2016-05-25 by Object of Contempt
Living with a spouse who doesn’t value you enough to be honest and candid is difficult in many ways. The manipulation is painful in itself, but the contempt is what tears and crushes the soul. Those I’ve gone to for help have added to the destruction of the relationship partly because they didn’t understand that fact. They assumed that abuse is always a matter of physical, or at least verbal, violence. Those things are horrible and God will repay. But the thing that gives those violent actions their most devastating power is still the contempt. It says to the victim that he/she isn’t worthy of basic, necessary love and respect — that instead, he/she is a deserving receptacle of human filth. Contempt is the power that makes abuse so injurious — whether or not verbal or physical abuse are apparent.
Wounds caused by contempt are invisible. And, they are frequently reopened. Sometimes they are reopened by people who think they are helping, when they are really just prodding the wound. Sometimes the rewounding is intentional. Frequently, however, wounds are reopened by regular circumstances of life. I am not a psychologist, but my experience and reading leads me to the unastonishing conclusion that this becomes more common the longer a person is abused. It is the long-term nature of emotional abuse and the inability to escape it that leads to PTSD. Among PTSD’s list of symptoms, flashbacks and and the possible retraumatization are fairly well-known.
In my experience, flashbacks are where the wounds to a person’s spirit start to shape and become part of how that person is perceived by others. Most PTSD symptoms seem to me to be the reasonable result of the spiritual injuries. I suspect some of the symptoms may even be designed by our Maker to assist in healing. For example, swelling after a sprained ankle helps to immobilize it, but it does need to be managed or it will go too far and inhibit circulation. Whatever the source of triggers that bring on flashbacks, this matter of retraumatisation is where the claws of PTSD really dig in deep.
This last weekend, I went through some of this. The situation was a Little League picnic that I attended with one son and my wife who abuses mostly by way of invalidation, gaslighting, manipulation, and withholding love. Abuse actually began when I was a boy, more can be learned from other blog posts. It was a protracted, repeated abuse in which I was made to feel inferior, stupid, ridiculous and unloved by the only people I could rely on for affirmation and support and love.
Showing up at this picnic wasn’t likely to provide a wonderful experience for me, but I definitely wanted to spend a day with my son at the park. The truth is, I was broadsided by emotions. I looked around and saw so many couples that had brought kids. I am not so naive as to think that they were all happy, or that they didn’t have problems. Still, every time I turned around I saw what I missed. Sometimes it was a mom letting her boy be a boy, and being glad about it. It was the absence of ridicule and scorn when a kid had done something he should not have. It was the ladies who cared about their appearance and being attractive. It was watching those couples chat, and seeing that they wanted to be with and for that other person. It was knowing that the very most basic expressions of love that were so freely given here, were so intentionally and cruelly denied me with lies and manipulation.
It was like starving on a cold night, and walking past a restaurant window — smelling the food and seeing the people inside warm, happy, and satisfied — and trying not to feel deep emotion. I felt isolated. Lonely. Unworthy. Unloved. Unattractive. Damaged. Valueless. Trapped without hope that I will ever be able to escape, or that if I did, anyone would want me. As I understand it, this is what is called an emotional flashback. Rather than reliving an event, I was reliving emotions that originated from previous trauma.
By God’s grace, my son was the bright spot. He is such a kind-hearted and affectionate kid. By his smiles and his frequent I-love-yous, he kept me from sinking any further. And he didn’t even know it.
None of this sounds like war, nor does it sound like the violence, incest, or ritual abuse I’ve heard about in others’ stories. Does that make my situation petty? Am I over-sensitive? I don’t believe so. Man or woman, young or old — it is not petty or over-sensitive to be hurt by abuse. When love and dignity are denied, and confidence is destroyed, it is as destructive and intentional as denying food and water to a person. Particularly when this kind of abuse is continued long-term, PTSD is a completely reasonable outcome to expect.
Abuse that is covert and emotional is very potent and causes real wounds. Those wounds are not simple, easy things to heal. As I was discovering what covert abuse was, my searches initially came up empty. The terminology differed on various pages, and I often wasn’t sure how applicable the information was to me. The brief descriptions and definitions I found use fictional examples in order to be brief, and I wondered even more if it fit my situation. Hopefully the description of my emotional flashback will help someone recognize what they’ve been experiencing. Not every flashback has to be a completely hellish experience, and flashbacks aren’t always of events.
Jesus wouldn’t have died for us if we weren’t valuable to Him.