The Hidden Abusers

by Krivich Ramina

I always laughed at stories of women who were abused by their boyfriends or husbands. I wondered: how could anyone in this world make a decision to stay, or to hope for the best after being physically or mentally assaulted by someone who is supposed to treat you like a treasure? Oh, well.

Ironically, at one point, I found myself in the situation described above. More ironically, I only started to realize the nature of my relationship after our 3rd anniversary. At first, you don’t want to accept this reality. Your pride screams hysterically that it just can’t happen to you. It only happens to naive, foolish girls. It only happens to someone else. Not to you. You are not one of them.

Indeed, when we hear about “abusers,” our imagination stereotypically portrays a savage-looking man with anger management issues who is constantly beating his weak woman. We imagine him as a subject of common disgust and abomination. However, the truth is that abusers are often not at all the same as how we perceive them. In fact, it doesn’t even have to be a man – women sometimes seem to be even more proficient in their manipulative games. An abuser can be a sweet-looking, likeable person approved by your friends and parents. He doesn’t have to be physically assaulting you nor does he have to explicitly call you names. And that is why it gets even more difficult to recognize an abuser behind a mask of a handsome and caring guy who tells you that he “knows what’s best for you.” Yet, this does not negate the fact that such a person plays with you in one rather brutal game called manipulation.

The final goal of the game is control.

It began with some blurry thoughts at the back of my mind. “I’m probably wrong,” I thought, “but maybe this person is doing things that hurt me.” He always told me that it was for my own good, which meant that I had nothing to blame him for. But I still intuitively knew that something was not quite right.

Then I got used to repeating to myself: “He is good, but for some reason he always makes me cry.”

I felt constantly guilty but did not understand why.

I was hearing more and more accusations addressed to me: “If you were different, everything would be better.”

I, therefore, started considering changing something about myself. I exaggerated each of my imperfections.

I started lying to hide my desires, my friends, my ambitions from his nonstop judgement.

I kept reassuring myself: “A little more, and everything will be fine.”

I tried to leave this trap. But I kept coming back.

Now, after a year of recovery and self-evaluation, I finally understood the reason why it happened it me. A hidden abuser changes his behavior all the time.

At times he spoke fantastic nonsense, used the most disgusting expressions, made incredible accusations. Everything I said was turned against me while his demands were illustrated as something that would make me a better person. In my conservative country (Kazakhstan), these “requirements” to be a proper girlfriend were exacerbated even more by deep-rooted cultural and social attitudes.

“I don’t want you to wear high heels because only sluts wear them”.
“I don’t want you to put makeup on because that’s not what good girls do”.
“I want you to stop being friends with that girl because she smokes”.
“I don’t want you to talk to guys at all – I think that you will cheat on me”.

I was pretty but lifeless, a butterfly under a glass in a frame of a fanatic collector. My phone, my appearance, my Uber rides, my meetings with friends – everything was placed under his scrupulous scrutiny and excessive control. And the problem was that I believed that he was just shaping a good girlfriend from my sinful/bad nature. And I believed that he knew better.

At other times, however, he looked miserable and lost, especially when I was determined to quiet this constant pain. He seemed to be ready for a trusting, healthy relationship. It lasted days or weeks, but invariably I found myself again under a hail of insults and accusations, puzzled, attemping in vain again and again to understand what was happening to him until I began to suspect that something was wrong with me.

Abusers need control. In order to get this control, it is necessary to disorient the person so that he or she does not see the logic of what is going on. After all, a confused victim is much easier to manage.

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