A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

Losing Yourself in the Fog of Abuse — by Joan

[August 30, 2022: There have been some changes made to this post. For more information, read the Editors’ notes at the bottom of the post. Editors.]

Joan, one of our readers, submitted the following comments on how abuse works to erode one’s personhood. Many of you will identify with her description.

***

Someone once asked what it felt like to lose yourself. They said: “Can someone please elaborate on what they think that means and how it feels? Once you lose yourself / your spirit can you ever get it back? Maybe after you leave you find yourself again? I think I’ve lost some of what I once was.”

This was my (Joan’s) response:

You lose interest in doing what you once enjoyed, and then start to forget what that even was….
You feel you are possibly / probably unlovable, deficient and unworthy of being loved.
You experience painful things that you would have once tried to fight against, but no longer have the will or energy to do so, and instead you desensitize, disconnect and adapt to it.
You compartmentalize much of your life and start to hide many compartments, meaning that you must isolate yourself and limit even your friendships to keep it hidden.
You no longer go to sleep looking forward to the next day, and you wake up wanting to just “get through the day”.
You start to forget that you had dreams and goals because if you dare to remember, it will hurt.
Every time you start to feel “happy”, you immediately feel anxiety because you are wondering when the rug will be pulled out from underneath you.
You feel trapped and you don’t “see” your choices.
You wonder what is wrong with you.
You wonder if you are capable of being in a happy and healthy relationship.
You feel you aren’t worth that kind of relationship, and you might as well make the best of it (often for the kids).
You feel unable to make it on your own and you doubt yourself where you once had confidence.
You don’t like looking in the mirror because you see a tired, depressed and defeated person that you don’t recognize looking back at you.
You think if you just try harder, love deeper and stronger and behave better that it will all get fixed and better.
It fails and you feel you are a failure.
Something has gone horribly wrong in your life and you keep trying and trying and trying to fix it.
Then you try to just cope with it.
Then you burn out, get angry, cry, grieve and look for real answers.

[August 30, 2022: Editors’ notes:

—For some comments made prior to August 30, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be an exact match.
—For some comments made prior to August 30, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be found in the post.
If you would like to compare the text in the comments made prior to August 30, 2022 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (August 30, 2022), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]

23 Comments

  1. Excellent description!

  2. speakingtruthinlove

    Reblogged this on Speakingtruthinlove's Blog [Internet Archive link] and commented:
    The effects of abuse are devastating in so many ways, but the offenders go their merry way.

  3. Jodi

    Yes! Yes! Yes! To every single one!
    I couldn’t have written a better explanation. And to add “who would ever want me again, as I am used up and messed up?”.

  4. leigh

    You experience painful things that you would have once tried to fight against, but no longer have the will or energy to do so, and instead you desensitize, disconnect and adapt to it.

    The disconnect. Where imagination become reality and the lies you hide behind become your identity. It’s so bittersweet that our minds can protect us in this way.

    Thanks for sharing this.

  5. Kay

    Someone else understands….thank you for sharing….I am healing from being that woman and I am liking the revived ME!

  6. Wonderful description, Joan, and others.
    I’d like to draw our attention to where this description differs from, and where it is similar to, the classic signs and symptoms of depression. I’m not going to do the whole research thing here and pull up the psychiatric diagnostic criteria for depression (feel free, other readers, to do so! — I haven’t got time right now). I’m just making a few observations.
    I’m not an expert in mental health or psychiatry, so don’t take my thoughts as gospel, just my own musings….

    As far as I can remember, these items are symptoms of depression:

    You lose interest in doing what you once enjoyed, and then start to forget what that even was….
    You feel you are possibly / probably unlovable, deficient and unworthy of being loved.

    You no longer go to sleep looking forward to the next day, and you wake up wanting to just “get through the day”.

    You feel trapped and you don’t “see” your choices.
    You wonder what is wrong with you.

    You don’t like looking in the mirror because you see a tired, depressed and defeated person that you don’t recognize looking back at you.

