Domestic Abuse and Isolation in Relationships
Those that know the story from my memoir Beyond the Tears: A True Survivor’s Story,
have read that I was vulnerable, easily manipulated, trained to be without opinion, and living in the shadow of my father’s violence and subsequent suicide. When I was 18, I met a man 18 years older than me who had threatened to kill himself if I refused to marry him.
Not long after the marriage ceremony to my new husband, Todd, he wanted to buy land in Chandler, Arizona. He said we could get rich quick on the land while living cheap in a trailer. I was only twenty-one, and I objected to moving out of Tempe, away from my Arizona State University campus friends. Todd threw fits, until it seemed easier to comply with his wishes than to confront his temper. So we moved deep into the desert, past the dairy farm and the rodeo arena, where the alfalfa fields were newly zoned for mobile homes.
It was too far to commute to classes, so I withdrew. My best friends from campus, Scott and Cathy, telephoned to say they wanted to visit. I made excuses: “It’s not a good day. Todd worked later than usual last night. He’s still sleeping.” “It’s not a good time. I have to go to the doctor.” “It’s not a good year. I am very, very busy.” I was not avoiding seeing them; I was avoiding them seeing me.
A year went by. I did not return to college. I had not seen my friends. One afternoon Cathy called and insisted on visiting. Despite my excuses, they were not about to let a desert monsoon keep them away. Scott and Cathy pulled up while a dust storm was developing. As I stood outside, hollering “hello” above the noise of the rattling aluminum awning, a gust of wind literally blew me down.
“Lynn, you’re as thin as a reed!” The wind flipped my shorts like a sail, revealing the bruises on my thigh.
Scott asked, “Are you all right?”
“I’m all right,” I lied.
We made small talk while watching dust devils that looked like tiny tornadoes flitting across the terra firma. Cathy and Scott were saying goodbye. “We’re moving to Utah. We’ll write.” As Cathy moved toward me, I stepped back, resisting her outstretched arms because my body experienced pain with an embrace. Todd had swatted me often enough that my body no longer recognized the difference between a hard hit and a warm hug. I had lost contact with my friends; I could not confide in them. There was nothing left to say.
“Lynn, you take care of yourself, okay?”
“Yeah, sure.” I was sure that another friendship bit the dust.
I’d already been isolated from support systems when I married him, and that made it easier for him to marry me. The point of this article is isolation by the abuser in a relationship or as the relationship is developing so he can assert and sustain control. You might consider this theme as you are dating again in mid-life, or when your children are dating.
The isolation may seem benign at first: He may make snide remarks about her family, but say he was only joking. In second, third marriages, when a potential abuser wants to possess her, he may deride her children from a previous marriage. The isolation escalates when he suggests or insists that she work from home, or not at all. She loses contact with her co-workers. He may initiate arguments with her choice of religion; no faith pleases him, and he refuses to let her worship at church without him. She becomes completely dependent on him for a world view. His perspective infiltrates her perspective until her opinion of herself is diminished to reflect only his opinion; his reality becomes her reality. He lets her know she is useless, helpless, worthless, and nothing without him. She loses her self to him, her insight, intuition, and instinct. He owns her. Soon, the victim is asking, “Who am I? How did this happen?”
If you are dating again, or if you have a daughter, niece or friend on the dating scene, these are just a few of the signs of isolation to be wary of:
- She rarely goes out without her partner
- He unilaterally controls every aspect of a date
- She is restricted from seeing family and friends
- He controls who they see, when, where, and for how long
Showing support for someone you suspect might be manipulated into isolation by an abuser may even save a life. Use your knowledge as power, and you don’t want anyone to take your power from you! No amount of false romance is worth losing your authentic self. Maintain your support systems in church, with friends, groups, and activities. They may save your life!