Ah yes, anger that flares out of control. I was an angry, angry woman for a very, very long time. I’m not saying I don’t have anger issues anymore, but I will say, it has been, I don’t know, six months since I yelled at someone. And I’ve confessed this here before, but I used to yell several times a day.
This is a strange phenomenon in the domestic abuse world because the typical picture imagined is that the perpetrator is mean and loud and throws things and sometimes hits and totally yells. While the victim is meek and mild and mousy and wouldn’t even think to stand up for herself, let alone raise her voice.
In my case, things were flip-flopped. He was the calm one. I was the out-of-control one. And talk about then having to try to prove my case fifteen-plus years later when everyone pretty much knew me as the – pardon my French but there’s no other way to say it – Christian bitch. People thought, I’m sure, Well, if I were married to Beth, I’d fill-in-the-blank too.
So, sweet one in a difficult marriage, say this is you. Say your abuser is charming, and more subtle in his attempts to manipulate and control, and say you are a mess, retaliating in your anger with loud words and perhaps even violence.
I may have shared this before but I remember the day the lights went on for me on this specific issue. We were outside and an argument was starting up. The words of my current counselor were ringing in my ears that the moment I felt myself about to lose control, I was supposed to say something like, “I can tell I’m going to lose it…I need to go calm down…we can talk about this again in (ten minutes/tonight/tomorrow morning/whatever).”
The argument had taken a nasty turn and I was going to try this tactic. Because I desperately wanted to get better. I was honest and said I was about to lose my temper and I needed to go cool down.
The response, “What? You can’t have an adult conversation?” I paused, feeling confused and defensive. “No, I just really want to try to work on my anger and I need to calm down.”
“If you walk away now, we’re done with this topic.” Then it hit me in that moment that after years of being told to stop yelling, to quiet down, to lower my voice, of how much my yelling was despised…it turns out, my yelling was actually loved. Because I looked out of control, and completely looked like the bad guy in the equation. And those comments above – things I had heard for years – were controlling, manipulative threats. So, I turned around, and literally fled, running through my yard as fast as I could to get away. I ran away like Joseph from Potiphar’s wife.
Because, as it turns out, I believe the desired response – all those years – was for me to sin in my anger.
So here’s what you need to do, and it’s going to be difficult: whatever you do, do not let your abuser incite you into losing your temper and losing control. Because then, he will win.
Take my counselor’s advice: say that you need to stop and cool down, walk away, and then come back when you’re more collected.
And if your abuser says things to try to trap you into staying beyond your boiling point, don’t bite. “What, you can’t have an adult conversation?” “Yes, I can, but I’m going to go calm down first.” Then walk away. “If you walk away now, we’re done with this topic.” “I’m sorry you feel that way, but I still need to go calm down.” Then walk away. Trust me, nothing is worth losing self-respect or ground you have gained in trying to get healthy.
And, listen, if your abuser is really trying to change as well, he will be more than happy to give you the time you need to collect your thoughts. Stand strong.
If this post helped you, I would encourage you to check out “Surviving in a Difficult Christian Marriage”, found here.
Yep. Exactly this. It took me forever to figure out he prodded and harrassed and teased and goaded me into giving a response. Especially if we were in public. Then because he was Mr. Cool, to the unknowing observer I looked cuckoo. I finally quit going to group dinners, functions, pretty much anywhere with him because of it. A year later… Haven’t yelled, cried, or “flipped out” at anyone in at least 9 months and it feels spectacular.
The subtle manipulation is so terrible. I can look back and see it so clearly and in so many aspects of our life, but at the time I only remember feeling frustrated, confused and shut down. Sometimes I would yell, most often I simply gave up and gave in, denying my own self and opinion. It wasn’t worth the conflict to me. And this is what he wanted. He put me in lose-lose situations all. the. time.
When I did establish a bit of backbone, I ‘paid’ for it with his accusations, conflict, lack of peace in the home, etc. I’m so grateful to be delivered from that chaos!
When I quit the yelling and throwing stuff, etc. my husband really lost it. You said it – when I became healthy and unwilling to participate in the mess anymore he couldn’t continue to blame me for the problems. Now, unfortunately I am dealing with the same problem w/ our sons. I have been called immature, irrational, a coward, cussed at, yelled at because I said I was walking away calmly until it could be discussed or dealt with rationally. This takes so much emotional energy! I joined AlAnon several yrs. ago and began learning to detach and set boundaries. It is not easy and I am in tears today as one of my sons went off on me for something that he caused and was totally irrational and disrespectful . Psalm 62
is my go to Psalm right now. Thank you for your blog and fb page. You have encouraged so many and are
ministering in a unique way. Blessings to you!
Beth, you’ve commented on this topic before and I so appreciate you devoting an entire post to it. I am a lot like you (at least according to your writing) and my dynamic in my marriage was so similar. Everyone saw me as the “strong one” and him as the “nice guy.” Only those closest to me/him saw anything different. And my struggles were so much like you–which leaves me with years of regret over lost self-respect, for falling into the trap of losing my cool. Since we’ve been separated, I’ve been AMAZED to see him *finally* start to lost his own temper. When? When I actually stay calm. If I stay calm, he is enraged, and then he is the one who has to feel ashamed. I’m not happy about that–but the truth is, better him than me. I wish I’d figured this out years ago.
Now, to work on the whole “Christian b*tch” thing. *grin*
It’s called “gas lighting”- google it! My mind was opened after Lundy Bancroft’s book Why Does he Do That? And also reading about verbal/ emotional abuse on Dr. Irene’s Abuse Forum– and participating in the forums there.
I know, Angie…I wrote about that here: http://www.elisabethcorcoran.com/gaslighting/ 🙂
This resonated with me. After years and years of covering up for him to everyone, I grew angry. When we first went to counseling after he had gone through the house yelling and raging and telling the kids that I was leaving them (I was actually gathering them up to get to my parent’s house away from his rage as I was directed to do by a counselor), when we went to counseling right after that with a new counselor, I got so angry at counseling and screamed at him that he would never tell my children I was leaving them again…how dare he abuse them like that telling them their mother was leaving them and making them hysterical. I was shaking I was so angry, and the counselor stopped the session. Later we were counseling with a gal that he had seen individually for a few months. I role-played his rage from that week. She asked him to leave the room. She told me she couldn’t work with me because of my anger. I asked her if she realized that I was role playing what he had done to me and the children earlier that week. She walked over and got in my face with a stone cold look and said, and I quote, “I never saw him do that.” Needless to say I was done with her. Some years later he had terrorized the children in my absence. I called the church for help and got him in to see a counselor with me a few days later. He was ticked about that. He sat and turned everything away from his recent behavior and told the counselor in this charming yet patronizing tone, “She is so angry. A few years ago a counselor would no longer work with us because of her anger.” Guess what….it worked. It began to discredit me to the counselor. Then he made up lies to the counselor stating that I had a diagnosis of multiple personalities (not true….total and complete fabrication). Anything to discredit me and make others wonder if my account was credible. It worked. I could see the counselor’s (who was also a pastor) confusion on whether to believe me. Guess what,…I was mad when he did that. I just left the counseling session. That has been the cycle in counseling over and over….and years later nothing has changed. He rages at home, acts peachy to everyone, and I am angry….angry at him and angry at myself for staying, and angry at God for not helping. I’ve been working with a great counselor on my own who once worked with Focus on the Family. He told me anger was a double-sided coin. The measure of anger was equal to the measure of pain we had experienced. It made sense!