    These items may be symptoms of depression, but may be symptoms of being in an abusive relationship:

    Every time you start to feel “happy”, you immediately feel anxiety because you are wondering when the rug will be pulled out from underneath you.

    You wonder if you are capable of being in a happy and healthy relationship.
    You feel you aren’t worth that kind of relationship, and you might as well make the best of it (often for the kids).

    And these items are much more clearly symptoms of being abused, than symptoms of straightforward depression:

    You feel unable to make it on your own and you doubt yourself where you once had confidence.

    You start to forget that you had dreams and goals because if you dare to remember, it will hurt.

    You experience painful things that you would have once tried to fight against, but no longer have the will or energy to do so, and instead you desensitize, disconnect and adapt to it.
    You compartmentalize much of your life and start to hide many compartments, meaning that you must isolate yourself and limit even your friendships to keep it hidden.

    You think if you just try harder, love deeper and stronger and behave better that it will all get fixed and better.
    It fails and you feel you are a failure.
    Something has gone horribly wrong in your life and you keep trying and trying and trying to fix it.
    Then you try to just cope with it.
    Then you burn out, get angry, cry, grieve and look for real answers.

  7. Anonymous

    Just a quote [Internet Archive link]1 here for thought….didn’t know for sure where to put this, but thought perhaps it would speak to someone besides me. I can see how much living in the abuse has adversely affected me, in so many ways, boggled my mind, twisted my beliefs about Jesus and His care for me, and left me depressed.

    A sheep in the midst of wolves is safe compared with the Christian in the midst of ungodly men. —Charles Spurgeon

    1[August 30, 2022: We added the link to the quote by Charles Spurgeon that Anonymous quoted. The Internet Archive link is a copy of that link. Editors.]

  8. Joan

    As far as I can remember, these items are symptoms of depression:

    It’s true that there can be a crossover, but I would differentiate to a great degree when abuse is involved. In that case, “situational depression” is more applicable, but the following bear their own unique stamp that reflects the hallmark of abuse.

    You lose interest in doing what you once enjoyed, and then start to forget what that even was….

    When you are trying to make a vital relationship work with a partner whose mindset is one of entitlement, you end up giving an inordinate amount of energy to him and to the relationship. This can happen so subtly, that when the fog rolls in, it hides in plain sight. In a way, I consider this sort of partner to be a kind of vampire. This person does not care if your goals slip away, your health erodes, your dreams and hopes dissipate, and you become a faded version of yourself. Energy is finite, and when it’s sucked out of you, you don’t even have the emotional energy to figure out or remember what you enjoyed, much less why it’s not a part of your life anymore. Thinking about what you enjoy becomes dangerous ground, because what you love has probably been used as a weapon of control against you. If this is depression, it’s more akin to situational depression.

    You feel you are possibly / probably unlovable, deficient and unworthy of being loved.

    How could this feel otherwise? You’re with someone who has vowed that he loves you, vowed to commit his life to that, and yet his behaviors consistently reflect something else? When you doubt, fight back, question or react, the right buttons are pushed to make you feel guilty, and to divert attention to the needs of your partner. Family and friends see a different picture, and so often their perception is that of “the great guy”. So now your messages include the information that you’re with a great guy, and therefore somehow your pain is either exaggerated (i.e. you’re too sensitive, you’re too needy, you’re too purple, etc.) or unwarranted. How do those message typically get processed? When the information you receive conflicts with painful reality, the question often becomes: “What is wrong with me?” The inner terrifying battle ensues to fight what seems obvious: “this must be all I deserve….”
    Don’t forget the times you engage in reactive behaviors. That always works really well to dig in the message: “See? Look at that. Look at me. What makes me think I can or should “judge” him?” (notice discernment gets lost here, and reality begins to lose clarity).

    You no longer go to sleep looking forward to the next day, and you wake up wanting to just “get through the day”.

