“The literary equivalent of a summer night, a good friend and a gin-and-tonic: Shannon is a deft writer; a natural storyteller with a wicked turn of phrase and frighteningly specific memory...”

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What the Asshats Say to Make You Stay!

One of the Sure Signs of an Abusive Relationship

One of the tried-and-true tactics of a seasoned Asshat to keep you in the relationship with him or her is … drumroll please … the C-word. Not that C-word! Jeez, guys. No, the word I’m referring to is CRITICISM.

It would be unfair to say that prior to the Asshat coming along we had unmitigated self regard.

At least that wasn’t the case for me. When I started college I was just emerging from a fairly horrific awkward phase which included that Triumvirate of Terror: 1. zits 2. naturally frizzy hair aka pubic head 3. non-existent breast flesh.

Having said that, by the time my freshman year of college rolled around the zits were gone, the boobs filled a small B-cup and the pubic head ebbed and flowed with the ever-evolving curling iron/hair gel technology. There was a light at the end of that spit-curl tunnel.

But then I fell in love with the Greek God. I’ve mentioned him previously and have to reiterate that there was a lot of real love in our 5-year relationship, but it was always undercut by a current of Asshattery on his part, and masochism on mine.

When the three-month honeymoon period ended that C-word reared its ugly head. We were sitting on my dorm bed. I was wearing shorts when he reached over, pinched my thigh and a few little dimples appeared.

“Oh man, you’ve got cellulite,” he said.

“Cellulite?” I queried. At 18 I didn’t know what cellulite was. I’d spent puberty and beyond pretty much skin-and-bones, just wishing I could put on a few pounds to fill out my Jordache jeans, so cellulite was, as yet, unknown to me.

I learned a great deal about cellulite from the Greek God.

#1 It’s disgusting and verges on sinful.

#2 It’s caused by laziness and lack of discipline.

#3 It’s unattractive and makes men not want to have sex with you.

#4 You’ll never be good enough until that cellulite is gone.

This is what I looked like with my cellulite:

signs of an abusive relationship

This is a blurry action shot, but I think you might see the point I’m making.

Because of my “cellulite” I hid those legs as much as I could. I stopped wearing shorts and skirts and felt incredibly self-conscious when I had to wear a bathing suit.

In the photo below I was certain the sun was unveiling a raft of cellulite on my fanny. Oh, to have that fanny back again:

signs of an abusive relationship

The Greek God had other criticisms. My hair “looked like it’d just stepped out of the Gremlins movie.” My chin was too big, much like the moon on the “Mac Tonight” commercials and my lady bits were too wild and murky (I hadn’t learned about trimming the terrain in my nether regions yet. Where was my gay friend Jose when I needed him?).

While sometimes these things were said in jest, mostly they were said to keep me in my place. Which was submissive.

And it wasn’t just the criticism of my body that was one of the signs of an abusive relationship, it was the adjectives attributed to my personality that hurt the most. Some of these adjectives were: needy, clingy, neurotic, suffocating and insecure. (Mayhaps due to his infidelity?)

The thing is, I’d never worn any of these adjectives prior to this relationship.  After the Triumvirate of Terror I’d left high school having been senior class president, Homecoming Queen (pubic head notwithstanding) and was smart enough to earn 8 college credits on the Advanced Placement exams.

I thought I was The Shit. Until he made me feel like shit.

In making me feel smaller and smaller The Greek God ensured that I’d never leave, because I believed, considering all of my many flaws, that I was lucky to get him and should just put up with the times he treated me poorly.

It’s still hard for me not to cut The Greek God a break. I know all of the reasons he behaved like an Asshat and it’s possible, twenty-seven years later, that he’s grown up, just as I’ve had to do.

But I found, at the time, that it was important to really become steely-eyed about the Asshat if I ever expected to move on.

You can’t extend your natural empathy and understanding to the Asshat when you’re still enmeshed. You can only allow generosity-of-spirit and forgiveness to seep in once you’re finally and irrevocably through with the Asshat!

So here’s my rule of thumb when it comes to staying in or out of a relationship. It’s very simple.

QUESTION: Does the relationship build your self-esteem or tear it down?

Once you can answer that question honestly, you’ll be able to take the next step to Avoid Asshats and find Real Love. Remember to sign up for my Asshat Recovery newsletter below.

And if this applies to someone you care about be sure to share below. Carpe Diem!




12 comments

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  1. Andee Zomerman
    Andee Zomerman 29 October, 2014, 07:50

    Wow. I just want to go back and rip you from that relationship. Truth is – a lot of us had similar experiences. It’s so interesting to me how these experiences continue to define some part of us even 20+ years later.
    Thanks for sharing your story. I pray my daughters never have to go through this, themselves.

    Reply this comment
    • Shannon
      Shannon Author 29 October, 2014, 11:55

      Hey Andee — In a way I’m grateful I had the experience because it made me ready to fall in love with someone gentle, kind and committed. But man, it did wreak havoc on the way I perceived my body.

      Reply this comment
  2. Elizabeth Lee
    Elizabeth Lee 29 October, 2014, 08:02

    Oh, Honey…. the asshats never change. IME, they only get worse with age. I was married to mine for 25 years. By the time I kicked him out and filed for divorce I was pretty sure I was one of the lamest humans on the planet.

    Reply this comment
    • Shannon
      Shannon Author 29 October, 2014, 11:56

      Elizabeth — what I find so amazing about you is that you left after such a large time commitment. I think that will be inspiring to women who feel like they don’t want to move on because they’ve already committed so much time. It’s never too late!

