My husband, Luke, used to be a jerk. We’ve been friends for about 10 years, and that included the stupid teenage years, and the egotistical freshman and sophomore years. He said some really hurtful things, insulting my appearance to make his friends laugh, and making fun of my math ability to bolster his own ego (I don’t do math in my head very well). While his words always hurt me deeply, I didn’t feel too shocked. I was used to people being mean to me. My dad ‘teased’ me as ‘an expression of love’. He hurt my feelings all the time but that was just my fault for taking his ‘love’ the wrong way, he said.
My mother controlled me tightly and criticized me sharply.
Because of how I was raised, I had no sense of personal boundaries or my right to be treated with respect.
I could have easily married an emotionally abusive man, but I didn’t.
I think an abuser is someone who does abusive things repeatedly. An abuser doesn’t give you space to be hurt, instead they dictate your reactions to their abusive words or actions. They strip you of your boundaries and your personhood, caring more about their own desires than your needs.
As much of a jerk Luke used to be, as many hurtful things as he used to say when he was a dumb teenager, I would never consider him an abusive person, for one major reason: he was willing to change. I could tell him that he hurt me and instead of blaming the hurt on my own reaction, he would change his own actions. He would change for good, and he always gave me space to be hurt after saying something damaging. Sometimes things he did years ago still resurface in my memory, and while I don’t understand why something long past, and long forgiven, can still hurt, it does. And he understands that; no excuses given. He helps me heal by giving me space to be hurt.
I think that’s the difference between someone who does something hurtful, and someone who is abusive.