    Again, I see this much as an energy issue. A toxic relationship just sucks your energy and you live mostly in survival mode, approaching each day with a triage mindset as to where you should allot your energy. At the end of the day, there’s nothing left to give to processing, and you sense it, and you also know that tomorrow appears to be a repetition. You try to fall asleep as you stare at the wheel you feel chained to that takes you round and round as you starve and follow the carrot that isn’t enough to sustain you anyway. You know you’ll wake up tired and sad, but that doesn’t mean the day won’t bring its own demands. Soon, the functional things you are able to do can feel like key elements to your right to live, lest you are discarded as being nothing more than a worthless eater. This is the tearing down of the human spirit.

    You feel trapped and you don’t “see” your choices.

    Along with PTSD and traumatic bonding, there is an interesting and terrible thing called “learned helplessness”. Experiments observed the effects when the concept or perception of any “safe space free from pain and danger” were systematically messed with and removed altogether, and then eventually offered again. The results showed that often the “learning path” (literally in the brain) would not fire up and work, so that the animal would not be able to understand (learn) that “here is safety”. In other words, the lesson of “there is no safe space free from pain” becomes stuck and stalled.

    You wonder what is wrong with you.

    I’m going to attempt to clarify what I meant here. Sometimes, you can wake up feeling crummy, slightly “off”, tired, achy, listless, etc. and wonder if something is “wrong”. Sometimes, you can walk into a situation and pick up or sense that something is “off”, and it may steer a decision. Sometimes, you can get downright frustrated with yourself at doing or not doing something, behaving or not behaving in a certain way, want to kick yourself in the behind, and wonder “what is wrong with me? Why did I do or not do that?” None of these are what I meant by “wrong” in the original list.
    It’s referring to the deep (albeit false) core belief and buried fear of lacking worth. Those who share this will probably instantly know what I’m talking about. At a gathering before my father died, my siblings joked about “all the apology notes I wrote as a child”, and I replied that I was “born with an apology in my mouth.” Why this foundational piece is not solid in some of us, I have no stock, one-fits-all answer. I know the “probable” answers in my case, but no matter why, it can have a deep and massive impact on a life. You can grow old enough to question this buried belief as legitimate, but when in your daily life you are a recipient of messages that reinforce that you lack the same value as others somehow, when you are the recipient of behavior that treats you as “less” and “tells” you that there must be something lacking within your very being or something “wrong” in your very being, it becomes nigh impossible to stop that lie from affecting you. Naturally, you apply your energies to rooting out all your faults and weaknesses and becoming a better person. One worthy of living and breathing, and maybe one day….maybe maybe one day….being loved.

    You don’t like looking in the mirror because you see a tired, depressed and defeated person that you don’t recognize looking back at you.

    This is the occasional paralyzingly dismal brush with reality when you actually LOOK at yourself. You see the cumulative impact and the evidence of lost time. It can be frightening to the point that you can stand frozen, confused, and somewhat desperate. Then you search and grasp for the energy to figure it out, it isn’t there, so you breathe in the fumes to take care of a chore or give that precious bit of energy to a child that you love. In these moments, you may also be likely to struggle to not feel angry and resentful to your spouse. You might take a fleeting reality glimpse of “who” he is, but will probably not have the energy to hold on to it for long.

    • Joan — you just described my life for the last fifty years. Thank you….

    • Joan, your description is not only correct, it is virtuosic. I mean that with admiration. As one word-lover to another, I take my hat off to you! Here are some of your gems that really zinged for me:

      when the fog rolls in, it hides in plain sight.

      I consider this sort of partner to be a kind of vampire.

      If this is depression, it’s more akin to situational depression.

      you’re too sensitive, you’re too needy, you’re too purple

      —too purple! LOL!

      approaching each day with a triage mindset as to where you should allot your energy

      YES!

      the functional things you are able to do can feel like key elements to your right to live, lest you are discarded as being nothing more than a worthless eater.

      I was “born with an apology in my mouth.”

      the occasional paralyzingly dismal brush with reality….you search and grasp for the energy to figure it out, it isn’t there, so you breathe in the fumes to take care of a chore or give that precious bit of energy to a child that you love.

      And last but not least:

      You might take a fleeting reality glimpse of ‘who’ your spouse is, but will probably not have the energy to hold on to it for long.

