This is a story of how, without any awareness that it was happening, I slipped into an emotionally abusive mindset.
Most of you who are abusive do not seem to fully comprehend your own behavior. A long time ago I wrote a piece about how to stop ending up a victim in abusive relationships. Now I’m writing about how to stop becoming the abuser.
Here’s the story.
Because of my mental illnesses, I spent years not dating anyone at all. Not even trying. Not wanting to try.
When I started to emerge from the depths of paranoia, hallucinations and extreme depression, I thought about dating again. And I realized I had no idea how to do it. I was in my early thirties, and I hadn’t dated since I was 20 years old.
But I had fallen in love, once, while I was very mentally ill. And even though I never seriously tried to make a relationship out of it, even though we literally never even went on a single date, I had truly loved this person.
She was a drummer in a band. Absolutely androgynous. Would have made a handsome man or a stunning woman. When I met her, our bands played shows together (which meant that her music “career” was going nowhere, just like mine was.) She was actually making her living selling dildos and such at a lesbian sex-toy shop. But she was an absolutely solid musician, was exceptionally good at making connections, and, unlike most creative types, she could negotiate conflict.
Eventually, she joined the band of her dreams. And they became, by the sort of standards we had, huge. But before they really blew up, I remember I wrote a very short letter to her.
“From one musician to another, I’m proud of you.”
It was the truth and it was the whole truth.
Now, this story is about to go in a disturbing direction.
By the time my mental illness passed, she and I had moved in completely different directions. I rarely even think about her any more. Other memories have crowded her out.
When I decided I wanted to try to date, I also decided I needed to practice. That attitude of admitting that I’m not good at something and working on it has served me beautifully in every area of life–except dating. Here’s why.
I picked someone I figured I’d never end up with, for all sorts of reasons. And I practiced dating.
I held the door open for her. I took her out to dinner. I acted the way you are supposed to act towards a young woman.
I told her I admired her. I told her she was the sort of woman that a man thinks about marrying, not just dating. She told me once how much she enjoyed working. I realized she valued work ethic. Much later on, in a different conversation, I told her I was proud of her for how hard she worked and for what she had accomplished.
But it wasn’t exactly true. I was just practicing.
Unfortunately, that meant that what I was really doing was love-bombing her. And that love-bombing changed me. It changed my mindset and my personality.
To this day, the way that it changed me is the part of my life of which I am the least proud. I became a different person, a person I do not like or admire.
I noticed that I cared quite a lot about how she acted on social media, which is something I had never cared about with respect to other people before. In fact, I had never cared about social media at all.
Then I noticed that I was incredibly controlling towards her, in my own head, which had never been an issue for me with anyone else. I noticed I was judgmental towards her, which felt like the exact opposite of my real personality.
I noticed also that I was very critical of, for instance, spelling errors that she would make in her messages to me. That just felt utterly bizarre.
Then came the big realization.
We had set up a time to meet. I had been looking at her pictures online. I was very concerned with my own appearance. I was thinking a lot about how she would see me when we met.
Then we met in person, and I was deflated. I found myself focusing on some spec of something that had gotten caught in her hair. I found myself criticizing (in my head) every aspect of her speech and appearance.
I never even notice most people’s appearance. I am barely aware of it. Why was I so different with her? What happened?
What happened is that I had slipped into what I call the abusive mindset. In the abusive mindset, people are either all good or all bad. There’s no in-between, no gray area, no recognition of the complexity and ambiguity of real life. As a result, even the most trivial faults or disappointments are unforgivable.
That’s why the abusive mindset always leads to blame. It has to be the other person’s fault. Because if people are either all-good or all-bad, and if it isn’t the other person’s fault…
Now, believe it or not, I didn’t write this solely for my own therapy. I’ve long since figured out how my love-bombing led me to this messed up mindset. And I have never said things as “practice” to anyone else. I learned my lesson. When I tell someone I’m proud of them, I make sure it’s the truth.
No, I wrote this for many of you who are emotionally abusive, and do not realize it or cannot admit it.
The abuse starts with the love-bombing. No matter what your intentions are, if you start with love-bombing, you will end up with abuse. And yes, love-bombing can be as simple and insidious as an insincere compliment.
When you love-bomb, you put yourself in the mindset that people are either all-good or all-bad. You don’t even realize that it’s happening, but it is.
And yes, I know. You like to focus on how terrible your partners were. You know what? They were and are mirror reflections of you.
Now it’s time for another story.
The happiest time of my life was in the period right after I came out of my mental illness. I was in a dance crew with two absolutely beautiful, incredibly creative, inspired dancers. They were dating each other.
They were love-bombing each other. I didn’t realize that at the time. I simply enjoyed being around them.
It was amazing. And I mean that for over a year, it was amazing. It was the happiest time of my life. The love-bombing lasted for months and months. I thought it would last forever.
Then they had an argument. One real argument. Someone said, “No.” And they meant it.
The relationship went to Hell. I lived with them. I saw it with my own eyes and heard it with my own ears.
That abusive relationship eventually poisoned an entire dance scene, destroyed a few other peoples’ relationships along the way, and led to literally the worst interpersonal experience of my entire life. I ended up dealing with multiple emotionally abusive people who had committed sexual assault and statutory rape, who had been protecting each other at first, and then they all turned on each other.
And you know what?
I still miss the good times in the beginning.
I still sometimes catch myself wishing I could go back to how it was at first.
It’s been years since the good times. And it’s only been Hell since.
Never underestimate how good abusive relationships are in the beginning, particularly when both people are abusive.
Now, for those of you reading, I want you to look in the mirror. For some of you, only a couple of these questions will apply. But for some of you, all four questions apply.
Do you really not understand why people stay in abusive relationships? Do you really not understand why YOU stay in an abusive relationship?
Do you really not understand how people become abusive? Do you really not understand how YOU have become abusive?