There is a phrase I have recently learnt; “Unconscious Incompetence” which means that you don’t actually know what you don’t know.
I have lived most of my adult life in a state of unconscious incompetence. In this state I naively and arrogantly believed that it was only the “weak” women who became victims of domestic abuse. I honestly felt that domestic abuse was a choice and that women might even have subconsciously chosen this path for themselves. The harsh reality of my life is that I have lived as a victim of domestic abuse for 19 years (all of my adult life).
This is insidious, all-controlling emotional abuse at the hands of a man who packaged his abuse as one word – love. He took my conscious competence from me, (it was near complete thought control – where he took my valid and rational reactions to his actions and turned them about on their head) and made me feel like an ungrateful, spiteful and mean woman.
He has always had demons. I knew him from way back in our teens and for years I can recall where he has had severe anxiety, and episodes of major depression in the past. I was empathetic; and when I begged him to get professional help, he would turn this into accusing me of being unsupportive, of lacking empathy, of wanting him to be drugged like a zombie, and worse.
Over the years he made it impossible to us to have friends, or to even have something as simple as family come over to visit. In fact, he would throw tantrums if I ever even suggested we could go to a child’s birthday party as a family, or if I would ever think of organising a visit from our parents, or dare I even think of the idea to have people over to celebrate our children’s milestones. So over the years, friends of course disappeared and I started to keep my siblings and my parents at an arm’s length.
Over the past few years his behaviour worsened. Intimacy was on his terms only and if I said no, he would round on me and either shame me by calling me “frigid”, or make me feel intense guilt by saying that intimacy was the only way he found relief from his anxiety so how awful was I to refuse him? If I was ever physically affectionate towards him, he would mock and shame me by saying things like “Are you feeling alright?”
Eventually he started threatening me with suicide. Whenever I would call him out on his behaviour, he would threaten to walk out and jump off Beachy Head. He even took a photo of Beachy Head, (the area where the tributes have been left), and used that as a screensaver on his phone (and now that I look back on this, I can see that this was the constant reminder to keep me in line).
I started finding messages on his phone from dozens of women that he had met online. He openly, and with my knowledge, engaged in flirtatious banter with these women and if I dared to argue, he would accuse me of being suspicious, narrow-minded, and labelling me as a woman who could not understand the idea of friendship between different sexes.
Finally he started to tell me he was so depressed, and so suicidal, that he could never ever think of other women, that he worked so hard to give our family everything, and so found it absurd how I could ever accuse him of inappropriate relations with others.
Last year I found myself becoming hopeless, listless, and full of so much anger. He never allowed me to talk to anyone of what he called his private issues. He would not allow me to see a therapist but a part me, (the brave and strong part which I now know is at the core of me), knew I needed to get help.
I started to see an amazing therapist here in Dubai without his knowledge. Slowly she helped me unpick my domestic life and recognize the sheer horror that I had been living. She helped me find the language to name my situation, and she helped me find the courage to not feel shame.
The journey to find healing and closure is still a very long one and I know that there will be many setbacks. But I have hope – hope to set achievable goals, and I recognise that getting to meet those goals will be hard and it will take time, but to also hold the faith that I have the strength inside of me to do this – to reclaim my life.
My fervent hope is that most of you reading this will gasp in shock and send a huge sigh of gratitude to heaven for your healthy and nurturing relationships. For the (what I really hope) is a small minority, if any part of my story resonates with you, please, please reach out to someone – a friend, a family member, or especially a professional. Please… just talk to someone.
Your feelings are all valid and no single person should ever have the power to tell you otherwise. Domestic abuse is not always bruises and black eyes, but sometimes it’s packaged as smothering, and suffocating love. Don’t be afraid of how popular he is with your friends and family. Don’t be afraid of not being believed. I never thought anyone would ever believe me because I was his most fervent champion, forever telling others how clever, how amazing, and how loving he was. But when I reached out and told my story, I was met with nothing but utmost compassion and support.
If you are someone like I was, know yourself and believe in hope, and you can learn to love yourself again. Nurture self-compassion because its likely that the emotional abuse has damaged your ability to even be kind to yourself.
Having faith in hope will give you strength.
Written by a British mum who wishes to remain anonymous.
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