief and shame, instead of rage. That’s when she knew she was over the hump.
This was a reminder that women can be abusers too and sometimes it’s very difficult to stop abusing and to heal the effects of abuse on all involved – even when the people are really trying hard.