DO YOU RECOGNIZE ABUSE IN PUBLIC?
Once I was completely under his thumb, X carried over his behind-closed-doors abuse into public situations. One of the more memorable outings was a trip to Dillard’s with his mom. I can’t remember what I did that set him off because in the realm of sanity I hadn’t done anything at all. But X was in the mood to play his sick power game. Pernicious phrases such as “you look so ugly”, “no one wants you”, and “I’m embarrassed to be with you” suddenly spewed from his mouth. I was taken aback, extremely hurt, but didn’t want to react. I walked away, fighting back tears, trying my best to act normal. I made eye contact with sales associates and smiled as I pretended to browse. I don’t know if it was my way of distancing myself from the situation as if it wasn’t happening or if I was searching for safety. Either way it didn’t work. Ignoring him only amplified his anger. X eventually caught up with me and followed me around the store while continuing to berate me. He hadn’t gotten the initial reaction from me he had wanted (i.e., standing frozen in fear, crying, apologizing, begging him to stop) and he wasn’t going to stop until he did.
NO RHYME OR REASON
You can’t reason with an unreasonable person. Narcissists are not reasonable, rational people. That can be said about most if not all types of abusers. In a reasonable situation, walking far far away would theoretically end a confrontation. In the narcissist’s world it’s a challenge to continue to escalate it because walking away took away his power. Not only did X relentlessly continue with his verbal attack, he accused me of making a scene. I, politely walking away without making a sound, was making a scene. Not him, the person following me around a department store calling me names loud enough for other shoppers to hear. I hadn’t done anything to instigate this attack. I hadn’t done anything to escalate it. But in his twisted logic I had.
Eventually it was more than I could handle. I turned around, with tears streaked down my face, and yelled “stop!” My outburst was the exact reaction he had wanted. He needed to know he had gotten to me, hurt me. We stood face to face between clothes racks, I could peripherally see people walking around us. I knew they could hear him but they pretended not to. They all minded their own business.
“This is why you’re an embarrassment”, he said. “We’re in public and you’re walking around crying. You are an embarrassment to me. This is why no one loves you.”
WHY DO WE MIND OUR OWN BUSINESS?
We were in public, on display, yet he had no fear of any type of push back from either me or the people around us. The salespeople I had previously made eye contact with looked away once my tears were obvious and free flowing. People were watching but faces quickly turned away from me when I looked in their direction. I could see everyone’s side glances as they paused to listen to the drama unfolding just feet away from them. When my mother-in-law had finished her shopping she saw that my eyes were red and swollen. She looked at me and laughed and said “What’s wrong with you? Are you getting sick?” I don’t believe she didn’t realize I had been crying. I believe she didn’t want to deal with whatever had caused the crying. Her remark was intended to let me know that I was making her uncomfortable so that I wouldn’t possibly talk about it. As the three of us walked towards the exit a security guard stood by the double doors. He nodded his head and smiled at my mother-in-law and X. He held the doors open for us. He did not look at me as tears still ran down my cheeks. He would not look at me.
This episode having played out in public only confirmed everything X had been drilling into my head: I was unlovable, I was nobody, I was worthless. People literally turned their backs on me. No one asked if I was okay. No one gave me a concerned look. Not a security guard, an employee, a shopper, or my own mother-in-law. I’m not pointing this out because I think it was someone else’s responsibility to save me. I want to highlight that abuse often plays out in public and we all allow it to. What other situations do we allow someone in distress in public to go without help? I was in public as a child when I couldn’t find my mom and every mom in ear shot of my cries came running to comfort me until we found her. I was a teenager when my dad had a medical emergency in public and three men swooped in to assist him as two women, complete strangers to me, held me and prayed over me as I cried. I was a full grown adult when I had a panic attack in a grocery store. I began to hyperventilate and a kind woman brought me cold water and sat with me until I felt better. But a man verbally abusing a crying woman in public was not enough to illicit open concern.
THINGS ARE GETTING BETTER, RIGHT?
Thanks to movements like #TimesUp and #MeToo, abusers are being held accountable. More and more victims are finding allies. Things may be better now than they were 18 years ago when I was living this nightmare, but we have a long way to go. I still see a shit ton of victim blaming. And I say a shit ton because that is the basic unit of measurement when weighing absolute crap. I still see an alarming amount of people judge others for ending up in and staying in these types of relationships. Where else would I have gone? As seen by this story, I believed I was just as safe at home as I was in public. I still see people shaming victims for being weak and allowing themselves to be abused. I still see the “I would never let that happen to me” comments on every story and post about abuse. For the sake of all of you that say and believe that, I truly hope you’re right.
IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT
I know during this time in my life I felt alone and powerless. Someone reading this may feel the same. You are not alone. If you’ve been isolated from family and friends, try to reconnect. Whether it’s a spouse, partner, parent, sibling, or any other relationship, please reach out for help. Talk about it. Don’t be embarrassed. It’s not your fault.