What Might an Abuser Withhold from a Victim?
Withholding affection is one type of deprivation, and that occurs when your mate purposefully withholds physical contact (including sex). Divorces of the past were granted for “alienation of affection” and withholding physical comforts underlies the complaint. However, there are other ways abusive people deprive their victims.
Abusers may deprive you of the information that you need. For example, they may deprive you of financial information such as impending bankruptcy or bills that need to be paid; hiding money from you or denying you the money you need for groceries (or any other need) falls into this category, too.
Another type of deprivation involves your time. Abusers tend to think their time is of the utmost importance, but your time is of no value. Abusers tend to think that you should be available to them at all times. Sometimes, they’ll tell you to plan an event “for sure” when they know the event is tentative. You end up setting aside entire days or afternoons only to find out, at the last minute, the plans changed. Sometimes, your abuser won’t even tell you the plans changed and you’ll be dressed up for a business dinner when he comes home yelling, “Why isn’t dinner on the table? Why are the kids at a babysitter?”
Speaking of time, abusers will often deprive you of a good night’s sleep. Perhaps they return home at 1 AM and want to “talk” but if you deny a conversation for any reason, they turn on the nasty juice and demand your attention. Sleep deprivation also happens when you work different shifts. Instead of letting you sleep and tending to the children during that time, the abuser may demand that you stay awake to do it.
Another type of deprivation is withholding compliments that you deserve and/or replacing them with compliments that trivialize your contributions. Your abuser may compliment you over things that are easy to do (such as taking out the trash) while ignoring your greater accomplishments (such as getting a raise). Appreciation for taking out the trash is one thing, but praising your skill at doing it is trivial. The abuser takes note of what you consider to be important and then makes sure to never compliment you on successes in that area or to undermine your accomplishments by making them seem less important to him than what other people, he or his friends do.
How My Husband Uses Deprivation
Will won’t talk to me about anything of importance for hours and sometimes days. He’ll make requests (“Pass the butter”) or ask questions (“Where are my shoes?”), but that is all.
He pushes me away when I make a sexual advance and then complains that I don’t act like I want him. He’ll come home drunk if he suspects I want to “talk”. He goes to his friend’s house instead of spending time with his family. He will work on projects that could wait for a couple of hours (or months!) when I want to do something together. I’m not talking about sometimes.
Will withholds true compliments. He tells me how great the house looks, but to me, that doesn’t matter. I want him to compliment my awesome new artwork that he can’t help but see when he walks in the door. That is important to me, but he ignores it, even when I fish for compliments.
My husband also deprives me of sleep. He’ll stay up late drinking, then come into our bedroom and slam dresser drawers or the closet door pretending to look for something. Those loud noises wake me with a start and because I know he doesn’t really need anything but is looking for a fight, my heart pounds and makes it difficult to go back to sleep. I lie there wondering, “Is it over? Is he coming back?”
By withholding and depriving, Will can say, “Nyah Nyah! I’ve got something you want and you can’t have it! I’m in control! I can keep things exactly how they are, and you can’t do anything about it!”
How to React to Withholding
The main idea to remember if you’re forced to react to withholding or deprivation is that you have your own life, independent of your abuser. If you do not have “your own life” due to isolation or choice, then it is time to create one. Abuse causes the victim to focus mainly on the abuser, and when we do that, we lose sight of our talents and activities that bring us enjoyment. Bring those things back into your life. Give yourself something to focus on besides your abuser!
It is also important that you learn to validate and appreciate your own accomplishments. If you’ve done something well or have reason to be proud of yourself, do not rely on your abuser for approval or encouragement. Approve of and encourage yourself first, then share your joy with someone who cares.
Your Time And Sleep
If your partner abuses your time, there are a couple of ways you can handle it. One, if you experience a situation like being dressed for dinner only to find the event canceled, go out to dinner anyway. Go alone if you must, but go. If you’ve taken time off of work to accompany your abuser on a trip that he cancels at the last minute, make sure you go visit your family on an overnight or leave the house during the daytime to pursue enjoyable activities alone. Don’t sit at the house pining, make use of your time in a way that makes you feel good.
Also, it is a good idea to schedule things that you want to do in advance and keep them to yourself. For example, there may be a great exhibit opening at the museum next month and you want to be there. For an event like this, you may want to keep it private until a day or two before it occurs. If your abuser knows there’s something coming up, they may create an “important” event that trumps yours, forcing you to abandon your plans. If your abuser tries to take that time away from you by planning something else, tell them you already have plans and can’t help them that day. Break away from allowing your abuser to schedule what you do and when you do it. Make your own plans. Insist on honoring your time.
