As time goes on, you dare to believe that life is getting better. Things calm down with your abuser. They start acting like a reasonable, rational person and you no longer dread the sight of them at childcare handovers and sports day. You become comfortable with the way things are. It’s not what you wanted, but it’s bearable.
You forget you have PTSD. You forget what they did to you. It’s hard to bear a grudge when they’re being so nice. It takes so much energy to keep your defences up, to always be on the lookout for the next cutting blow. So you let down your guard. You start to think that they’re not so bad. Maybe you exaggerated things. Maybe things are going to be okay after all.
That’s when they pull the world out from under your feet. Again.
I don’t know why I fall for it every time; why I allow myself to be lulled into a false sense of security. I should know better by now. One of my rules is ‘always expect an abuser to behave as an abuser, then you won’t be surprised when they behave as an abuser’. So why do I let her do this to me?
I know that the pleasant upward surge is really just the wave she sucks me in on, lifting me high so that she can crash me down into the rocks. I’m an expert in this. I’ve experienced it a hundred times. Yet every time, it seems so unexpected.
The repetition heaps humiliation on top of the pain she causes. The truth is, I’m not angry with her. She is what she is. No, I’m angry with myself. I feel like such a fool. I am so upset with myself. I thought I was smarter than this. I am ashamed of how vulnerable I am to her manipulation; of how I can’t maintain my boundaries; of how easily she can pull the wool over my eyes.
I’ve been told I need to start taking responsibility for my behaviours in relation to my abuser. I’ve been told I need to stop allowing her to toy with my emotions and stop reacting to what she does – essentially, to toughen up. But this is victim-blaming at its finest. I didn’t ‘allow’ her to abuse me for 12 years, in the same way a rape victim doesn’t ‘allow’ her attacker to violate her. The blame is on the attacker, on the abuser. The responsibility lies on the manipulative sociopath who enjoys exploiting my good nature, turning my virtues into vulnerabilities and revelling in the destruction she causes. She is the one with something wrong with her, not me.
And yet, while the blame lies entirely upon the abuser, there is perhaps a modicum of truth in the suggestion that as abuse survivors, we have a responsibility to learn how to protect ourselves. Our abusers will never stop wanting to abuse us, and our natures are such that we will always be at risk, no matter how remote, to their further machinations, so I have added to my rules of social interaction.
1. Always expect an abuser to behave as an abuser, then you won’t be surprised when they behave as an abuser.
2. Be polite, be firm, but do not be friendly, or you’ll mistake them for a friend.
3. Safety is more important than keeping things amicable.
4. If things seem to be going well, raise your defences and prepare to be attacked.
5. Don’t think of them as your ex, the person you love(d), the mother of your children; think of them as ‘your abuser’ and never forget that’s what they are.
Armed with these rules, I hope to keep my abuser at arm’s length so that she can never again pick me up on the crest of a wave and slam me down into the rocks; she can never again sucker me into believing things could be amicable between us; and I will never again question whether the fault lies with the abuser and her nature, or with me and mine.