Lobster in a Pot
If you put a lobster in a pot with tepid water and gradually increase temperature, the lobster will be lulled into a sense of security and not realize it is slowly being suffocated to death.
Abusive relationships are a lot like that.
I am now coming to terms with the realization that I spent over seven years in an abusive relationship, and I feel stupid and guilty for not realizing the extent of the vicious dynamic I willingly took part in. I consider myself a smart, strong, formidable woman. How could I have “put up with that?”
I am all about female empowerment. How could I have “Let that happen to me”?
I believe strongly in self advocacy. How could I stay for so long in a situation that so clearly belittled me and made me feel vulnerable and devalued?
Maybe it was because I was a lobster in a pot.
It happened slowly, insipidly and in lots of small ways that were easy to rationalize. Looking back on those years, I am now shocked at how egregious it was, at the intense cruelty exhibited by the man who was my husband, the father of my child. At the time, it was easy to make excuses for the occasional mean comments and increasingly controlling behavior. He was “fighting his own demons”, I told myself. He is “doing his best”. And, worst of all, “I don’t deserve better treatment.”
The part where I thought I did not deserve basic human kindness and respect, that is the piece that is really hard for me to take responsibility for. I was caught in the very female trap of feeling like I had to accept the way I was treated because I was not contributing financially, and therefore I should be devalued in my home just as I was in society. I was also caught up in the female trap of accomodating and nurturing a grown man-child, whose petulant behavior was often at my expense. I thought “If I just love him a little more, keep the house better, make better dinners, look more like a supermodel, and whatever the fuck else, he would be nicer.” I was desperately trying to find a way to make it my fault so I could could stay in my marriage and just work harder to fix it. I was doing that thing women do, I was finding a way to take all the blame.
Yes, it is such bullshit. And yes, I participated in it.
If you are wondering if you might be in a relationship heading towards violating where you would mindfully place your boundaries, you are likely wondering for good reason. Because of the slow-boil nature of abusive relationships, it is important to make sure you do not excuse or normalize cruel behavior. Document it. If I had written down each individual violation of my humanity, each insulting and sadistic comment, each time I was denied access to money to pay even for the most basic needs of myself and my children, I would not have been able to deny it. It would have been able to see a pattern, and perhaps go over the list with a therapist or a friend. I would have not been able to deny or rationalize. A list would have been a more honest way to live.
I am currently feeling such shame around it as it is flowing over me like a wave of deep sadness. My reaction is strong, partly because I never fully processed the trauma of this abuse when the relationship ended. On the heels of this marriage I fell madly in love with my current partner, and threw myself into a decade of soothing bliss. But, trauma has a way of revealing itself even when we pretend it never happened. And the worst part of this realization is that I now know that it has affected all of my relationships, especially my relationship with my daughter. Because of her, I still remain connected with my abuser. He has trashed-talked me to her since she was a little girl and has shared his fantasizes about my death with her. He remains emotionally and financially abusive to her, holding money over her head and demeaning her appearance. The guilt I feel over tolerating this in her life and in my own is crushing.
The guilt I feel about falling short of being my best self with her, reflecting my feelings of latent anger with her father and continuing a legacy of an abusive dynamic – well, that is guilt I may never get over.
However, I finally get it. I now understand what was happening in that pot and I understand I have some soul-searching and healing to do. I feel crazy lucky to be able to do that in the arms of a supportive and loving man, with a family that brings me such comfort. I am empowered with some knowledge I was previously ignoring and I can go forward working on the right relationship with my daughter. And I can feel better connected with the many women who experience emotional cruelty and financial manipulation.
There is power in knowing what’s really going on around you. Just ask the lobster.