Is Silence Golden In Abuse?

In the quiet of the sleepy morning, I find myself, as I often do, on the bottom of the stairs in my home, cuddling my two kids, who are triggering and on high alert. I often am too, in the mornings. The three of us are afraid a lot at that time of day.

My son whispers to me, “Mom, everyone seems upset today.” My daughter’s eyes keep darting around the room, focusing on her step-dad, who is sleepily making their lunches for school. I know what she was doing. Assessing the situation. Everyone stays quiet.

Is he mad? Is he going to yell or be ok today?

My new husband has had to see the three of us like this many mornings. He has lovingly learned to be really gentle and communicate with us, so that there can be fewer presumptions, fewer triggers for us. But they still happen. Just the mere fact that it is morning, aka danger time, is all it takes to trigger one or all of us.

My current husband is a good man, a kind man. So what was it that triggered us today? Silence. It was just the silence. It was silence that wouldn’t reveal if we were safe or not.

I’m no longer technically in the abuse. But thanks to the not-so-judicious judicial system that does not recognize covert aggression as abuse, my kids still have half their time with our abuser. So I guess really, I am still in it too. I am a little farther removed now from the direct assaults, but this is still a very, very raw reality for my kids and so it is still, for me too.

I think they figure that men are all like this. They are still taking awkward baby steps in learning to trust their step-dad and to understand that he is not the same as their bio-dad. Often, so am I.

They never know when their bio-dad will wake up happy or angry. Will they get hugs, a cold silence or yelled at today?  That’s anybody’s guess from day to day. Those are the egg shells they walk on.

When you live under a situation like that, you learn ways to cope. Most of them are maladaptive, but they help you to survive, so you do them anyway. Sometimes you do things you are ashamed of, because surviving is more important in that moment, than doing what you know is right.

Hypervigilance means to be keenly watchful of danger. That is probably a victim’s main mode of survival. If you know what is coming, you can sometimes soften the blow, or even (rarely) manage to avoid it.  My daughter assessing the room is a perfect example of this technique. The problem is, it doesn’t just turn off, like a faucet when you want the water to stop. Your system gets so used to this constant state of over-awareness, and you can’t stop, even when you are safe.

Lying or omission of truth because the truth will get you seriously hurt. I’ve done it, and my kids have done it and still do it. I am just now learning that it’s safe to tell the truth again. I won’t get beat up for it any more. There will be no more laundry lists of faults, created to rip me to shreds any time I risk admitting I have messed up, or even just telling the truth about what I have done with my day. I won’t be criticized, berated or belittled for spending five dollars over the grocery limit for the week any more.  I don’t have to pretend to enjoy him dominating and using my body any more. That’s over. I am safe to be honest again. But I often feel afraid and still have to fight to do so. So do my kids.

My husband and I still often have to weigh what we tell the kid’s bio-dad. Will this information be used to hurt them? Will this information give him ammunition to throw at them the next time they make him mad? Sometimes, we still have to choose omission, just to keep them safe, and I don’t think that’s wrong in these circumstances.

Sometimes tactics designed to actually bring on the abuse are used in the tension building phase, to draw out the abuse and just get it over with. Picking fights is a good example that both my kids use and I have at times, as well.  The tension building phase can be so hard to handle, because you know what is coming, and at times, it’s much easier to just get it over with, instead of waiting until the moment your abuser decides to strike. At least then you know when it will happen and how. It gives you the illusion of having a small piece of control in the situation. It speeds up the cycle.

Withdrawal is another common one in my house. We all do it. When I feel attacked, this is my most common go-to. I withdraw into myself, or sometimes outside of myself, via disassociation, because I think that I will be safe if I just hide away somewhere long enough to get through the perceived danger. It has become an automatic response for me, and one I have had and still have a very hard time letting go of. My son hides in books. My daughter disengages and ignores everyone around her.

It is a long and often confusing road to healing we travel. Three scared abuse survivors and a very loving and patient husband and step-dad. We are getting there, and maybe one day, even in the face of silence and unknown, my kids will be running down those stairs, chattering away the morning, free of fear. For now in our every day, there are cuddles and lots reassurances that no one is angry and no one will be hurt today.

19 thoughts on “Is Silence Golden In Abuse?”

