2016-10-29 by Object of Contempt
Like so many other victims of emotional abuse, it took me a very long time to see through the abuse in my own marriage. The abuse in my youth was more overt, but still difficult for a naïve kid to recognize. Again, this is common for abuse victims. Those people who were abused as children frequently become retraumatized as adults in toxic relationships. Even in physically violent abuse, the bottom line injuries are spiritual, emotional. The long-term absence of love alone is a devastating thing. A prolonged abuse without a place for normal peace and emotional safety is very traumatic. In my case, two long-term, consecutive abusive relationships resulted in a man who has been an object of contempt all his life. Some of you reading this know what this feels like.
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, lawyer, pastor, counsellor, elder, psychologist, psychiatrist, or genius. I’m not even free of my abuser yet. I’m not always wrong, and I’m not always right. I’m just sharing my opinions. I sincerely hope they are helpful.
As I began searching for explanations of emotional abuse, the lights didn’t turn on all at once. I started out thinking that the foundational issues had to do with specific behaviors. Then I began to see the lack of love and good-will as being the main problem… and that is close. Now I believe the main problem is mainly centered around the presence of contempt. Even if the contempt never expands to overt rage and malice, being an object of contempt is a devastating thing. When victims of abuse describe how they have been scapegoated, the thing that really causes the deepest and most devastating pain comes from the inescapable contempt. Contempt is hatred.
A person whose spirit has been crushed by contempt will often gravitate towards resources that teach self-love and self-esteem. In this first post I want to dig a little deeper into the context of the wounds caused by contempt.
The popular perception of hatred is that it is full of irate anger and abject malice. My preferred perception is that contempt/hatred is the devaluation of a person. Malice describes the intention of a person with a lousy, broken character. Anger is a secondary emotion (it always comes after some other emotion). These things may accompany contempt/hatred, but they don’t always.
Arrogance says, “I/my group is intrinsically more valuable than all the others”, but contempt says, “you/your group is intrinsically valueless and below all others”. Malice and rage often only enter the picture because the victim is not properly playing the part of the doormat. Obviously, a person cannot value/love another and simultaneously devalue/hate that person. This is the poison in the sting of scapegoating, objectification and devaluation.
Admitting that someone has repayed our love and trust with cold, cruel contempt is devastating. Victims commonly cling to cognitive dissonance in order to avoid that admission. That is, they deny the abuse because they don’t want to believe they are hated by a loved one. Unfortunately, these untended spiritual wounds remain unhealed, and actually accumulate and worsen. Then when the realization hits the victim, the grief of lost love, lost joy, and lost peace and opportunity, is piled on top of all the other wounds.
Some of the things I’ve said in this post may seem redundant or rudimentary. I had intended to write a longer post that went beyond just building the context of wounds caused by contempt. However, I remember starting out, looking hard for what I didn’t know. I didn’t even know what to call it. What I really wanted to know was this: Am I weak, stupid, contemptible because I feel so destroyed by withheld love? I slowly learned things that are apparently so obvious to people who have not endured abuse, that they rarely talk about it. They take it for granted.
For those who may be starting out, trying to understand why they hurt so much, please let me say plainly some of the things I have learned. Relationships are about love that entails value and trust. When a person you trust and value withholds love, and instead gives contempt, it hurts like hell. You are not being weak or a loser; you are being human. When contempt is given consistently instead of love, the wounds to your spirit are cumulative. You may feel like you are carrying a huge load and fear what will happen when that “last straw” is added. Or, you may feel instead like a person who is “running on empty” and your engine is about to stop. Maybe you feel like you’ve been given the job of making bricks but you have no straw, and you have no hope of success… no hope of finding love and comfort and encouragement. You are not alone. Someone you love(d) may not value you, but that does not mean you are not valuable.