How Abusive Relationships Start
By Lisa Macafee
Besides the alarming statistics below showing that 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men experience this, 57% report it difficult to identify dating violence. Autistics are particularly vulnerable to abusive relationships because we don't pick out the early warning signs.
I started writing this piece in December of 2020 and thought that if I could just get it out of my brain and onto paper, then I could stop thinking about it.
No such luck. Let’s talk perseveration. This is the tendency of autistic folk to think about something non-stop and be unable to change our focus. I try. I keep myself busy so my waking thoughts HAVE to be on something else. I started a doctorate program so I’d always have something to work on. I have two kids to focus on.
But it’s the dark moments before sleep or in the shower when I can’t focus on something that get me. I haven’t been able to so to sleep well for many nights because as soon as my brain is not focused on something specifically, it defaults back to the issue.
Sometimes perseveration is fun, like on electric cars or sustainable agriculture. Sometimes it's not, like on politics or people.
In November 2020, I posted in social media about the warning signs of abusive relationships and removed my post because someone didn't like my pointing out abusive behavior they were engaging in and verbally came after me. I am perseverating on abuse and re-living the abusive relationship I was in because of that individual's actions. This is called being triggered, although I dislike that phrase.
I cannot sleep well. I can’t engage with my kids purely. All I can think about sometimes is how scary people can be and how unwittingly one can stumble into a relationship that destroys them inside.
This is PTSD compounded by autistic perseveration, which is being triggered for me because I can see it happening and I have logical solutions that are unwelcome. I keep spinning my wheels by problem solving all sorts of solutions that the person doesn't want. I go through diagnostic steps - paranoia, stalking of ex, delusions of persecution, isolating behavior. Not good, friends. Not good. No one wants to hear it, but I can't stop my brain.
Let me share how it started for me. I can’t speak for anyone else.
I’ll call him “C”. We were each other’s first love. We were young. Neither of us had healthy role models to draw from of what loving relationships looked like and neither of us had been taught about healthy relationships. All they teach in sex education in school is how babies are made, not how to be emotionally and physically healthy in sexual relationships.
Abuse starts small. It starts with things not worth making a big deal over. A little discomfort, and when addressed, C would say; “please, don’t you love me?” and continue. He wanted me to spend all my time with him because he loved me so terribly much and “couldn’t bear to be apart from me”. He didn’t like being with my friends, because they didn’t like how affectionate (physically controlling) he was. He effectively talked me into cutting out my friends and family from my life without ever stating it that way.
Below are the early warning signs of abusive relationships:
Let’s be clear, abusers are never up front about this stuff. They’re not going to say “hey, I’d like to isolate you from your friends and family, cool?” They’re not even doing it intentionally. That’s the kicker. There’s no ‘How to be abusive 101’ class these people are all taking.
It’s human nature that you love someone and you want them all to yourself. The abusive part is not caring that it’s not healthy for your partner. Not caring that they benefit from their family and friends. That’s why these folks can walk the abusive path. They hurt you and know it, but don’t care because they’re selfish. Then the trick is to get you to stay.
C lavished me with affection and let me into his innermost world. We were in love. He adored me, and I him.
Below are common forms of abuse and examples for each:
The physical discomfort turned to pain. During this time, he would make public demonstrations of love and affection and when we were alone would be mostly sweet and just occasionally would say something that was demeaning, belittling, or a personal attack and then would say, “but I love you so much anyway!”
As he increased the ways he hurt me physically, he increased the ways he debased me mentally. He insulted me and made fun of the things most core to my being. Then he would hurt me. Then he would say how much he loved me and wanted to be with me forever and cuddle with me for the rest of the night.
It’s a mind-fuck, y’all. That’s why people don’t just leave. It’s confusing as hell.
I'm hoping that publishing this lets me sleep better and shower without being preoccupied by abuse. Maybe it will, and maybe it won't. The world is big and scary and there's not a lot I can do about it but write.
Below are the stages of the cycle of abuse:
If you or someone you know experiences these issues, I encourage you to get professional help. Talk to a therapist to get an objective perspective on your life. You can always chat or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800.799.SAFE (7233).
The Facts About Domestic Violence, Doorways
The Help Guide on How to Get Out of an Abusive Relationship
Leaving an abusive relationship, US Dept. of Health & Human Services
How To Help A Friend Who May Be In An Abusive Relationship, One Love
CA.gov Crisis counseling and support
‘Am I in an abusive relationship?’ quiz
Domestic Violence Organizations in California
Domestic Violence Support Groups
California Court information on domestic violence and restraining orders
5 Facts Everyone Must Know About Domestic Violence, Psychology Today
Below are things you can say to someone who says they were abused:
Hello friends! I would like to publish writings from myself and other people with autism as snapshots of how autism has affected them, since there are so many misconceptions and confusions about adults with autism.
Some background: I completed a 12 unit certificate program to be able to serve autistic students and am angry at how the program focused only on little boys as autistic and completely left out adults, the trans autistic population, and girls/ femmes/ women autistics. I am currently pursuing a PsyD to do more research on autism and gender.
Please contact me if you would like to add a story! If so, please send me your piece, publish name, title, and an image (can be a picture related to your content, your picture, an autism meme, etc).
I am interested in publishing this collection, because people don't know enough about us (but sure do assume a lot). Also on Facebook!
Lisa Macafee, autistic counselor with a hankering for social justice.