The most unexpected people believe in fairy-tales. Often the firmest believers are otherwise intelligent and successful women who very often have been fortunate enough not to have had to deal with the shit that life dishes out.
People like me believe in fairy-tales.
People like me watch horrific events unfold in the news. People like me listen to podcasts of interviews with women about their life after the death of a partner. People like me read an editorial in the Sunday papers about a victim of domestic abuse who was murdered by her husband. People like me naïvely believe that these things won’t ever happen to us.
We like to believe that Prince Charming will whisk us away on his white horse. We believe that there is someone out there for all of us, who is our “other half”, and who will somehow complete us. We are incomplete without our Prince.
We want to be happy. We want to be fulfilled. We are human, that is only natural. We want to believe in the fairy-tale romance.
I read an interview with Sandra Horley this week. Sandra Horley is the CEO of Refuge, the largest single provider of emergency domestic abuse services in the UK. Each week, two women are killed by partners or former partners; another three will take their own lives because of domestic abuse. Refuge is massively important.
Sandra Horley has just republished her book Power and Control, which tells six different stories about domestic abuse. The abusers include a singer, a solicitor, an academic and a builder. The abusers are from all walks of life.
What resonated most for me was Sandra Horley’s comment that almost every domestic abuse victim that she met had said the same thing. With reference to their abusers they said “If he was sitting in this room now, you wouldn’t believe that he could do this”. These men were loving and charismatic, but most of all, they were charming.
These abusers had been the Prince who had swept their victim of their feet and whisked them away.
These Prince’s were the fairy-tale.
I have never been physically abused. No one has ever hit me, or burned me, or locked me in a room, or threatened me with violence. Some of the domestic violence stories are horrific, unimaginably horrific, and almost never-ending.
But domestic abuse isn’t just physical. Domestic abuse can be emotional abuse. Controlling and coercive behaviour is now defined under section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 as causing someone to fear that violence will be used against them, or generating serious distress that has an effect on their usual day-to-day activities.
This is certainly a grey area. Emotional abuse is very real, but how do you prove it?
The Relate website lists a variety of behaviours that could constitute emotional abuse:
- Intimidation and threats. This could include shouting, acting aggressively or just generally making you feel scared.
- Criticism. This could be things like name calling or making lots of unpleasant or sarcastic comments.
- Undermining. This might include things like dismissing your opinion. It can also involve making you doubt your own opinion by acting as if you’re being oversensitive if you do complain, disputing your version of events.
- Being made to feel guilty. This can range from emotional blackmail such as emotional blackmail to giving the silent treatment as a way of manipulation.
- Economic abuse, such as withholding money, not involving you in finances or even preventing you from getting a job.
- Telling you what you can and can’t do. This might include telling you when you can go out, or how to dress, or do your hair.
My relationship with my ex ticks all but one of these behaviours.
He never hit me, but he used to shout. He used to stand over me and bang his fist down on the table. He used to drive erratically, accelerating rapidly and then slamming on the brakes to make a point. His criticism was subtle, never public, but chronic and consistent.
I complied with his requests that I peroxide my hair regularly, keep my nails short and natural, not wear lipstick.
There were no-go topics of conversation. If conversation strayed into these areas he would cry and I would feel guilty.
The strange thing is, that over two years on, I still wonder whether I am partly responsible for our relationship. I didn’t really stand up to him in they way that I should have done. I didn’t have the energy to argue. I didn’t want to upset him so I went out of my way not to. I berate myself for my cowardly behaviour.
I hear about my ex’s new partner and I don’t know whether to worry that she will go through the same, or whether to put what I believe was emotional abuse down to the unique compliance and control dynamics of our relationship. I am the more naturally compliant one. He is the more naturally controlling.
I don’t know what the message is really, other than to beware of Prince Charming. His façade will drop.
I only need to consult my book of fairy tales by Angela Carter to be reminded that fairy-tales are dark, frightening places, full of wolves and monsters and people who want you to get lost in the wood.
PS. This is not a collaborative post. Any of you who read regularly know that I don’t really do sponsored or collaborative posts. This is something that I feel really strongly about and feel compelled to write.