  1. Deborahmom- Wow. Thank you for this accurate description of a typical day for a mom and her kids. This is my life. You know things are “off” when your 10 yr old texts from upstairs “who is downstairs” and I reply ” just me” and then my three kids come downstairs and say ” oh good Dad is gone so we can come downstairs and eat breakfast.” When he is home they all retreat to upstairs and we all walk on eggshells. We experience that cold silence and then he can be so mean and rip one of us to shreds. None of us want to get caught listening to one of his ” speeches” often on the subject of how close we are to the return of Jesus and he talks about prophecy a lot. That has been one of my main struggles with confusion, the way he talks and anticipates the rapture,he witness’s to people,he loves prophecy and yet he can crush us into powder on our drive to church…I am learning the tactics of the enemy and they are very tricky..very subtle indeed. Thank you for posting this, it helps to know I am not alone and this really does happen and I am not misconstruing what really goes on.

  2. Dadgum, Deborah– that is so sad! It’s even sadder when I realize that we are still doing that around here, even with the kids grown.

    I think I’ll go get my snuggie and suck my thumb for awhile.

    Here’s to the day when we all come running down the stairs again, excited to see the blessings of a new morning!

  3. ooohhhh…the withdrawal thing hit a raw nerve for me. I do that one constantly. It started as a child with never knowing what the “mood of the room” was going to be in the morning. A good majority of the time, I think, things were “ok”. But, I remember plenty of times waking up to screaming, crashing, and one time my dad punching the table so hard he actually broke his hand. I remember fights with my parents had with my sister about her moving out on her own (at age 22) that woke me in the middle of the night with a chair crashing and my dad screaming bloody murder at her. And now I realize, that maybe I did that too in my crazy now-ended marriage. I would get the silent treatment and walk around on eggshells and just disconnect from everything until somehow, some way, things “blew over” and some semblance of normality returned. This had some triggers, but it’s a good thing – it helps me to see what I need to work on.

    1. Writing it helped me to see the same. It’s hard to see when you are just trying to survive, but there is a time to begin putting away the old coping mechanisms, and replace them with the understanding that you don’t have to hide any more.

  4. “Assessing the situation.” “Everyone stays quiet.” “Is he mad? Is he going to yell…” “…the egg shells…” “Hypervigilance means to be keenly watchful of danger. That is probably a victim’s main mode of survival.” “…hides in books…”
    This sounds like my childhood! I never understood if there were cycles…my mom was not really included in the abuse – just us kids. And our scary time was after school when it was time for my dad to come home from work. My little brother and I would go to our rooms – never knew if we were going to be in trouble for something – never really knew what, just something. Safer to hide. In my case, safer to read – hide in books. He was unpredictable and did not really seem to think highly of himself; but, still, it always had to be his way. Or there would be “hell to pay”! We were somehow extensions of him and he had to make us “fly right” – whatever that was of the moment. To this day, I can’t stand being yelled at, and I’ve been told, I perceive intense voices as yelling. I guess we were more abused than I ever realized – this just sounds too familiar – of my childhood memories.

    I’m not there now. I have a wonderful husband. He too came out an emotionally abusive home and we were determined not to do that to our children. We weren’t perfect, but my girls ran to meet their dad when he came home! Praise the Lord!!!

    1. You bring up the very important point of stopping the cycle. Not allowing the abuse to continue. Something we all should be very mindful of.

