Deconstructing Abusive Behavior

Kind of thought about updating yesterday, but I couldn’t find the spoons. In fact, I almost didn’t post today, either. Basically, things didn’t go according to plan, and I’m even more grateful for that deacon in the morning. If he hadn’t started our day off on a pleasant note, I’m not sure we wouldn’t have made it.

First of all, food didn’t happen. Cooked food, that is. I learned a very valuable lesson about wattage instead. We can plug our laptops into the power inverter, which was another big thing we needed it for. And we can run our blender on the low setting. But the hot plate is too powerful. The inverter just won’t.

Well, I wasn’t going to give up that easily, not after Kate has been on starvation rations for a month. I decided to make a camping stove out of a spam can. By the way, don’t do that. Use a soup can or something. But the spam can was all we had, and I was determined to make do.

The catholic church where we sleep now was busy, so we went back to the Pentecostal church. It’s exposed to the road, but empty of people. It put in some coals and receipts and lit it up, but the wind was too powerful. It kept blowing it out. I tried to use the car door as a wind screen, but it did nothing.

But while we were standing there, Kate’s mother pulled into the spot next to us. I don’t know how she found us. I’m praying it was just a coincidence, but she had our mail. My mail, specifically, which she had opened. Because she just can’t not butt her nose into my personal affairs. She kept asking if we were all right, and trying to touch my shoulder and completely ignoring our social cues, like me being hostile and Kate refusing to get out of the car.

OK, if you’ve never dealt with an abuser, you’re probably now thinking, “Gee, Car Dweller, that doesn’t sound so bad. She cares about you. Why so hostile?”

  1. She opened my mail. Specifically, she opened my car insurance bill. That kind of thing can be innocuous in other families; hell, I open Kate’s mail sometimes. But in an abusive household, there’s a certain disrespect for personal space and boundaries. In an abusive household, your business is the family’s business. You aren’t allowed personal mail. You aren’t allowed your own room.

    In fact, living in their home, that was another thing we had to contend with. Kate’s mother (hereafter, just KMom) went wherever she pleased. It didn’t matter if you were naked and screaming at her to get out, she’d yell back “I was just getting something/cleaning up/whatevering!” And she’d do that without backing out or closing the door, staring right at you as you tried to cover yourself.

    And God forbid Kate was having a seizure. KMom would slam open the door, frequently causing the seizure, then start screaming and acting hurt, like Kate was being completely irrational and had started seizing just to punish her.

    So KMom opening my mail was yet another incident in a long line of her disrespecting my boundaries.

  2. KMom opening my mail was disrespecting my autonomy. I’m 35 years old. Kate is 28. I may need financial help on occasion. I do not need someone treating me like a child who hasn’t learned how to take care of the family pet. Because make no mistake, that’s exactly what she was doing.

    This is another common abuse tactic called infantilization. It’s designed to make sure the victim stays dependent. As long the victim feels like they’re a child, they won’t stray too far from the “adult” authority. It gives the abuser a sense of power.

    See, abuse doesn’t come from a position of hatred. When you hate something, you just want it to go away. I think that might be why people get so confused about abuse, actually. They hear about how victims are treated and can’t understand how this could have happened. If the victim lived with their abuser for so long, there must have been love there. Right? So maybe something is wrong with the victim.

    Love doesn’t matter. It might be there. It might not. Frequently, the type of person who abuses doesn’t know how to feel love. They only know they need that control to make themselves feel good, and so they’ll do whatever it take to keep the victim from leaving.

  3. Because abusers need control and lack respect for boundaries and personal autonomy, questions such as “How are you?” are usually masturbatory in nature. They don’t want to hear that you’re doing good. They want to hear whining. They want to hear that you’re doing awful without them and won’t they please take you back.

    KMom asked me four times how we were doing. Each time, I said we were fine in increasingly hostile tones. The third time is when she tried to touch me. Just got up real close, like we were intimate, and tried to put her hand on my shoulder. I don’t remember if she succeeded or not. When I noticed, I turned to move it out of reach, but I was wearing a thick winter coat, and I’m not sure if I noticed in time.

    She had to keep asking because I wasn’t giving her the answer she wanted to hear.

    (Also, you might notice her invading my space and trying to touch my shoulder is a callback to point 1, about disrespecting personal space and boundaries.)

  4. At some point, I think it was after the second “how are you,” she handed me the mail and informed me that it was my car insurance bill, and could I afford to take care of it. Keep in mind, this is the bill that she opened.

    Combine everything I’ve said so far: disrespect for boundaries, disrespect for autonomy, need to infantilize and control the victim.

    Asking if I could take care of my bill didn’t have anything to do with being worried about me. She wanted me to ask her to take care of it because she needed to control me. She needed me to need her help. If she was worried, she could have called. I haven’t been answering her calls, but she’s only tried twice. I’m notorious for not answering my phone or remembering to return messages, and she knows that. We’ve lived together for about six years.

    Instead, she carried them around in her car until the day before the letter said my insurance would be canceled for nonpayment just so that she could ambush me with it. The timing is very important here, too. She thought she’d find me desperate for help. Instead, I already had it taken care of. And when I told her that, her face fell. Her whole posture changed. That’s when she stepped in close to try and assert control in another way.

I told her we wanted to be alone, and she about-faced and went back to her car. No goodbye. Not even an acknowledgement at what I said. Just cold silence.

Kate spent the rest of the day in a panic. She had an initial sprinting seizure and violent thoughts for hours afterward. This happened in the early afternoon, but Kate was still self-harming (beating herself in the head with a fist) right up until we fell asleep. She’s doing better today, but we’re both still paranoid. We both keep looking over our shoulders.

We’re never going back to that parking lot probably. In fact, we’ve changed grocery stores and are thinking of changing storage units as well. I have it on good authority that I should get a restraining order now, and I’m seriously considering it. There’s a part of me that still thinks this wasn’t enough to warrant one, but if she hunted us down once, she’ll do it again. He says preemptive is better, and I’m inclined to agree.


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