Can You Be Abused and Abusive?

Alma Girau
3 min readSep 29, 2020

Turns out I can

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

I first read Carmen Maria Machado’s In The Dream House not truly knowing what I was getting myself into. I knew it was a memoir and that she’s of Cuban descent and that pretty much sold me. What I found was a haunting look at abuse in queer relationships and my heart was broken.

Although I’m an outsider to the LGBTQA community, Machado’s intense imagery brought me into her past life and I couldn’t help but recognize myself in “the woman in the dream house”. This character is verbally, emotionally, and physically abusive towards the narrator and the incidents are sometimes not remembered by the abuser herself. She goes into a kind of fugue state where she says and does horrible things and then has no memory of it.

In the past, I’ve been subject to similar behavior. While it was never forgotten by me or the other party, the order of events and intentions became muddy and up for debate. I was left wondering whether or not I was actually remembering it right.

Was my boyfriend really staring at me through a window waiting for me and watching me interact with my professor? That’s what my friends saw but they’ve never liked him so it’s not really fair to take their word on it. Maybe I was kind of flirting with him anyway and maybe I did smile too much. I’ll just deal with him through email from now on. It’s better that I nipped that in the bud.

It wasn’t until later when I found someone I loved deeply that I began to lose it.

He was much more experienced than I was in every sense. I swore he was one step ahead of me because of this and he’d make it impossible to catch him. I casually asked questions already knowing the answers. I trapped him into questioning himself and turned him into a puddle of doubt. He wouldn’t be able to look at me anymore because I’d made him feel like such a shit.

It was a case of not accepting being loved. There had to be a caveat. This person really did love me completely and it was painfully obvious. I didn’t deserve it and so it couldn’t be real. It’s no excuse for the choices I made. I was a monster with my own past and no resolve. I’d been cheated on and my parents’ divorce was the result of a decade long affair. I was marked by that in ways I wouldn’t yet see for years.

Coming to terms with the fact that this behavior is a pattern and that it devastated relationships helps reign it in. Usually there are the same kinds of thoughts that arise and lead to nonsensical conclusions. Recognizing that alone is a good start but it’s a constant work in progress.