As you can imagine, reacting to sleep deprivation safely and healthfully could involve finding somewhere else to sleep! This isn’t practical, especially if you are married to or living with your abuser. But, if your abuser contacts you via phone during your sleep time, you could always turn off the phone or send calls to voicemail automatically. Or, if you live alone and your significant other comes banging on the door, you can ignore it. Do not answer the door. It will make them angry and God knows what they’ll accuse you of doing, but it is an option.
Financial withholding can devastate you emotionally as well as money-wise. Separate your finances from your abuser’s in every way possible. Remove yourself as a joint user on credit cards and open your own checking and savings accounts. Your best bet is to research how to separate yourself from the abuser’s accounts starting on the National Domestic Violence Hotline’s Financial Tips for Victims and Survivors.
If your abuser controls your money, he has no legal right to do so. Change your direct deposit account to one in your name only, and remove him as a joint user on any credit accounts. If he threatens to use your mental illness against you (have you committed), look into what it takes to have someone committed! When you know the rules, it is easy to work within them to ensure he would not be able to commit you. FYI, it is very difficult to have someone committed against their will. Secure legal aid if necessary, or at least know who to call if you need help.
If your abuser controls his money (he is the sole provider), then you may have to deal with his controlling behaviors as he doles out cash when he feels like it. However, don’t let his control over the finances fool you into believing there is no way to leave the relationship. Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233 and ask them about any financial assistance available in your area (financial help is very hard to come by). You might have to get creative and siphon some cash off what you’re given. I know the volunteers at thehotline.org have better ideas for you.
Other Financial Abuse
By the way, my abuser “allowed” me full access to our banking accounts. I paid the bills, ensured the money went into his TSP account (like an IRA), and was able to transfer $9600 from our savings account to my own checking account on the night I left. My final financial transaction completely surprised him. He could do nothing about it. You see, he thought he controlled my financial life. One of the illusions abusers live with is the idea that we victims CANNOT do anything without their permission. He thought that he had enough control over my bank login information and probably my thinking to prohibit any individual choice.
Why did he think that? Well, he used my financial savvy against me. I handled the money really well, but he continually berated me for my performance. At one time, I thought he was right – that I was a spendthrift and wasted his income. And yet, he would never assume responsibility for our money. I think he felt a need to use our financial picture as a weapon against me.
One day, he kept me on the porch for eight hours, “discussing” the proper way to handle money. Countless other times our “conversations” went on for two hours or more. He used abusive anger and denial and a host of other tactics in his attempt to control the money, but in the end, he failed. Overconfidence on his part, I suppose; an unwillingness to agree that it was “his” money alone on mine (Can You be Financially Abused If You Have Access to the Money?).
Deprivation of Sex and Affection
Unless you’re willing to go outside of your relationship for physical comfort, you’re going to have to take sexual release into your own hands, literally. Find a great sex store and rev up your internal fantasies. If you do choose to take a lover, please consider the damage that could be done when they fall in love with you, but you are unwilling to leave your marriage. Cheating is not fair to a potential lover, and the risk of sexually transmitted diseases with multiple lovers is not worth the risk. Besides, abusers are typically jealous, so if yours discovers your deception, you could be in a world of hurt.
Friends can be a source of comfort, too. Women hug. They will hold your hand across the table when you need comfort. This type of physical connection is not the same as a sexual one, but it does help to fill the void. It gets a bit trickier with male friends. Men don’t typically hug their male friends, and it’s dicey territory when a male friend offers physical support to a female friend. But, to each their own.
Also, hug your kids! Ruffle their hair, hold their hands, or sit close on the couch while they watch cartoons. Again, this is nothing like experiencing the intimate physical connection your spouse denies you, but any type of healthy touching is better than no touching at all.
When it comes to your partner specifically, you can speak up to them about how you feel and what you want sexually. However, don’t expect a positive response. She could say that it isn’t her, it’s you. He could say that he can’t stand to touch you anymore because [fill in hurtful reason here]. Most likely, they will say whatever it takes to make you feel worse for the horrible thing they are doing.
If your abuser deprives you of intimate conversation, your best responses are pretty much the same as if he denies you sex. The difference is that finding someone else to talk to is a practical and healthy alternative all the way around. Even in healthy relationships, people need other people besides their spouses to talk to. Open up. Talk to someone else, even if it is a hotline volunteer or a support group member. Do not rely on your abuser to fill the void of loneliness.
*Remember that these statements are to help you feel better and detach from your abuser’s antics. They do not guarantee that your abuser will stop abusing you, nor do they protect you from further abuse. You should fill out a safety plan so you know what you will do if things get out of hand.
Based on the book The Verbally Abusive Relationship: How to Recognize It and How to Respond by Patricia Evans, ISBN 1558503048, Adams Media, February 2003, and my experiences with verbal abuse.
Featured image by Devan Freeman from Unsplash