I just finished a Dorothy Sayers novel, Cloud of Witnesses. She wrote it around 1921. In it the main character, Lord Peter Wimsey, asks a beautiful woman who is married to a brutal and jealous farmer, "Why don't you leave him?"She responds, "Because he would kill me before we got through the papers."
This tiny conversation, one paragraph in the book, took my breath away.
I had an even greater sense of the power of denial than ever. Ninety years ago Sayers was saying in public that the most dangerous time for a woman is when she is leaving a controlling man. Yet, this information is still shocking to many people. Despite the existence of shelters for women fleeing from dangerous ex partners, despite the huge publicity over OJ and Nicole and lethal, jealous violence in the headlines, despite concerns of therapists like me, many women believe that a dangerous scenario cannot relate to them personally. (Signs of Abuse and Abusive Relationships)
If you have an eating disorder you do not see or appreciate certain realities in your life. I can't be specific for you because everyone is different, so your oblivion is different too. But an eating disorder comes in to stop your pain and stop your awareness of what's causing that pain. Plus, part of the experience of living with an eating disorder is being self critical and harsh with yourself.
This combination makes you vulnerable to a relationship with a partner who is controlling, critical, exploiting and possibly abusive. You have gaps in your perception and do not see some of these qualities. Because you are self critical you believe that his criticisms of you are justified. You already agree that you are full of faults. You already feel shame. With a controlling and exploiting partner, and without recovery work, you will not be able to perceive the reality of growing abuse. You may not see it as abuse at all.
The more he criticizes you the more guilt and shame you feel. As you move more deeply into unworthiness he moves more deeply into his sense of power and entitlement.
And all this, painful as it may be, seems normal to you.
In my practice, time and again, as a woman moves into healing from her eating disorder her sense of self worth increases. She trusts her perceptions. She reaches out to grow by going to school or getting a job or a better job or taking more responsibility at home. She asks questions she never asked before.
What feels good to her feels like a serious loss to her partner. Her partner is losing control of what she does, what she notices and how she feels. He is losing his ability to lie and be believed. He losing his ability to control her by demeaning her and her choices.
In some relationships, where love exists and both people are determined to heal and grow into a new and more healthy relationship, these storms can be weathered. But so often I see layers of lies exposed that are intolerable to the woman who was blinded by her eating disorder way of life.
Despite her pain and sorrow she knows she cannot stay in the relationship with this person. Her thoughts and passions are about betrayal and lies. She has to sort out money and community property. She needs to explore her legal options. She often becomes frustrated and furious when he is not cooperative and makes demands that are counter to what the law allows.
She wants out. She wants what's hers. She wants what she is entitled to legally. She wants to show him that she won't stand for the treatment she got from him in the past. She may want him to suffer. She certainly wants him to be sorry, to apologize, to beg forgiveness. She wants him to see how terrific she is and feel remorse and sorrow that he is losing her.
Some people going through this trying experience can tolerate the stress. They will hurt one another unconsciously or on purpose emotionally, but they do not become violent.
Some people do become violent. The violence develops when the man who was abusive and controlling cannot find a way to soothe himself. If he was dependent on being able to abuse and control her, her being unavailable is like going through a cold turkey withdrawal from a drug. He feels agony and believes she is causing it.
He may call her, e-mail her, stalk her, attempt to entangle her in money issues. And he may become violent.
A women needs to recognize this possibility when she is recovering from an eating disorder and ending a controlling relationship at the same time. She needs to take precautions. The wife of the controlling man in the 1921 Sayers novel knows this. The woman in a controlling relationship in 2010 needs to know this too.
If you have gotten out of a controlling relationship, let us know how you took care of yourself.