      Reply this comment
  3. Joy
    Joy 29 October, 2014, 09:42

    Good advice, Shannon. And aren’t you glad you (we) are much wiser now? 🙂 Now we know that when people are cruel like that, it’s more about them than us, and that it’s likely their way of desperately elevating themselves as they tear down and diminish others. That’s clearly not love.

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    • Shannon
      Shannon Author 29 October, 2014, 11:57

      Joy –what’s tricky is when they can also be loving and kind, which this man could be. It’s never black and white. But you really have to weigh the pros and cons, prioritize them and make an informed (even dispassionate) decision from there. Which, of course, is extremely difficult.

      Reply this comment
  4. Rena McDaniel
    Rena McDaniel 29 October, 2014, 12:46

    It seems we have the same ex! Makes sense as we also have the same girl crush hahaha! May all the asshats rot in hell. I have had a great one for 23 years now the ex is old, fat AND bald! The trifecta of ugly. Karma ‘ s a b#*@h!

    Reply this comment
  5. Cory
    Cory 2 November, 2014, 00:48

    Hey Shannon, ive been reading some of your stuff, some that you wrote a while ago, and I wish there was a way to message you directly, but i don’t know what to do.
    Im in a rut, and I feel I am trapped.
    I met my soon to be wife a year ago, I was still in the service battling some medical conditions, I recently got out but it wasn’t a very easy road, My conditions got worse and I was hospitalized for a while, I gained weight and im crippled now. and I feel that its playing a huge role in the relationship.
    Im living with her and her mom and brothers, which doesn’t help anything either, ive got a small space and its very crowded, we are moving out of state and even got a place already. We have talked about it before but nothing ever changes.
    Intimacy was good at the beginning, but its slowly been decreasing, to the point now where she doesn’t even really want to kiss me. I cook and clean for her, give her compliments, share my values with her and listen to her problems without complaining to much, ive laid off her and stopped initiating cause she said she wouldn’t stop it so much if I didn’t preasure it so much, but the right time is never now and then. I’ve read alot of reviews and I wan’t to make this work, we get along in every other category, but she doesn’t make me feel attractive, or wanted, or appreciated. and I don’t know what to do. Its not as bad as some relationships, but considering the short time we’ve been together, im afraid this is spelling doom for us. She always says how its going to get better or how she is going to go get help or ask a doctor why. but she isn’t attracted to me anymore, she tells me she is, but shes always withdrawn. Please help, what do I do, I don’t want to live a sexually dissatisfying, passionless life.

    Reply this comment
    • Shannon
      Shannon Author 2 November, 2014, 08:43

      Cory you can always email me at shannoncolleary@aol.com The first thing I have to say is that I’m not a licensed therapist, therefore I can only comment as a person who suffered through difficult relationships and made a better choice with my husband after getting a lot of therapy and working a spiritual 12-step program for 7 years. My poor choices stemmed from the role models for marriage I had growing up.

      The first thing I’m hearing is that you were in the military. Is that correct? And I’m assuming you were deployed and were injured during your deployment? Not sure I’m interpreting that correctly so if I’m wrong this advice may not suit. But from what I’ve read young men returning from war frequently suffer from PTSD and if you’ve also become crippled by your injuries you are likely also suffering from depression. My advice to you, if this is the case, is to seek help from professionals. You’ve just sacrificed a massive amount for your country and I know veterans aren’t getting all of the help they need from the VA for the consequences of their sacrifice which I think is criminal. You deserve the most tender, loving, respectful care at this time. My suggestion is that prior to marrying into an uncertain situation I hope you will find access to a good therapist and work through some of the emotional toll a deployment causes. Investing in mental and emotional health is the best investment any of us can make and I know because when I started therapy I was only making $350 a month in expensive Los Angeles as a waitress. I didn’t think I could afford a therapist, but it was the best money I’ve ever spent.

      Regarding your relationship. Is it possible to put a pause on getting married while the sex component of your relationship is in question? Sex isn’t the most important part of a relationship until it stops happening and then it becomes the most important part in a relationship. Having been with my husband for almost 18 years our sexual attraction to each other comes and goes and we get into ruts. But we’re both dedicated to maintaining that element in our relationship so when we hit a rut we talk about it and try to figure out what to do.

      I’m sorry to hear you’re struggling in this arena. I think you have to have a frank talk with your fiance and ask her to be honest about her withdrawals. You can even ask her point blank if she’s just not attracted to you anymore. Information gathering is essential because we can’t take action until we know the facts.

      But even if she’s not willing to really be honest you have to remember that actions speak louder than words. You have to look at how she treats you and ask yourself if this is good enough for the rest of your life? (because we cannot ever change another person. It just doesn’t work.) Don’t fall into the trap of not leaving because this relationship is the Devil You Know. In my very last relationship with the fireman my self-esteem to a massive hit, but I was afraid to leave because I was in my early 30s and wanted children and had already invested 5 years of my life in him and worried I’d never meet a better man who would marry and have children with me before I became infertile. But things got so bad that I worked my spiritual program (Al-Anon)intensely and my reward was my husband and daughters. Don’t sell yourself short Cory. Get a good therapist and find out how to rebuild your self-esteem because you are worth it! And certainly feel free to email me. xo S

      Reply this comment
  6. NursePlummer
    NursePlummer 1 March, 2015, 10:00

    Hope your message helps other women become aware of their plight and they breakaway with some help and support.

    Reply this comment
    • Shannon
      Shannon Author 1 March, 2015, 11:24

      NursePlummer – so do I. Those were very painful times for me. And it’s surprising and wonderful to discover that life and love don’t have to be painful at all. xo

      Reply this comment

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