Tactics: How the Abuser Sets You Up
Note from Jeff C and Barb: we are pleased to announce that Katy is now one of our Authors on the blog. In fact, this is the second post with her byline, but we forgot to announce her joining the team when her first post was published.
This post is about ongoing trauma which results after you have divorced your abuser but still must see him because there are children involved. Unfortunately I had another incident with my ex that caused me to freak out, and my family asked “Why can’t you just stop yourself from reacting to him?” Well, we know that this is much easier said than done.
We are in the middle of the dreaded “summer visitation”. This means my kids must go out of state for 5-6 weeks of the summer. I am allowed to see them on one of those weekends. So I drove 7 hours on Friday and met the ex at the daycare to pick them up. I arrived 30 minutes early, so I texted him that I would wait for him.
Here is where the set-up begins. (I didn’t see this until Sunday afternoon when I was shaking my way through a panic attack.) He meets me, I put the kids in the van, and then he says “I’d appreciate it if you give me 30 minutes advance notice of your arrival. So, you’ll be dropping off at noon on Sunday, correct?” And this is said in a sneering tone of voice, with a nasty look on his face. I mumble yes and get the heck out of there. I am already having a stress reaction because the message I just got was “you better be on time, to the minute, and you better send me a text so I know to expect you – or else”. (People who have not lived with abusers will not understand this.)
So over the weekend me and my kids had a good time together – we went to a place about 45 minutes further north. (Ex lives in a very large city.) But then Saturday night ex sends me another text: “Noon, correct?” I reply Yes. Then I start panicking inside, thinking oh God I have to make sure that I leave with plenty of time to get there at noon, but I can’t be too early because then he will be angry too. I have to time it EXACTLY RIGHT so that I am there at EXACTLY NOON and I have to text him at 11:30 to tell him I will be on time! (I swear I could not see what he was doing — my reactions were immediate & well trained after being married to him for 7 years.)
I am traveling in a very large city, and I am from a rural area. I do not know what the traffic is going to be like on Sunday morning but I figure it won’t be too bad. (First mistake). Then I assume that the GPS will get me where I need to be (2nd mistake). I get the kids ready on Sunday morning, program the GPS, and then text him “I am on my way and GPS says I will be there at noon.” (He does not respond to this)
Here is where things go very bad. I make a wrong turn. Then I get on the highway and discover bumper-to-bumper traffic. I start panicking. I try to leave him a voicemail. He begins calling me as I’m stressing out in the traffic, peppering me with questions and demands: “What are you going to do? We made plans at 1 pm, and now you’re not going to be here until 2pm. I knew when you texted me that you didn’t understand the traffic here. It would be more convenient for us now if you go to the McDonald’s at XYZ exit, since you’re going to be so late.”
I am getting confused because I don’t know what to do. The GPS still says I’m only 20 minutes behind but now he’s saying I’m going to be another hour and a half? He begins talking to me like I’m stupid. I start crying and shaking. I raise my voice. He says very calmly “I understand the traffic is frustrating but don’t take this out on me.” I scream into the phone “DON’T TALK TO ME THIS WAY!” and hang up on him. Then I realize that his current wife probably witnessed that exchange and I just reinforced to her that I am the psycho one. This causes me to cry harder.
He keeps trying to call and I won’t answer. I finally arrive at the McDonalds at 12:30 — 30 minutes late. I text him to pick them up. When he arrives he is wearing his gym clothes, so he has been working out. He tells the kids they are coming back to the gym with him. Then he snarls at me and gives me some more dirty looks.
After he leaves I am still shaking as if he has assaulted me, I am crying, I am wondering why do I feel so scared? He has not actually threatened me…he has not done anything that I can explain to an outsider. My dad doesn’t understand why I still have these panic reactions to him. I calm down and realize….he set me up. And it started on Friday afternoon! But I didn’t see it! I explain this to my dad and he understands now. He said he wants to be there at every single pick-up and drop-off from now on.
Here is the reality about raising children with an Abuser after the divorce: even though my ex can no longer abuse me on the level that he did during the marriage, he is able to terrorize me with small set-ups like this because I still have a trained response to him. I’m like Pavlov’s dogs. And I sit here and wonder if I will EVER be “normal”.
Addit from Barb: Here is a diagram of The Cycle of Abuse [Internet Archive link] which illustrates what Katy is talking about in this post. The diagram is from the website of ARMS AbuseRecovery Ministry Services .We have put a link to this diagram onto our Resources page.