  5. Such a sad story that is more common than most people realize. I’m blessed to read the new husband is kind, patient and understanding.
    Unfortunately, I can relate to your story Deborah.
    As our divorce hearing has been postponed and re-scheduled for the 3rd time, the restraining order has been extended until the new hearing date. It’s already been over a year since the restraining order was issued. My kids and I were walking on eggshells for several years. Her rage and anger was so unpredictable. Anything could set it off. After years of increasing episodes of emotional meltdowns and unbearable yelling and screaming in fits of rage, she finally became violent. I got my 2 children into therapy immediately after that night they witnessed their mother violently attack their father because I tried to protect them from her abuse. After the first counseling session, the therapist informed me she was obligated to report my wife to CPS. That’s when I filed for divorce.
    Court ordered physiological evaluations revealed a diagnosis of depression, bipolar and personality disorders. But of course, she blames me and accuses me of somehow manipulating the psychologist into giver her a false diagnosis.
    With support from my pastor and church family, I made the transition to being a single parent. While my pastor does not condone divorce, he admits he cannot rebuke me for it either as he is fully aware of much of what my children and I have endured. We have exhausted all efforts to save our marriage. There can be no reconciliation without repentance and healing. There can be no repentance and healing when the abuser deny’s having any problem and blames all the abuse and anger on the victims. Even so far as to accuse the victims of being the abusers. That’s right, we are to blame for being abused.
    My youngest child admits to refusing to think about all the bad things mommy used to do and still enjoys the supervised visits, as time and the protection of a visitation monitor has faded the fear of mommy.. (we are now with our 4th visitation monitor as the other 3 all terminated the visits for various reasons, for the well being of the children, but the couts won’t end the visits)
    However, my oldest child (not yet a teenager) has now been diagnosed with PTSD. The poor child has panic attacks, can’t sleep without me in the room, fear of the dark and hypersensitivity to anyone raising their voice and load noises. Re-occurring nightmares of mommy killing daddy and then trying to kill the kids. Therapy is a slow process and will likely take years for recovery.
    My main struggle now is with the courts. Because the restraining order has now been moved to divorce court, I’m being forced to pay for half of the visitation fees as well as spousal support. No child support for me because I make barely enough to get by and she works for minimum wage. The soon to be ex wife has fee legal counsel and I’ve been forced to go hopelessly in debt to the point that not even bankruptcy will help me. My hope is forever in the Lord and that my attorney will finish my divorce case even though I have nothing left to pay.
    Keeping my kids safe and giving them a stable, rage and violence free environment is worth whatever it costs. Then maybe one day, I too can find that kind, patient and understanding step mom for my kids and a wife I can love, adore, desire, trust and move on with.

    1. I will be praying for your kids. The kids often suffer the worst, as hard as we try to protect them.

  6. I can so identify with this post. The feelings and reactions to my husband’s abuse were just as you describe. Even 4.5 years after the marriage was over, the feelings still surface occasionally. I’m posting a link on facebook.

  7. “When you live under a situation like that, you learn ways to cope. Most of them are maladaptive, but they help you to survive, so you do them anyway. Sometimes you do things you are ashamed of, because surviving is more important in that moment, than doing what you know is right.”

    Wow. That is so true. Very well said.

      1. A friend at church pointed me to this blog several months ago. It’s an incredible resource, and I’m so thankful for all the time and effort put into it for those of us who have lived with abuse for so many years. It’s also pretty amazing when you find out that friend at church is going through the same thing you are and you tell her, “I’ve got this great sermon series on Domestic Abuse. It’s long but you’ve got to listen to it.” to which she replies, “Is it by Pastor Jeff Crippen? Because I’ve already listened to it!” And by this time tears are in both your eyes as you realize that your lives were running parallel paths; but neither one ever knew it until that moment. After that she shared this blog with me, and I’ve been reading ever since.

      2. UPDATE Sept 2021: I have come to believe that Jeff Crippen does not practise what he preaches. He vilely persecuted an abuse victim and spiritually abused many other people in the Tillamook congregation. Go here to read the evidence. Jeff has not gone to the people that he spiritually and emotionally abused. He has not apologised to them, let alone asked for their forgiveness.


        Yay! What an encouragement for Jeff!

  8. i ran across your story tonight in my inbox.

    thank you for writing this out so carefully. i only wish either of my parents had cared enough to divide themselves from what was going on. unfortunately they were both so tied in, that there was no escape.

    i deal with ptsd, with learning how to speak, how to trust.

    i am glad you got out, that you have found a safe place to begin learning how to live in safety for you and your children.

    1. Shade Ardent, welcome to our blog. So glad you found us. I’ve had a look at your blog and I love the way you write. 🙂

      Readers who love poetry — you will enjoy Shade’s blog. And if you have been in IFB churches (bill gothard) you will relate a lot to Shade’s blog.

  9. As a very small child, I was regularly awakened by nightmares around two in the morning.

    Now, five decades later, the pattern remains, no matter what time I go to bed or how exhausted I am. (Sometimes I still have the nightmares.)

    The idea of experiencing a night without triggers is strange.

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