What he says: “Tell me your opinion about [insert topic here.]
We all want to share our thoughts and express our opinions – it feels good to have others know our minds, right? A verbal abuser will store this information up for use against you later. He is loading up his arsenal with weapons designed to hurt you the most.
What he really means: “Express your feeble opinion about something that I’ve “spent years thinking about” so I can tell you just how stupid and uninformed your view is. After half a sentence I will interrupt, maybe change the subject, maybe start yelling and then call you stupid or accuse you of being passive/aggressive when I don’t let you get a word in edgewise. If you are reduced to tears I will tell you that you should be able to defend and argue your point at any time. Failure to do so is the sign of an uneducated mind and I will tell you so. Repeatedly. For years.”
The verbal abuser has absolutely no interest in your opinion. Oh, it seems like he does in the beginning – that’s what all the questions are about, right? He wants to know how you feel, what you feel passionately about, how his views might mesh with yours for that perfect relationship we all hear about and envy. It’s all a smoke screen designed to put you at ease so that you reveal something that he can (and will!) use against you in the future.
It’s very hard to tell the difference between an honest desire to get to know you better and the verbal abuser storing up information. The first hint I received that “all was not well with my mind” was on the subject of knitting. Really. I told him that I love to knit. There’s nothing wrong with knitting (I thought at the time) and if I have the time, why not enjoy my fiber meditation? What harm is there in a simple hobby?
Well. The first thing that he said (after many hours of asking me why I knit, what I like to knit, what materials I prefer to use, etc. – I thought he had a real interest) was “knitting is mental masturbation and escapism.” Just like that. A definitive statement of fact. He dismissed my abilities (I was designing patterns and people were paying me to teach classes and it looked like maybe I had some talent) saying that knitting is nothing special, “After all, they teach old people and invalids to knit to keep them busy.” He complained that his mother knit constantly and nothing she made ever fit him.* He claimed that I could not hold a conversation while knitting (which is odd, since I was attending a weekly knitting group and we all seemed quite capable of talking and knitting at the same time) and that he felt like I was “shutting him out” with my knitting.
He also took exception to my favorite material – wool. I also spin and often start with a dirty fleece right off the sheep. I then wash, card and spin the fleece into yarn which I knit into various items.** He made endless comparisons to polar fleece and touted the superiority of cloth made from “dead dinosaurs” even though his environmental views are at odds with his professed love of the polar fleece. He complained that sheep’s wool is full of “germs and poop” that can never be washed out so it’s never going to be sanitary. It went on and on.
End result? I basically quit knitting and spinning. I no longer have my fiber meditation, my time to sit and let my hands do something while I clear my mind of the crap that accumulated throughout the day. My stash has always been a problem and I’ve let hundreds of dollars worth of wool and yarn go because I couldn’t bear to listen to one more lecture about the amount of stuff I carry around with me from place to place.
These subjects are a constant source of material for him to beat me with and so I have stopped doing anything that he doesn’t approve of. I read books (but not when he can see because my choice of reading material is not up to his standards) I read blogs (which are not up to his standards, either, although he has no idea what I’m actually reading because he does not ask, only resents that I’m “absent” from the room) I work outside when the weather allows (this is always approved – he is very House Proud and wants the outside of the house to reflect his superiority over the neighbors) and I cook, not as well as he can cook, and never the right foods, but I try any way.
I have had to push a big part of my Self down deep inside where he can’t criticize it because it hurts too much to have something that you love so much constantly picked at and marginalized.
* At her memorial celebration last year almost everyone who attended at the small community grange hall was wearing a pair of socks that she had knit for them, and they were (every damned one of them) pleased as punch to have received a gift from Ruth that was made with so much love.
** I have knit him three sweaters. None of them was “right” even though he was involved every step of the way from choosing the yarn to the basic shape and size. I knit in colors that he said he preferred, had him try it on at various stages, and to all appearances he was happy with the progress. He even wore them a few times. But then the complaints started – it’s shrinking (because he refuses to wash his woolens properly) it’s getting pills (there are tools to remove the pills) it’s the wrong color (although he chose the yarn) the fit just isn’t right. He has given all three sweaters back to me while moaning about my inability to construct a sweater that fits him like the store-bought one that he often wears. Who wants to put that much time and love into a project only to have it be rejected? I should have known better after the first sweater and refused to knit another, but I am obviously a sucker who wants to please her man too much.