This morning I was filled with such good feelings as I slipped on the antique wristwatch that was a going-away gift from Ms. Bubbly. (I'm taking a new job that doesn't suck my soul through my toes...it's part of my new self-care regimen.) So as I adjusted the soft, slim leather band to my wrist and slid the face around to find a comfortable resting place, I was surprised at the sudden U-turn into nausea. Like I had been punched in the gut. I reflexively slid the watch in front of the bony protrusion of my wrist, where it does not feel comfortable, to me. I realized that I was having a "should" moment, where I am obeying the voice inside my head irrespective of what makes me happy or comfortable. I've learned to pay attention when I feel this way, so I listened harder. And I heard it more clearly, "It's a wristwatch, Embee, not a goddamned arm watch." That sneering tone and presumption of superiority / authority can belong to only one person: HeeHaw.
Yes, he chose, among other things, to demean and talk down to me about how I wear a watch. But it wasn't limited to the watch because it wasn't about the watch. I got similar recriminations for how I held my fork, folded tee shirts, loaded the dishwasher, moved my hands when I spoke, walked, held a leash, swept the floor, folded towels, wore a belt, held the steering wheel, accelerated from a stoplight, boogied while driving, pronounced "home" (aside: the man literally cannot pronounce the word "oil" nor could he ever grasp the distinctions between the pronunciation of 'pen' and 'pin'), and on and on, ad infinitum. But it wasn't about those things, either.
The underlying message was, of course, "you cannot even wear a watch/walk/[insert menial task here] properly" and "because you cannot do the most basic things correctly, I have to tell you how to do everything, and with respect to any conflicting opinion and certainly any large decisions you must do it all my way because you are a moron who cannot even fold tee shirts properly." All the insults are designed to make you doubt yourself, and to rely on him as the authority, because that gives him control. You don't feel it happening because it starts with things that are so small, and meaningless.
Who cares that he wants the towels folded in thirds and rolled; it's not that big of a deal, right? (ASIDE: my towels are now indifferently folded and tossed into a beautiful basket that sits on the bathroom floor, saving me at least 15 minutes each cycle. Fifteen glorious extra minutes I spend playing with my daughter, who sometimes uses the towels to make a tent...and then we throw 'em back in the basket all rumpled. GASP!) As a Nice Gal, you are happy to accommodate your beloved's preference in meaningless matters. You adjust, and you do it as he requires. If you give the matter any further thought you might consider that he has given unnecessary energy to a truly trivial issue; but, being a Nice Gal, and being compassionate about people's quirks (yours are not allowed, of course) only further serves to compound the Nice Gal's desire to accommodate. "I don't care how the dishwasher is loaded; I'll do it his way since it's obviously important to him." But that's where we're speaking different languages. He's grooming you; you're acting out of love.
Most people still believe that abuse means hitting,* but recently, people are coming to accept that verbal and emotional abuse also exists. Even within the realm of verbal/emotional abuse is the widespread presumption that it's only abuse if he's screaming and yelling, hurling hugely vulgar insults and torturing your cat. In other words, verbal/emotional abuse is understood as a precursor to or threat of physical abuse. This may be/often is true, also, but it's more than that.
NSN's use repetitive, low-grade insults to slowly break down a Nice Gal without her seeing it happen, and this is abuse. "Were you afraid for your safety?" Does my psychic safety count? Is the pummeling of my uniqueness, the essence of me ok? If I must do everything to please another, from the way I use a toothbrush, to literally the way I wipe my ass then is there any more me? Or has she been killed? Or at least bound, gagged and thrown in a trunk.
The night I learned of his affair, I told HeeHaw (I only had the courage in the face of his repentance) that I felt like I was bleeding to death from a thousand small cuts that were his everyday, incessant criticisms. I stand by that description today. It wasn't the affair. The affair was the incident that allowed me to see him as something other than the final arbiter of good and bad. When I stopped deluding myself that Hee Haw was God, I could finally speak up about all the little things.
But even I didn't fully comprehend at the time what the little things were all about, didn't understand the perniciousness of it. I've even considered in the intervening years whether he was unaware of the fact that he was brainwashing me. Well, he's not, now. We discussed it ad nauseum for 8 months in therapy. But in retrospect I'm not sure if it matters whether his behavior is habit or tactic. When your beloved is in pain, you seek to soothe. When you truly love someone, you raise their needs to the level of your own; you appreciate their strengths and bolster them where they are weak. NSN behavior is the opposite of these things: quick to judge and blame, antagonistic to tears, exploitive of tenderness.
It's funny how certain incidents take on a different cast in review. When HeeHaw needed a driver for a military mission, he selected someone who did not already drive. His reasoning was that he wanted to teach the man; he wanted the man's instincts and impulses to be entirely as HeeHaw had wired them to be. At the time (and often in the retelling) I thought this story was just marvelous, and an example of the special thoroughness and competence of his leadership.
In a military setting that may still be true. But the same tactic ought not be brought to bear on your wife. She is an individual, entitled to her own method of keeping house, dress, and every other damned thing. No age nor experience--those two factors levereged constantly against the (invariably) younger Nice Gal's ideas and opinions--overrides another human being's right to autonomy.
Fuck you, HeeHaw.
*Does intentionally assaulting a cervix during intercourse count as physical abuse? Probably not, because it doesn't require sunglasses or concealer the following day, and also no one wants to say "cervix" or think about what I am describing. But I speak and correspond with many Recovering Nice Gals and cervix abuse is a frighteningly consistent technique with NSN's. I think they like to do this because it serves the dual purpose of hurting the Nice Gal and placing the blame for her pain on her own sexual "inadequacy" or inability to deal with his manhood. (snort - I know better, now!) Also beneficial to NSN is the fact that it's nearly impossible to prove, and the ickiness of the topic is likely to keep her mum. There is an insidious underlying reality to this phenomenon that I only stumbled across years after leaving my cervix-smashing NSN. Take note, Nice Gals: if you were aroused this wouldn't happen, because an aroused cervix retracts. Let me state that differently: If he was doing his job as your lover, then you would either (a) be aroused and therefore retracted and not hurt or (b) not having intercourse because you aren't aroused. What he is doing is rape. Full stop.