      Boy do I know that one. To this day I deeply regret tearing up a little piece of paper I wrote in one of those fleeting moments of reality. It was ‘notes to self’. But I judged myself so badly for having been harsh on my husband –– by listing a few of his faults, and how I would prefer him to treat me –– that I felt it would be sinful to keep the paper.

    • Anonymous

      Along with PTSD and traumatic bonding, there is an interesting and terrible thing called “learned helplessness”.

      Can anyone else see the horror of this?

      It took me years to identify these three things (PTSD, traumatic bonding and learned helplessness) and realize that this is how I’d been raised. (Please look these terms up if you’re not familiar with them.) Families that don’t believe in birth control seem to use this as a type of parenting. When it’s also a religion or society that allows or excuses alcoholism, it really amps up the emotional rape.

      Now add to this concoction a child raised in this environment who is also an HSP (highly-sensitive person — please look this up as well, it’s a person who is biologically wired to love more deeply, feel pain more intensely, and is “others-orientated” where they care about other people more than they care about themselves – -but stick to the Christian sites when possible as there is a lot of New Age stuff out there) and you may see the tremendous damage that is done. It may help to explain why the beautiful author, Joan, is so deeply affected and also why she is able to so accurately articulate what she’s been through. (David and Moses — HSPs.)

      Barbara pointed out in one of her replies (I’ve been reading many different posts) that the internet is such an invaluable resource — what would we have done without it? How would we have gotten to where we are, as most of us in our “real life” never get the help we need? I don’t honestly know but then I think that as horrible as my life has been, God knew I would need help. He knew all of us, and he provided (provides) this for us. Through all of our trials, He’s sent someone ahead who’s endured what we are going through and then “encouraged” them to be brave enough, or angry enough or just sick of it enough to start websites like this. (But this is a RARE website, as it is Christian AND doesn’t pretend that evil doesn’t exist in human form.) And it is not an accident that you are here finding help. And the timing too is no accident. God seems to “wake us up” at the perfect time. (Although you may not realize this until years later.) So thank you all again for sharing and loving and helping me and others. I’m grateful.

  9. Joan

    Ida Mae, you were familiar to me because I’d lurked a bit on your blog (with great admiration and liking of you). Your response meant very much to me.

  10. Joan

    Barbara, thank you for those kind words.

  11. NettyM

    Joan – wow. Just wow. It’s so hard to describe being lost like that to someone who hasn’t been there.
    This is among the things I can read when I get to confused and twisted in the fog. Thank you!

  12. Joan

    Netty, it is difficult for those who haven’t been there to understand. All the more reason that I’m a bit astounded that our brother, Jeff, seems to so get it. In my case, I’ve even struggled to explain to those who suffered more overt abuse in an abuse support community about passive aggressive covert dynamics. I’ve said it’s like having carbon monoxide in the room. You can’t see it, smell it, or hear it to be able to describe it, and yet you are sickened (possibly fatally) by it. It’s the effects you can see much more than the abuse itself.

    • The carbon monoxide metaphor is great. Thanks, Joan!
      And a comment about the term “passive aggressive”. George Simon, Junior, the author of “In Sheep’s Clothing” uses the term “covert aggressive” for this stuff, rather than “passive aggressive”. I’m reading his book at the moment and finding it very interesting. He describes the difference between passive aggression and covert aggression. You might like to read it for yourself.

  13. Joan

    Hi, Barbara. My point is that passive aggressive dynamics are covert by nature. I’m very familiar with Dr. Simon’s wonderful books. He draws a good distinction [Internet Archive link]1 between clinically passive aggressive and covert aggression:

    Most of the time, when people use the term “passive-aggressive” they’re generally trying to describe someone’s active but covert-aggressive behavior. “In Sheep’s Clothing” provides a comprehensive definition and makes a very clear distinction between passive-aggressive and covert-aggressive behaviors and passive-aggressive (ambivalent, negativistic, and often self-defeating) personalities and their covert-aggressive (deceptive, conniving, and manipulative) counterparts.

