tale as old as time: beauty, the beast, and the cycle of abuse
abusive relationships have been on my mind recently. they’ve been in the news, as well, sparking debate and frankly, some really disgusting commentary. all my life i’ve seen them. i’ve seen my mother in emotionally abusive relationships. i’ve heard of her physically abusive ones. i’ve watched friends go through them. and then last year i had the unfortunate experience of dealing with an abusive person myself.
to speak to the current news about rihanna going back to chris brown, there are several things that have cropped up. people have asked why she would go back to him. some have said that the sympathy train stops here for them–basically asserting that whatever happens to her now is her own fault. some have shown anger. others have been purely baffled.
a metaphor that is often cited is the beauty and the beast story. a woman meets a man who screeches at her, isolates her, keeps her from her family, maybe even hits her–yet she believes he’s really a good person, and he eventually comes round to reveal a handsome prince. if you look at it like that, then these women really do look insane. the problem with that metaphor is that they have it ass-backwards.
it goes a bit more like this: a woman meets a charming prince. he’s kind to her, fun. they go out. they click. he’s a gentleman who is interested in everything about her. time goes on. she starts falling hard.
flash. one night, maybe over dinner, he makes a remark. maybe it’s about her friends–does she really want to be hanging around people like that? her heart skips a beat, and she sits there, confused for a moment. oh, he says, it’s just because she is so intelligent and wonderful–her friends are maybe a bad influence. for a split second, she catches a glimpse of fangs, and then it’s gone, and the prince is back.
then it happens again. few days later, or a week. maybe his interest in her life turns into a cross-examination. he makes a show of being supportive, but he digs everything out of her that he can–and he doesn’t reciprocate. he tells her he feels like he’s getting to know her really well. she feels nervous telling him so much, but he’s being so kind. not judging.
the weeks go by, and things are good. sure, there’s the occasional glimpse of matted fur or claws, but mostly, it’s just the shining prince. she’s happy, except for when those flashes come. sure, he might say something that seems insulting, but he compliments her at the same time, so he probably doesn’t mean it as an insult. maybe when she’s telling him about her views on politics, he tells her all liberals are loonies–if she is one–but oh, she’s so intelligent…maybe moreso than he. she’s beautiful and smart.
when it hits, it’s like a lightning strike on a clear blue day. suddenly, the prince is gone, and there is a ravening beast standing before her. everything he dredged out of her, everything he gleaned from their weeks or months together is turned into a weapon against her. he might just use words, or he might use his fists. but the aim is clear–it’s about power. he has to break her down. he uses everything she told him in confidence, and he twists it back on her.
when it’s over, she’s stunned. what just happened? that couldn’t have been the same person. not her prince charming. he wouldn’t do that. there must be something wrong with her. she’s upset and hurt. she’s crying and lost and confused.
and then the prince is back. he’s sorry he hurt her–he didn’t mean to, really. he’s not that guy. he’s a good guy. but she set him off somehow; she shouldn’t do that, he says. he says she hurt him, too, but he forgives her. why can’t she forgive him? he’s kind, and he’s nice, and she starts thinking maybe it was all in her head.
you see…there’s nothing wrong with these women. there’s nothing wrong with me. the women i know who have been in abusive relationships are strong women. powerful women. but when it happens, it’s subtle. it’s insidious. it’s manipulative. it creeps in amidst the compliments, riding on their coattails. a jibe here, a cruel “joke” there. little seeds sown against her friends, against her family, against people who would support her and help her get away from him. it’s gradual, and most of the time, it happens before they know it. it’s crazy making. it’s a mind fuck.
it’s holding one of my best friends as she lays crumpled in my lap, sobbing and asking over and over again, “where did the man i fell in love with go? i can’t find him! why can’t i find him? where did he go?”
it’s hearing him scream at my roommate through the phone, almost incoherent in his impotent rage, and seeing her face washed with tears, eyes wild and lost because no words she can say will make him stop. every answer she gives is the wrong one. and his anger keeps coming.
it’s my heart pounding in my chest, all the while feeling as though someone’s fist is clenched around it. it’s tears burning down my cheeks. it’s weeks of confusion. it’s telling him no and him not listening.
it’s women all around the world who are having their power stolen from them by tiny, tiny men who cannot feel powerful unless they’re stripping it from someone greater than them. who can only feel big when they put someone down. in the end, it’s about control. it’s about power.
it’s a cycle. the prince will fade again into the slathering monster, only to return with flowers and champagne when the sunlight comes again. the only way to break it is to step outside the circle. to step off the carosel and let that beast go to hell.
it’s that phone call from my best friend, telling me she left him for good. it’s my roommate kicking him out of her life. it’s me making the call to him, telling him never to contact me again.
the reason abusers do it is because they feel they have no power, whether consciously or subconsciously. we have it. they don’t. so they try to take ours. no one wants to be treated like shit. no one wants to be abused. it can happen to anyone, from a high ranking ceo to an army officer, to the server at your favorite restaurant. it’s happened to me. and people i love. no one is immune. the important thing is to learn to recognize those flashes for what they are–warning signs.
at the end of the day, we have to trust our instincts. listen to what they tell us. because no one deserves to be treated badly. we’re worth something much more extraordinary than that.
Posted on 1 March, 2009, in rants, soapbox, thoughts and tagged abuse, beauty and the beast, change, chris brown, cruelty, cycles, help, instinct, manipulation, prince charming, psychology, rihanna, tears. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.