I drove my minivan up my lengthy driveway and then turned the steering wheel to the left as I started to head into the three car garage that was attached to the side of our spacious suburban home.
Suddenly my eyes were drawn to the door that connected the kitchen and garage area as I saw my youngest child opening the door and our golden retriever puppy darting into the center of the garage.
Panicking, I steered even harder to the left to avoid running into our rambunctious golden puppy. I cringed when I heard a sickening, crunching sound as the left side of my minivan and the side mirror became wedged into the side of the garage wall. Unable to drive the van either forward or back, I shut off the engine and went inside to check on the dog and our three children.
After determining that the puppy was fine, I called our insurance agent to let him know about the accident and asked a neighbor to come over and help me to get the van loose from the garage wall.
That afternoon I dreaded making the phone call to tell my perfectionistic husband and was relieved when he said he’d just look at it later and didn’t want to know all the details since he was in an important meeting at work.
That evening as I quietly served my husband one of his favorite dinners, I braced myself for the tirade of blame I fully expected to endure after he had seen all the damage to our garage and the van. However, he said nothing at all about it.
Breathing in a deep sigh of relief, I quickly put away the dinner dishes and stayed busy the rest of the evening with the kids. “Just maybe he understands that I didn’t do it on purpose,” I told myself.
One week later as he and I were alone together in his car, he abruptly turned to me and I saw a look of black rage come across his face. His explosive voice shook my insides to the very core as he started yelling, “Only an idiot would run into the side of her own garage! You should have hit that damn dog! It’s all your fault we have to pay that deductible and take the van to the shop. How could you be that stupid?”
As I apologized over and over to him, crying, I had no idea that what I was experiencing was extremely damaging emotional and verbal abuse. In fact it was years after that before I discovered the truth.
When I pictured domestic abuse, I thought of a woman living in a low rent area with a blackened eye and ripped clothing who had married way too young. She certainly didn’t live in an upscale suburban neighborhood and teach Sunday school to preschoolers at church.
In the book, Healing the Scars of Emotional Abuse, therapist Gregory Jantz describes just how common it is to ignore and deny the impact and significance of verbal and emotional assaults. “Like a constant ringing in the ears or background noise, the frequency of emotional abuse has caused us to try to ignore it since we can’t ever seem to get away from it.”
Emotional abuse soon becomes our new normal. “At the most basic level, emotional abuse robs you of your sense of security and value. In an attempt to bring order out of chaos, even the regularity of abuse can be substituted for a sense of what is normal.”
Not only does emotional abuse seriously erode our sense of self-worth and confidence, it strongly impacts our physical bodies as well. Whether we fully realize it or not, the damage that permeates our souls carries over to our bodies. Digestive disturbances, panic attacks, migraines, skin rashes and eating disorders are just some of the physical conditions that are strongly triggered by enduring emotional and verbal abuse.
What can you do if you discover that your marriage or current relationship is emotionally abusive and unhealthy? Learning how to clearly identify emotional abuse as it takes place through words, actions and neglect is the first critical step in the process of separating your own self from the abuser.
Reclaiming your personal power is an ongoing process that may require you to be away from the abuse long enough to see the negative toll it has taken on your emotional and physical well-being. Finding the right professional support, creating a healthier lifestyle and reaching out to those who truly understand the powerful dynamics of abuse can go a long way in helping you to move forward.
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