What I remember most about emotional abuse is that it’s like being put in a box. How you end up in there is the biggest trick – I never managed to work that one out. Maybe you think it’s a treasure box at first: you’re in there because you’re special. Soon the box starts to shrink. Every time you touch the edges there is an “argument”. So you try to make yourself fit. You curl up, become smaller, quieter, remove the excessive, offensive parts of your personality – you begin to notice lots of these. You eliminate people and interests, change your behaviour. But still the box gets smaller. You think it’s your fault. The terrible, unforgivable too-muchness of you is to blame. You don’t realise that the box is shrinking, or who is making it smaller. You don’t yet understand that you will never, ever be tiny enough to fit, or silent enough to avoid a row
Too-muchness. That is a perfect description. I used to be in that box and it didn’t feel entirely unfamiliar. My mom always tried to reel me in and make me quiet down in public and act like a “lady”, whatever that meant … so when a boyfriend did the same thing, I knew the problem really was with me. I was too much.
I sang too loud and talked too fast. I got too excited and couldn’t just calm down. My laugh was too harsh and I never new how to behave in public. I didn’t understand why I needed to be contained and why my enthusiasm should be left at home.
Then I met Chris. I apologized for talking too much, “I love to hear you talk.” I apologized for singing too loud, “but you sound so happy”. I apologized for laughing too harshly, “it’s my favorite sound.” When I was skipping through the meat department excited about dinner, I glanced back expecting a disapproving glare, and was met with a giggle and a kiss on the cheek.
Now I can’t understand how I ever believed that that box was because of a problem with ME.