A few weeks ago, I met my friend Sarah for coffee. Sarah used to be my partners’ coach (i.e. my coach who was trained to work with partners of sex addicts). She’s no longer my coach and our relationship has evolved into one of sisterhood and mentorship.
So, as I am preparing to launch my coaching business again, this time with 100% focus on also working with partners of sex addicts, I naturally wanted to pick her brain about all the things.
One of the questions I asked her was, “What should I read?” She gave me a short list of her favorites and, among them, was “Why Does He Do That?” by Lundy Bancroft, which I have been listening to bit by bit in my car ever since.
But during that conversation, we were also talking about how abuse and sex addiction relate to one another. Sarah explained that virtually all sex addicts are emotionally abusive but not all of them remain abusive once they are in recovery.
Sarah said that for some, once they are in recovery, and I’m talking like REAL recovery that only comes after years of working an active program and lots of therapy, they stop being abusive.
I commented that I didn’t think that my ex was particularly abusive, but Sarah stopped mid-sentence and just stared at me in such a way that her point was impossible to miss.
Obviously, Sarah disagreed with my statement. And this made me start to wonder what I had forgotten about that relationship.
I mean, I know that I have forgotten things for sure. I know that my brain has been doing its job of wiping away painful memories. The exact dates of my discoveries and disclosure have become fuzzy. I probably couldn’t tell you all the different forms that my ex’s sex addiction took if you paid me.
I’m pretty much okay with that. Like I said, my brain is doing what it is supposed to do. But to think that Sarah and I had differing opinions on whether or not he was emotionally abusive bothered me quite a bit.
So, as I listened to the Lundy Bancroft book, I paid careful attention and was always screening for ways I might have been abused. This was especially true as he described all the different types of abusive men.
Of those he listed, there were three that I felt applied to my ex-husband: the Water Torturer, the Victim and Mr. Sensitive. You can probably intuit the types of abuse inflicted by these types of abusers without any help from me but, at a very high level, the Water Torturer slowly and subtly chips away at your self-confidence and your autonomy, the Victim makes you feel sorry for getting mad at him for abusing you and nothing is ever his fault, and Mr. Sensitive can sound as self-aware as a therapist and everybody thinks, “He’s such a good guy.”
Do any of these sound familiar? I’d be willing to bet my new favorite pair of comfy pants that they do. These kinds of abuse are so subtle that you don’t even recognize then when they are happening but afterwards you feel confused, anxious and like you are coming out of your skin.
When Sarah and I met for coffee again just recently, I asked her how she thought I had been abused. She immediately reminded me that gaslighting was a form of emotional abuse and I was like, “DOH! Yes, of course I was abused.”
My ex gaslighted the f bomb out of me every day for all the years we were married. It takes a lot of lies, manipulation and mental fuckery to maintain a double life like that. I had just totally forgotten that gaslighting was a form of abuse. Forgotten.
I want to make sure that I secure that knowledge in my hippocampus forever because I know that I will be working with other women who are/were abused by their husbands or boyfriends. I also want to be sure that I remember my own experience was abusive. It’s still so easy to want to minimize what happened to me but that’s an injustice to my story.
But I also wanted to tell you about it. I wanted to tell you that as a partner or ex-partner of a sex addict that you have almost certainly also been emotionally abused.
I’m not telling you that to disempower you or to turn you into a victim but just the opposite because you can’t stand up to something that you can’t see. And that’s why we need coaches – because we can’t see it for ourselves or our brain makes us forget.
Gaslighting is emotional abuse. In case you aren’t familiar with the term, gaslighting is when one person tries to alter another person’s view of reality. It’s subtle and it’s tricky but if you walk away from a conversation with him and you feel like you’re going crazy and it’s all bit fuzzy and hard to remember, there was probably some gaslighting going on.
You’re not crazy. He’s not nice. I kind of hate to be such a downer in the LoveLetter this week but this felt like something that needed to be said.
If you have any questions or want more info on gaslighting, shoot me a note and let’s talk. Until then, take good care of yourself and keep holding those boundaries.
I’ll be thinking about you.