Those of us who have been in abusive relationships know all too well what it feels like to be discounted. We may have been told that our beliefs are ridiculous, our thoughts off kilter, and been made fun of for having them. We may have encountered ethnic or racial slurs, made by those who should have been the last to utter such words. After all, belittle our very core, the parts of us that we can do nothing about, and we may really turn into putty. We have also probably spent countless hours being ignored, which signals us that we were not worthy of the abuser’s time or attention. As a result, over time, even we may begin to question out own judgment, value, and abilities.
The list can continue. That’s the point. Why? We are easier to overcome and dominate when we are adequately confused, humiliated, weakened, and without a support network. Abusive individuals use a variety of tactics to break out spirits and confidence. Everything we do, think, and hold dear is typically fair game for attack. Unfortunately, so are those we associate with.
“Peggy” the social worker
Now that I understand, it makes sense. I could never figure out what was so “wrong” with my friends and others around me. I got to thinking about this recently, as I was getting ready to meet “the social worker” for dinner. A LCSW, (Licensed Clinical Social Worker) and friend since childhood, she always seemed just fine to me. We became friends in homeroom, after I moved to a new school. Knowing almost no one at the school, I had a somewhat difficult time correctly attaching all of the new names to the new faces right away. One day, after tiring of being called “Peggy,” which was not her name, she half jokingly addressed me as “Lisa.” From that day on, I got it right and we have been close ever since, almost thirty years.
“Peggy” was not popular with the abusive person in my life and her name was inconsequential, because she was usually simply dismissed as “the social worker.” As adults, we lived a bit of a distance from each other and saw less of each other than we had as kids and throughout college. As a result, I was always excited to spend time with her when our schedules allowed. When I mentioned getting together with her, a common response was something like this, “The social worker. Thank God I won’t be around.” This individual reported feeling “analyzed” by her. I did not believe that was true and would engage in trying to convince him of what a good friend and person she was. Of course, with no success.
Was he afraid of being found out? As a life-long friend, point of support, and member of a mental health field, perhaps he felt his cover was at risk. Regardless, although superficially friendly, it was clear that he did not want to be around her.
While tirelessly vocal about this “ridiculous” friend, few close to me fully escaped scrutiny. Most others were just less threatening.
However, there was one group that had the potential to pose a unique problem. My affiliation had to be quashed. Law enforcement was a dangerous place for me, but not for the obvious reasons that might occur to most people.
At one point, while driving, we were stopped for a very minor moving violation. Although I was the passenger, I leaned over to speak to the officer executing the traffic stop, identifying myself as law enforcement. We were in County jurisdiction, but just outside of the town I worked for. After a brief exchange, the officer did not issue a citation. I felt relieved and expressed my happiness. His line of business frowned upon moving violations and the offense was minor. My mistake. I recall the response being a glaring, disgusted look and subsequent notification that he would have rather received the ticket. “You know what you can do with your brotherhood…” Needless to say, I spent the remainder of the evening angry, confused, and attempting to convince this individual that the police are generally good and that the notion of “having each other’s backs saves lives, blah, blah, blah. My display must have been an excellent source of entertainment, as the topic, one again, shifted to his disdain for me. I played right into his hand. He could not stand that I was one of “them.”
Potential entertainment value aside, this individual successfully left me questioning a belief system I held as important. Had I been brainwashed at the Academy, as suggested? No. The only brainwashing occurred in the environment where I should have been the safest. According to this individual, between those in my profession at the time, and those I surrounded myself with on a personal level, I was surrounded by “low life’s.” Therefore, the assumption would be that if I fit in with them, I was also one.
If someone can convince us that every association we have is flawed, then maybe they can convince us that we are too. If our brethren is inherently perverted, but we subscribe to their beliefs, then we must be as well. If we believe this, on any level, even subconsciously, it diminishes who we believe ourselves to be. As we discount ourselves, we unknowingly transfer our power to our abusers. It feels awful, but we don’t know why we feel as we do. It is no wonder that, upon review, one of my areas of deficiency on the job was identified as lack of consistent command presence. It was hard to feel consistently in command of anything when I was crumbling from aggressive covert and overt attacks that eroded the fibers of my being. If only I had known then what I know now.
Why don’t we know better?
It’s hard to see what’s happening, while immersed in it. The perpetrators are usually people we trust. Even if we know something is wrong, at this stage, we have little idea what it is. We are attached in ways that perpetuate our dependence on the dysfunction. They set us up appear hyper sensitive to the things they do or say. This person watched and listened in a superior delight, as I defended my friends and fellow police officers to points of exhaustion.
I should have let all of it, in its entirety, roll right off of me, but I did not. I did not learn of what was happening until much later. At the time, I did not know that my decent nature was being used against me. I failed to understand the reasons behind the contempt for my honest efforts. However, now I do. It remains valuable information. This information is critical to our healing, so regardless of when the understanding occurs, it will help.