I look for all the world like I have achieved meh, but behind the scenes I am a struggling wreck. I have become so terrified of my ex that I am convinced he will harm me. And here’s the twist — I’m pretty certain I am just being dramatic!
He sends me hateful emails, but there isn’t any concerning language or intent. Just the standard you’re awful for x, y, and z. He changes my son’s clothes immediately so that nothing of me remains, placing my son’s precious stuffed animals (that I gave him) in the closet for safe-keeping. The list goes on. But still, these are petty and vindictive, but these are not dangerous.
My fear all started a year and a half ago when I saw unbeknownst to him, a few texts from him to his friends and family members where he was telling them he could not wait until I got hit by a truck and died. There was so much hatred in these texts, that I felt a trill of fear, but chalked it up to private venting. About a month later I was forced to meet him to retrieve my dog. During this event he yelled at me, calling me names laced with profanity and ultimately shocked me so much I began to sob.
He told me he would do whatever was necessary to prevent me from leaving with my dog all the while smiling like he had just won the lottery. He had this look on his face, like he was high off of his power and was loving making me hurt. I was so scared that I went into a nearby building and called the cops who promptly told me that they didn’t have enough manpower to send someone out unless a crime had been comitted. I have no proof of this interaction and ever since, have begun to question whether or not my feelings are an accurate portrayal of events, or the result of being emotionally distraught. Honestly, Chump Lady, how do I tell?
Each day I lean more and more towards the realization that living my life in fear from a single incident is just so silly. And yet each interaction with him, however inane, continues to feed this crippling fear. Just the idea of having to see him makes me shake and sweat. How can I wake up from this story I’ve painted where he is this villain waiting in the shadows to stab me? I want to be me again!
Well, we don’t know if he isn’t a villain in the shadows waiting to stab you. So, I’m not going to write off your fears as irrational. We have internal alarm systems for a reason.
In fact, a real chump issue is spackling over red flags and second guessing our alarm systems. Part of this is noble, we don’t want to ascribe bad intent, and part of this is madness — stop gaslighting yourself. Fear is a valid response to hostile behavior.
We could try and parse all day What He’s Really Thinking. Is he digging your grave, or is just a Grade A asshole? Is he venting, or is he actively wishing you dead? We don’t control his scary. We do control how we respond to scary. So let’s focus your energies there.
1.) Assess the threat. One out of four women (and one out of nine men) experience intimate partner violence in their lifetime. What kind of scary ex do you have? Gavin De Becker’s book The Gift of Fear and his MOSIAC site with its threat assessment tool are good places to start. Also, Lundy Bancroft’s book Why Does He Do That — Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men. A little untangling of their ugly skeins will show you, it’s not about you. It’s a power trip. So you can’t “nice” them into better behavior, but you can recognize them for what they are.
It’s more frightening to be taken unawares, then it is to think, “That’s a monster. I must avoid it or slay it.” Oh, or co-parent with it. Expect him to be a jerk. Wear armor and prepare for him being a jerk. Realize that jerk is his immutable state of being. Accept his intrinsic jerk-ness. Don’t let your guard down and think he’ll behave in any way that isn’t jerk. If he does, that’s gravy. But approach all encounters EXPECTING pure jerk.
2.) Don’t show him your fear. I think your observation that he gets off on your pain is absolutely correct. So deny him that. Don’t feed the beast.
Think of co-parenting as a prison term. What would you do if you were in prison? Would you spend all day cowering, or would you lift weights, get some scary tattoos, and join a gang? Take a page from that playbook. Project Badass Motherfucker. Don’t be alone with him, always have someone from your posse with you.
3.) Learn some self-defense. It’s not just about karate chops. Most abuse starts with microaggressions. You can learn how to set strong boundaries AND kick someone in the solar plexus. I wrote an article on 5 Self-Defense Tips Every Woman Should Know. Apparently anyone can break a nose or stomp on a foot! Consider a self-defense class to boost your bully-facing confidence.
But, but Tracy! It’s not fair that she should have to conform HER behavior because HE is an asshole!
You’re right. It’s not fair. Get back to me when the world is fair.
I don’t know how to make this situation less unfair, but I do know there are things we can do as chumps to take our power back from fuckwits.
I won’t tell your fears are irrational. I still have nightmares about my ex trying to kill me. D-Day was 14 years ago. Respect your fears. Learn from them. And rock your new life. That’s the best way I know to fight monsters.