Abuse makes you walk on a tightrope between everything and nothing for years. Between “being everything” to my abuser and “being nothing” to him. Taking care of everything so he doesn’t have to think and dropping the ball so that I do nothing incorrectly (in his view). One misstep sends me flying into dangerous territory. As you can imagine, this is an extremely stressful place to live.
Perhaps you are thinking that there is a wide figurative space between “everything” and “nothing.” The space between the two is more like a “playing field” than a tightrope. You are right. In reality, the “playing field” is where healthy people live, all the time.
Healthy people use this entire playing field as it suits them. From this space, they control their lives while knowing that sometimes life will flick them toward one extreme. It becomes their job to moderate themselves back the other way to a comfort point on the field. In other words, although they cannot control every event, they can control their reactions to it.
In addition, when healthy people get flicked to extremes, they believe that soon they’ll recover some sort of control over their lives. Although under duress, the healthy person can have faith, deep inside, that all will right itself.
And healthy people are cool with this.
Unfortunately, I am not one of these healthy people. Instead of seeing myself on a playing field where there are degrees of comfort and a wide forgiving space to play, I see myself on a tightrope between two atrocious extremes.
There is no room for error. There is no wiggle room. I must keep myself on point all the time. I must balance on the tightrope and I haven’t bothered to grab one of those long balancing poles for support.
He Abuses Me Because I Am Not Him
Why? I believe that living with abuse has slowly caused me to limit my playing field. Will’s abusive anger explodes with unforeseeable cause and alarm. A healthy person in love with another healthy person has leeway to “be” and to “become” with the understanding that they can make mistakes, and then they can rectify them.
However, in my abusive relationship, I am not given the freedom to “be” or to “become” myself. He expects me to BE him and aspire to BECOME more like him. My mistakes are not ones that he will forgive because my true mistake is NOT BEING HIM. His anger erupts at the slightest hint of my divergence from who he is and what he wants.
Couple this with the fact that Will wants to be BOTH extremes all the time, and you’ll see the danger of my situation. Will wants to have his cake and eat it too, and then becomes angry when he’s eaten his own cake because he should “have” it all the time. 9 times out of 10, after he’s eaten his cake, he gets angry at me for letting him eat it.
I’ve been trained to walk the tightrope Will wishes he could walk. He cannot walk it himself, but he expects me to walk without falling. When I do fall, he is there to harass me with explosive anger and condescension. He sees my failings (or personal achievements) as provocative and mean-spirited attacks on his way of thinking, doing and being (see Why Do Abusers Abuse Others? What Makes Someone Abusive?)
Walking on the Tightrope Vs. Being on a Pedestal
He often says that he’s put me on a pedestal, expecting more from me than anyone else. In reality, he’s put me on a tightrope, expecting me to be exactly what he thinks he “should” be so that he doesn’t have to walk the tightrope.
I’m his proxy. What I do and say reflects more of him to the world than what he does and says. He’s charged me with being the perfect version of HIM he wishes to show to the world because he knows he cannot live up to his expectations himself.
He gives himself the freedom to run about on the playing field. He seems to expect me to be like a healthy person who allows for mistakes, forgives unconditionally, and kisses his damn boo-boos. But how can I be that person when my one goal in life (assigned to me by Will) is to be the perfect version of him high above the playing field on a friggin’ tightrope?!
He can’t have it both ways, but I’ve sure given 17 years effort to giving it all to him.
With great effort, I’m slowly inching down off the tightrope. I want my playing field back; I’m not willing to let him play on it any longer. He can go get his own life.