Dr Jekyll and Mr (or Ms) Hyde. You hear that a lot when victims talk about abusive partners. Me included. That they have ‘two sides’. The wonderful Dr Jekyll to the darker Mr Hyde, if you like. My ex did.
When we first met he love-bombed me with full-on attention. Declared his undying love for me. He promised marriage, babies and a long, happy life together. All within the first few weeks. It must have been what my insecurities wanted to hear. It sucked me in.
I thought I’d found what I’d been looking for. Someone to love me, care for me and grow old with me. I trusted him. I let go and allowed myself to be vulnerable with him. Then I met Mr Hyde.
It was a brief glimpse at first and it shocked me. But it was brief enough for me to think: did I imagine him? And brief enough for me to minimise the unacceptable behaviour I’d just witnessed. Especially when Dr Jekyll offered profuse apologies for him. And bought me flowers.
It’s a sort of emotional bait and switch. The romantic, wonderful person hooks and reels you in. Then bam, there’s a sudden switch to this moody, darker side. But no sooner do you get a glimpse of that, it switches back and it’s all wine and roses once more.
I didn’t fall in love with a violent man. I fell in love with a man who later became violent towards me. There’s a difference. It’s an important distinction to understand.
From then on it becomes a cycle of seeing one, then the other. To and fro. But you never know which one you’ll get on any given hour or day. It throws you off balance. You walk on eggshells, never knowing what will lead to Mr Hyde coming out. All you know is you never want to see that side again.
So, you try everything you can not to provoke an appearance. But no matter what you do Hyde will return. And you’ll be blamed for any abuse he (or she) dishes out.
Your self-confidence is stripped away. Especially as you start to see more and more of your partner’s darker side. The gorgeous person you fell in love with becomes harder and harder to find. You know they’re there. But in your mind they’re just hidden deep within this imposter Hyde.
Here’s the thing. This is why we stay with abusive partners. We are desperate to get the wonderful Dr Jekyll back. The side we saw when we first met. We spend all our energy in a futile search for it. The ‘nice side’. The person we fell in love with. We do everything we can to appease Hyde to let Dr Jekyll give us some special time. It becomes like an addiction, a craving for that initial high again.
The truth is: there aren’t two sides to abusive men (or women). They are one and the same person. Understanding this was key to my recovery.
I was convinced my ex had ‘two sides’. The man I fell in love with and the damaged man that revealed himself later. The latter was the moody and abusive side. The one he himself needed rescuing from. The man I fell in love with wasn’t to blame for the abuse I suffered, that darker side wasn’t the ‘real him’. I thought: if I just loved him more. If only I could prove to him I was worthy of him, then that would be all he needed to nourish the good side and banish his bad side forever.
But if I’d seen him as I see him now, things might have been different. The darker, damaged soul wasn’t a ‘side’ to him. It was him. The loving, romantic side was more a mask he’d learnt to wear to hide that fact.
Abusive people are masters of disguise. They know exactly what to say to reel you back in, especially after they’ve hurt you. How to convince you they have two sides. And can even express their own shock or anger over Mr Hyde’s abhorrent behaviour. ‘That’s not me’ they might say. Or they might blame a troubled past. Cry in horror: ‘I don’t want to become like my (parent) and repeat what they did to me as a child’. Anything but take responsibility for Hyde’s actions.
I’ll say it again. There aren’t two sides to them. They are one and the same. They are responsible for both.
I always say: ‘Watch not what they say but what they do’. The good ‘side’ is brilliant at saying everything you want to hear. At pouring out love. Particularly after an abusive episode.
But forget about this ‘side’ or that ‘side’ of them. Watch what they do. As I’ve said in an earlier post, love is a verb not a noun. The real person shows you who they are, no matter what they say. That is what matters the most.
- Do they treat me with respect?
- Do they speak in that way to others about me?
- Do they love me by caring about me and my wellbeing?
- Are they proud of me, even in moments when I have success and they don’t?
- Are they nice to me?
- Polite to me?
- Good to me?
When I realised the answers to these questions were all no for me, I knew I couldn’t stay. I could have spent my life justifying the ‘bad side’ of him. Forever hoping for that ‘good side’ to return and stay for good.
I finally understood they were one and the same. Both sides were him all along. If I loved him unconditionally that meant I had no right to change him. I had to accept him as he was, both good and bad.
I finally saw him for who he was. He was Mr Hyde, at times wearing a Dr Jekyll mask. He was responsible for his abusive behaviour. Just as I was for my own actions. We all are. But if he chose to avoid that responsibility, then our relationship was no longer a good enough for me. I drew on every ounce of strength I had and found the courage to leave.
Are you finding it hard to reconcile the two sides of your partner? Let me know in the comments below.
If you need further help or counselling, please refer to the following (or the equivalent in your country):
National Domestic Violence Helpline: 0808 2000 247 http://www.nationaldomesticviolencehelpline.org.uk
Paladin National Stalking Advocacy Service 020 3866 4107 http://paladinservice.co.uk
The National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233 http://www.thehotline.org