    So remember, if someone’s trying to hurt someone else, get the better of them, or play “get-back,” and is deliberately trying to conceal their intentions, there’s nothing “passive” about their aggression. Remember also that getting to know all of the subtle, hard to detect ways people can beat you into submission without you knowing how they managed to do it (i.e. learning the tactics of covert-aggression) is the secret to never being manipulated again.

    Dr. Simon also realizes that even clinicians have a difficult time nailing this down (which is part of the reason ‘passive aggressive’ was removed from their diagnostic manual), and tries to clarify here [Internet Archive link]2:

    I think I failed in my attempt to distinguish passive and covert aggression. Although both passive and covert aggression are both indirect means of aggression, the similarity ends there. What’s more, true passive-aggressive personalities are among the most self-defeating character types. But covertly aggressive people are very different. They are inordinately manipulative and often quite successful in gaining social power and influence because of how well they conceal their very “active” attempts to do others in. Perhaps I didn’t stress enough the “active” versus “passive” dimension of aggression.

    I will simply add that while some of the differences can seem hair-splitting and brain-spinning (particularly to the recipients), the end result is quite similar. While one may be more negativistic and resistance-oriented, it is just as covert. Whether the user is employing covert aggression in the above definition or behaving in clinically passive aggressive ways, both will result in a Teflon-coated manipulation that avoids accountability. The terrible and interesting thing about passive aggressives is that by employing the passive dynamic, their aggression is extremely difficult to identify, and almost impossible to definitively associate with intent. This is the carbon monoxide effect. My advice to anyone who is questioning whether or not they are with a passive aggressive is to just read about it and explore a support forum specifically for it. If you start reading the comments pouring in from dozens of readers responding to it and you start to think ‘Get out of my head!’, you are probably on the right track to identify it.

    1[August 31, 2022: We added the link to Dr. George Simon’s article “Passive-Aggression” Top 5 Misused Psychology Terms – Part 3 that contains the quote quoted by Joan. The Internet Archive link is a copy of that article. Editors.]

    2[August 31, 2022: We added the link to Dr. George Simon’s comment on his article “Passive-Aggression” Top 5 Misused Psychology Terms – Part 3 that contains the quote quoted by Joan. The Internet Archive link is a copy of that comment. Editors.]

  14. davis

    Wonderful information! So many women are hurting and they need this knowledge, understanding and truth. These are the keys to new beginnings and to set precious women free and on a new path of rediscovering the wonderful soul God intended for their journey. We may have been hiding in the shadows but God will restore what the worms have eaten away. God loves us and He made us in His image. The peace that passes all understanding is with us now and as long as we keep our minds on Him; we will have His perfect peace. He is our God of new beginnings. He is always by our side. We are never alone.

  15. Joan

    For those who might wish to explore more of Dr. Simon’s writings, here is a link to the quotes by him that I referenced: “Passive-Aggression” Top 5 Misused Psychology Terms – Part 3 [Internet Archive link].
    He has a very helpful blog in addition to his books, “In Sheep’s Clothing”, and “Character Disturbance”. Dr. George Simon

  16. Thanks, Joan!

  17. Little Miss Me

    Interesting reading about the difference between passive-aggressive and covert aggressive. I can definitely see both types of behaviors from my partner – I’ll have to do more reading to discover more about the relationship between the two types of aggression and how manipulators use them.

    The more I read, the more I’m amazed that I’m still alive and that I’ve made it (almost) out of the relationship. Though he was never violent, I mainly mean I’m surprised my health has held up and that I have managed to maintain my mental health and not harm myself.

    • I reckon countless survivors would agree with your words:

      I’m surprised my health has held up and that I have managed to maintain my mental health and not harm myself.

      Thanks for your comment!

  18. Finding Answers

    Joan’s comment expanding on her original post rang more than a few bells.

    Barb’s comment separating the statements by depression versus the results of abuse, I could see some of the delineation.

    When both depression and abuse are combined, life becomes untenable.

    Some days it’s hard to tell which battle I am fighting….

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