The Scars From Emotional Abuse
You Can’t See Them
Psychological and emotional abuse are insidious. The damage is often invisible to people on the outside looking in. There are no bruises, stitches, broken skin or broken bones. However, the wounds from this type of abuse leave scars that never go away.
It is often said that narcissistic personality disorder is relatively rare and can only be diagnosed by a trained professional. It is much more common in men. That being said, women are often abused by men with narcisstic tendencies or traits even if a full blown disorder is not present.
In my own case, I feel the residue of my situation in my hesitancy to even talk about it. I minimize what happened. I compare it to cases that are more severe and feel like I have no right to complain.
It didn’t feel like my husband systematically tried to destroy my self esteem. It just got chipped away in small pieces. It was so gradual and over so many years that I barely noticed. From the way things appeared on the outside, he looked like he was a very loving and devoted husband. In fact, he really was at first. He was definitely always on the selfish side, but I told myself that no one is perfect and marriage means having to constantly adjust to your spouse’s shortcomings.
It was after I became disabled by a severe stroke in the 13th year of marriage that his selfish ways became more like narcissistic tendencies that definitely, slowly made me start to doubt if I would ever be worthy of true love again.
Somehow my horrendous health crisis became less about me and what I faced going forward and more about his losses. He stepped up to the plate like a champ when the shit first hit the fan.
I was 35, 6 months pregnant, and had a 2 year old son. An extremely large brain hemorrhage left me totally paralyzed on my left side. My pupils were fixed and dilated upon my arrival in the ER. Most patients don’t survive this kind of cerebral vascular accident. I did due to exceptional medical treatment and fantastic good luck.
I was hospitalized for 3 months for brain surgery, childbirth and rehabilitation. Obviously, my husband was traumatized.
I could only imagine what his trauma was like. I didn’t bother doing this while I was trying to get my life back. I graduated from a wheelchair to walking with a cane and a brace on my foot. We were able to hire help to take care of 2 babies.
It was a good 5 years before I felt like I was anything like myself again. Those were very dark years. I don’t think my husband or I worried too much about our marriage. We were too busy trying to survive what happened. It seemed like we had survived the worst of it and could come through anything together.
I was personally glad to be alive and independent as far as caring for myself. I thought my husband would be thrilled to have his wife back. I’m sure he was, just not in the way I expected. I had severe, painful spasticity, weakness on my left side, poor balance, drop foot, a limp, and a cane to carry. I couldn’t drive for 7 months. I was disabled, 35 years old with a newborn and a 2 year old.
We certainly put on a united front to the world. People in our social circles were often as concerned, if not more so, about how my husband was handling things. I felt that if he stuck with me through those first 5 years of hell, he was truly commited to making it for the long haul.
We did couple things. Dates. Family vacations. He worked hard to support the family and was very successful. He participated in activities related to my recovery and was very supportive.
Slowly, over many years, my condition improved. It was not been a 100% recovery even to this day. There were definite, permanent physical changes. I was uncoordinated. I gained weight. My shape changed due to being wheelchair bound following chilbirth. My voice was different due to being intubated for a long surgery and damage from the stroke. There were subtle changes in my personality. My husband frequently drew these changes to my attention as the reason he became withdrawn and cold. To use an overused expression, “Fucking, really?”
He started doing things on his own more and more, telling me I couldn’t go to parties and things with him because I was disabled and always wanted to leave too early because I was in pain in unfamiliar, physically challenging situations. Family vacations were less of a priority than solo travel for him to places I “couldn’t” go. Sometimes I protested about these solo trips, but deep down I knew that putting further limits on his life would make him feel worse.
There was no physical intimacy at all for the first 5 years of my recovery. He was too “traumatized” to think about that, and I wasn’t sure if I was up to it physically. I finally insisted that we put marital relations back into our lives. That doesn’t sound like very much fun, does it? Of course, things were very different. I always was the initiator for sex. He generally wasn’t interested. A sexless marriage is usually defined as one where the couple has sex 10 or fewer times per year. This became our reality. Withholding sex and affection is psychological abuse. I became acutely aware that things were very wrong between us.
We went for counseling to a few different therapists over several years. Things didn’t improve in a steady, upward trend. More in fits and starts. I was never good enough. I didn’t turn him on anymore. He “couldn’t” feel the same way towards me. He was “hard wired” to be attracted to a certain type, and I wasn’t it, anymore. The changes in my physicality were beyond my control. But he had no problem pointing out my flaws and how they diminished his interest in me.
In 2015, we were at yet another therapy session when he said he thought being able to “explore his physicality” might help our marriage. I was dubious about how having an open marriage would help. He told me he planned to do this irrespective of my wishes. I did not have the confidence as a disabled woman to tell him to go fuck himself.
So, we carried on in this open marriage status for 6 months when I finally reached a point where I told him that I had to be his first priority or I couldn’t do it anymore. I remember one conversation we had during this period when he told me he “dreaded” retiring with me. I was looking forward to the next chapter of our lives when our kids would need less attention. I remember feeling hurt beyond belief when he said that. How could he even say that to the woman who had been loving, loyal and faithful for decades? He couldn’t/wouldn’t go back to having a monogomous marriage even though we had been married for 28 years. We separated.
It has been through the process of moving along in my life that I have noticed how deep my scars run. I once mentioned to my husband that he was abusive. His response was “I didn’t abuse you, I just ignored you”. We agreed that that is emotional and psychological abuse.
I was recently at a party with my boyfriend and noticed how I hesitated to suggest we leave even though I was physically uncomfortable in the chairs the group had congregated in. We ended up staying much later than either of us wanted. I later realized this was from the scar of always being criticized by my husband for being uncomfortable and wanting to go home too early.
When the subject came up of the possibility of living together with the same boyfriend after we’d been together for a year, he was incredulous that I would even question the possibilty. He said, “I love you. Did you think I would say no?” I think I feared he might because of scarring. Maybe I was afraid he would “dread” growing old with me, too.
I am no longer the meek, insecure disabled woman who couldn’t tell her husband to go fuck himself when he told me he was getting a girlfriend. I have recovered enough from the stroke and years of being ignored, disrespected and dismissed to know I am worthy of much more.