On Women, Friendship, and Abuse

Before dating the guy I’d eventually marry, I was involved in two long-term abusive heterosexual relationships. The first one was mildly abusive, the second one more explicit. The first one didn’t like women very much, and the second one liked them but saw them as interchangeable. Both of them profoundly influenced the way I view myself and interact with other people, especially men.

But my first and most enduring abusive relationships were with girls and young women. I don’t have a single close friend from K-12 left in my life because almost all of them were abusers. Those who weren’t abusers I broke off contact with anyway, because I never felt comfortable around them. There was one childhood friendship in particular in which, when she failed to abuse me, I abused her instead. (I’m so sorry, A. I still think about you.)

Because of that string of abusive relationships – and the very specific, almost eerie pattern of the abuse – I remain unable to really let my guard down around any woman. It’s taken me years to realize how deeply those childhood and adolescent relationships affected my sense of self. When the attendants at my wedding gave their speeches, every single one focused on my husband – not because few people like me, but because few people really know me (which isn’t to say that it didn’t hurt pretty badly. They could have made an effort, you know?). I literally do not know how to form strong bonds with other women. This is a skill I was never taught.

Divide and conquer.

How has abuse shaped your life and your sense of self? In what ways do you find yourself reenacting, or waiting to reenact, destructive behaviors you learned when you were young? (I’m sure I don’t need to say this, but anonymous comments are welcome.)

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5 Responses

  1. Oh wow. Most of my childhood friends were just fine, but my “best” friend from nursery school up through all of elementary school– the girl whose house my parents sent me to every morning before school, because she had a nanny who could watch us and walk us to the bus– abused me, and I’ve never really put it into those words to myself until reading this post. She was a bully who insisted on being the one who decided what games we played, etc, and some of my most vivid & horrifying childhood memories are of the times she hurt me when I didn’t want to go along with her plans. Once she tried pretty hard to break my hand by pulling my fingers apart slowly, as a method of torture or something to get me to agree to play with her goddamned Light Brite or whatever it was that she wanted to do and I didn’t. I have no memory of what particular game, actually, I was resisting to the point that she resorted to torture, and I don’t think it mattered– I think it was just a day when I’d had enough. She didn’t physically abuse me very often, but she was extremely demanding of my time. I have many, many memories of telling my parents that I didn’t want to go play with her today and them sending me anyway because I couldn’t give them a reason why not. Because, of course, I was ashamed of the way she treated me and figured it was my fault. And yeah, since then, I’ve gone through life being a person with lots of male friends but very few female friends.

  2. most of my emotional abuse has come from women. from a particularly creative jr hs circle with the social worker’s ear, from a co-worker at an old job who needed a scapegoat, from a best friend who decided i would no longer be allowed to get upset when she did hurtful things, and mostly from the very sick college/post-college roommate who fucked me up worse than i’ve been able to recover from.

    i don’t think any of that has led me to hurt other women, and i do have close female friends (almost/someday including the writer, i hope), but it has made me cripplingly fearful of conflict and fearful that people, particularly social groups, don’t like me and may well swiftly turn.

  3. My speech focused on Tom because he’s so much easier to make fun of, šŸ˜‰

    I definitely have been shaped by emotional abuse. Some was from family, which to be fair was unintentional. A a teenager I stirred up a lot from my own reckless desire to surround myself with morally questionable people in some twisted way of showing that I was, in fact, a big girl who could take care of myself. Of course, I couldn’t, and suffered as a result. Then there was the boyfriend that emotionally manipulated me, and the other one, and the other one… And like you, I took on the role of the abuser as well.

    Where does all this put me now? Well, I’d like to think that I’ve put a lot of it behind me, but I find that I’m bitter, and cautious, and would rather have one night stands or FB status with guys than explore meaningful relationships, because I’m done with breakups and don’t want to put in the effort anymore. So ideally I need a lazy guy who also wants to skip the getting-to-know-you and the dates and will just jump to the watching movies in our pjs part, and then miraculously this guy will also want to put a ring on my finger. Because I admit that’s really something I feel that I HAVE to do in my life, and the sooner the better.

  4. All – I’m so glad (although sad) to be sharing this stuff with you guys.

  5. julie, i just read this and wanted to thank you for your honesty. i don’t have the time or energy to respond to the question you pose at the end of this post, but i do thank you for asking and sharing and being you. xo, c

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