Don’t judge it till you’ve been in one of these things. A lot of these people start out as absolute saints. They’re SO kind, SO forgiving, SO loving, SO giving…for like, 4 months. And you think, this person seems to be a better person than me. I get tired, impatient, grumpy, hangry, and (s)he never does! Wow, I’m lucky to be with this person! (S)he makes ME want to be a better person! And everyone in the surrounding community just LOVES this person.
Then, during month 5 or so, they do something strange. You think, hm, maybe s(he) was just tired. We all have bad days, and you forgive whatever it was as a small, uncharacteristic incident. Then it, or something like it, happens again. But (s)he has been SO understanding of your many little flaws, you don’t want to mention it! When it happens a third time, you go, ok, now I probably need to say something to this person. So you do, and your abuser feels incredibly betrayed, and reacts such that you feel guilty/sad/scared and never want to criticize them again.
One of the things about a lot of abusers is they really want to look perfect all of the time. And they’re good at it! That’s why everyone loves them! But nobody’s perfect all the time, and if you spend a lot of time with someone, you’ll see the facade fade. First just for a few minutes, then more frequently for longer durations. If you see them behaving imperfectly, they get mad at YOU. They can’t accept their own imperfections, so they hate it when someone else sees that they aren’t perfect.
You start to notice that this person doesn’t have any close friends – they are very popular, but in a surface kind of way. Important relationships like parents, siblings, childhood friends, etc, are almost all estranged. When they explain why, they make it sound like their dad/mom/siblings/childhood friends were completely toxic (and maybe they were!), and you think, wow, what a strong person to have gotten out of that unscathed!
Then they do more things that are just on the edge of abuse. But you don’t define them as “on the edge of abuse” because maybe you don’t have the vocabulary for it.
You just know you’re uncomfortable and starting to feel unhappy and controlled and hurt. So you try to talk about it, but (s)he twists your words so you don’t even recognize them, taking you down rabbit holes and blind alleyways and making accusations about your personality and your character and your behavior that…just…maybe…might be true?
And because you’re introspective and you want to be a better person you try to take in their feedback and get better, for their sake and your own. This is an opportunity for self-improvement. You finally have someone who cares about you enough to grow with you and tell you how the things you do affect him/her/everyone around you because actually you’re a worthless piece of shit who is totally unaware of how shitty and lame you are…ahem wait no, that’s not what (s)he said, was it? And (s)he actually brought up some really good points about my own behavior. Maybe I’m actually the abuser. And all the sudden you notice that this person is criticizing your friends and family, making little jabs at them, revealing all the ways they aren’t good friends, telling you how your friends are actually really manipulative and don’t much care about you. And you go, hummm, maybe so, I have been nursing some little wounds and hurt feelings.
And soon you find it’s just you and this person, who’s increasingly behaving in allllllmost abusive ways. You’re isolated. You chose your relationship over your family friends, or you only interact in a surface way with your family and friends, because anything else feels like cheating for some reason. And now (s)he’s made him/herself almost completely indispensable in your life. At his or her insistence, you’ve mixed finances, employment, projects…because that’s what good couples do, right? But all of this intertwined life stuff gives this person increasing control over your life…
You get the picture. It’s not so easy to see it from the inside.