Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Abuser's Remorse

I went to see the movie Water for Elephants last night. It would be a very appropriate thing to ask, "Jen why on earth would YOU see that movie?"

I hate movies with sex, violence, or any  kind of abuse. This movie had all of it, and I knew in advance that the movie was all about abuse. I just felt like I HAD to see it, so I did.

I'm probably about to spoil the whole movie, so if you don't want to know what happens, stop reading here.

Malena was a lost child. She met August, he took her in, taught her how to be a circus star, and married her. All throughout the movie, she talks about how there is nothing else for her. Her whole world is the circus and August, but he is violent, mean, and nasty to her, the workers at the circus, and the animals.

There were two scenes that were meaningful (for lack of a better word).
The first was at the end. In a fit of rage, August was strangling his wife. I've been through that. I remember the look in his eyes while he was pulling my scarf tighter and tighter around my neck. I also remember the look in his eyes when he seemed to realize what he was doing and stopped. It was hard to watch, because it brought it all back.

The other was after August beat the elephant nearly to death. The circus vet, Jacob, goes to August's tent. August is visibly upset. Near tears. When Jacob walked in, he seemed remorseful and apologetic, but as I listened closer, there was no remorse.
"She'll never forgive me for this. If she leaves, I'll lose my star attraction. I'll lose everything! Tell her I'm sorry. Tell her the elephant is okay. Fix this for me."
It wasn't remorse - it was fear. I'm only sorry, because I don't want MY life to change. I'll do anything... but actually stop being a mean, violent, controlling man... I just don't want to have to face the consequences of my actions. I'm so sorry I got caught.

People often talk about the cycle of abuse:
(Abuse - Apology/Honeymoon - Build Up - Abuse)

I remember asking Bishops and therapists when I would know if the apology was "real" vs. just part of the abuse cycle. I also remember when the apology finally felt real. The real apology was not about telling anyone else he was sorry. It wasn't about his fear. It wasn't about how I "made" him do that to me. 

The "real" apology was, "I'm so sorry I've hurt you. I hope for your sake, you can forgive me and move past this, but I don't expect anything from you. I understand that you may never be able to trust me again. I want you to be happy, and if that means we can't be together because of what I've done, so be it. What can I do to help you heal?"

That apology has meant all the difference to me. As I watch others go through very painful separations and divorces, I wonder how I lucked out. He knows I keep this blog. He knows I sometimes talk about him. He knows that many people may hate him for what he did to me, and he's never asked me not to write. I don't know if that is healthy for him or not, but I am very grateful.

I can't know for sure what another person is feeling, or what their motivation is. I CAN know what I feel when they apologize. For years, after an incident, he'd apologize and I'd feel shutdown rather than loved. I felt hurt rather than healed. That was a sign TO ME that something wasn't right. 

Its been a rather intense day for me as I've faced emotions, memories, old beliefs, and current thoughts. 
Now its time for some Pawn Stars and razzleberry pie (with ice cream of course)!


  1. I don't know if I'll be able to watch that movie; I know husband would be bothered by it.

    I grew up in a home with a lot of volatile emotional people, and not a little violence and outbursts. One time I dropped a gallon of milk on the stairs, and the whole thing just exploded, and my mom just screamed at me, something like, "how could you do something so stupid?" But after we got it cleaned up and she calmed down, she apologized, sincerely. That moment has stuck in my head my entire life. In that moment my mother taught me the power of a real apology. I learned that if I could overcome my need to be in the right, and just admit where, even if technically I was right, I'd behaved badly, and honestly express my emotions without placing blame, that I could actually repair something that was broken before. I had the power to control the situation when it got out of control. In my relationship with my husband, I've never felt so powerful (more than in any other relationship) as when I stopped an argument to apologize and calmly say what I was feeling.

  2. Wow... I'm so glad I read this post, Jen. That movie floated into my vision line a few nights ago when we were contemplating movies. I had a curiosity about it but something inside me said, "Absolutely NOT!" I now know why. Thank you.

    Thank you for being part of my life, Miss Jen. You inspire me.

  3. I totally thought I already replied to you Macha, but its not here... Lame.

    There is a lot of power in love. Very little power in fear. An apology or a statement made from the place of love feels really good. An apology from fear feels icky.

    And to both of you, I would NOT recommend this movie. I felt like I needed to see it to face some of my own demons, but as entertainment? No way! Also, when I saw it, there were three of us in the theater... If there had been more people there with all of their emotions, it would have been even worse.

    And thank you Miss Angie! You inspire me! So glad I know you.

  4. I've read a few of your blog-posts now, and a question pops up for me every time: Did anything ever happen (church-membership or civilly) because that first husband abused you? It seems that you never talk about consequences on that side of the story. I would appreciate knowing, if you are willing to tell.

    1. Nothing ever happened to my first husband... At the time (and this feels so weird to say), I really thought our relationship was normal. Or that the reason I wasn't happy was because of ME. So, it never crossed my mind to do anything.
      It didn't really matter, because I didn't really thing about this, but looking back: this all happened in 1999. In Utah, marital rape wasn't even a crime until 1998. It's extremely difficult to prove, and almost impossible to prosecute.
      As for church discipline, he met with the bishop after he told me he had had an affair. As far as I know, he only met that once, and nothing was done. The bishop did call me in, and told me I was doing too much outside the home. I met with the bishop a few more times, so he could be certain I had repented and was placing the proper priority on my marriage.
      Again, I didn't really tell him about how miserable I was, or the things that Larry was doing, because I thought it was normal. I don't know what the bishop would have done if he REALLY understood. Maybe something. Maybe nothing.

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