TRIGGER WARNING. THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS TEXT AND IMAGES THAT MAY BE HARMFUL TO SURVIVORS.
A friend recently sent me a link to a TEDx video that features Leslie Morgan Steiner. Steiner is a Harvard graduate, former editor of Seventeen magazine, and a successful businesswoman. She is also a domestic violence survivor.
The author of Crazy Love, Steiner busts wide open the “grisly headlines, self-destructive women, damaged goods” perception of domestic violence victims and answers the frequently-heard question: “why does she stay?” It’s a fair question. Why would anyone stay in a relationship in which she/he is being physically, emotionally, and/or sexually abused?
Steiner tells her story and her reasons for staying in the TEDx talk and I encourage everyone — survivor or no — to watch it after reading this article.
What I want to do here is tell the story of a woman who I know who survived an abusive relationship. She, like Steiner, is not the mythical and stereotypical battered woman. She has enjoyed a successful and rewarding career, is a strong and independent woman and a good mother, is generally a problem solver rather than a victim, and anyone who hears her story listens in stunned disbelief.
This story is unique in that it captures the abuse in the abuser’s own words and provides a visual that “adds color to the canvas.” These screenshots of actual conversations show the reality behind “he was abusive to her.” Most abusers are more careful than this man — Julian Williams of Duncanville, Texas — was. What I will attempt to do here is help readers understand what goes on in the mind of an abuser.
Yes, there are usually multiple victims. Julian’s record from one of his victims (not the woman in this story):
* Some portions are redacted to protect the identity of third parties, reduce redundancy, and to make the flow of the story easier to follow.
The abuser will remind the domestic violence victim — ad nauseam – that he is the best thing that ever happened to the victim. Unfortunately, in many cases the victim has been conditioned to believe it. It may even seem true at first. There is no more charming and seductive person on the planet than the intelligent abuser.
Domestic violence will usually impact a victim’s employment in one way or another.
Abused women sometimes have trouble keeping a job. The abuse and life-drama affects her sleep, her attention span, her health, and her ability to perform. Sometimes a victim is physically prevented from showing up for work. For example, a young woman in one of my youth programs was fired from a job when her boyfriend (now her husband….) locked her in the trunk of her car. A victim often has evidence of abuse: bruises, abrasions, etc…
An abuser can also wreck havoc with a victim’s employer, either to “punish” the victim or because the abuser feels threatened in a perceived way.
The abuser will remind the victim that she is powerless. Continuously.
The victim as mediator
Not surprisingly, the victim usually isn’t the only person affected by the pathology of the abuser. His friends and family sometimes come to the victim for mediation. “Can you control him?” “You’re the only person he’ll listen to.”
The problem with that is that the abuser doesn’t usually lash out at third parties. He will turn his rage on the person most available to him: his victim.
Abuse of available resources
The image in the “Victim as Mediator” section illustrates how an abuser will use any resources available to him to cause problems for others, including his victim. In that example and in the one below, the abuser, an employee of a large bank, used his access to financial and credit information to terrorize anyone who crossed him in even the smallest way.
“I know a secret…I’m gonna tell.”
Anything the victim confides to the abuser will be used against her. Her deepest, darkest secrets are the most valuable weapons that the abuser has at his disposal and he WILL use them. He will use them to humiliate the victim, he will use the threat of exposure to control the victim, and he will ultimately expose the victim’s secrets to punish her. It WILL happen and he will even share intimate confidential information on social media platforms.
Racism and bigotry: using religion and ethnicity as weapons
If a victim is of a religion or ethnicity than is different from that of the abuser, this provides an abundance of opportunity for the abuser to torment his victim.
The racism and degradation can get really ugly, depending on how sadistic the abuser is.
The apologies will be endless and seemingly heartfelt.
Social media provides a whole new “playground” and manipulation tool for the sadistic abuser.
The abuser will often defy reason and say things that make no sense whatsoever.
“You deserved it.”
“If I can’t have you, no one will.”
Manipulation of Religious Beliefs
The abuser will use the victim’s belief system to manipulate them. God help the religious victim!
For example, an abuser may throw up the “forgive thy neighbor” clause of Christianity to try to manipulate the victim or invoke Old Testament statutes that govern the subjugation of women.
An abuser will even suggest to the victim that without the victim’s help, the abuser may be forever lost. In Julian’s case, his victim was unwilling to give into Julian’s manipulation, but she was also unwilling to turn him away. Her solution was to offer to introduce him to a pastor who could counsel with him.
Not surprisingly, Julian never followed up with the pastor.
Domestic violence and infidelity
Not all abusers are cheaters, but if an abuser wants to cheat, he does so without the hesitation that normal people have. There are, after all, no consequences from his powerless victim. If the victim confronts the cheating abuser, she risks a dangerous abusive episode.
“You don’t trust me, and this proves it.”
“You are snooping in my phone/email/whatever and for that, you will pay.”
The abuser will even blame the victim for the cheating if it’s not possible for him to convince his victim of his fidelity.
“If you took care of things at home, I wouldn’t cheat.”
“If you were better looking or better in bed, I’d not have to cheat.”
Some abusers are embarrassed at being caught cheating and they will lash out at the victim. Many abusers consider themselves to have super-human integrity. Getting caught breaking their own moral code knocks them off of their fragile self-created pedestal. Anytime an abuser’s self-perceived superiority is challenged, there is a risk of an abusive episode.
Refusal to practice safe sex, even with evidence of infidelity
A victim can forget about standing up to her abuser and insisting on safe sex. It’s simply not going to happen unless the abuser wants to practice safe sex, and they usually don’t. After all, it takes away a bit from the feeling, and the abuser isn’t going to sacrifice anything. The abuser points to the victim’s request for safety as proof of her “lack of trust” in him, even in the evidence of infidelity. An abuser isn’t concerned about consequences to the victim — only to himself.
A continuous cycle
Even a year or more after the relationship ends, the abuser will continue to torment his victim.
Appeal to a victim’s “need” to be “needed”
Abusers are adept at identifying “givers,” people who tend to give more than they take in most of their relationships. The abuser will work this to his advantage. It may be conscious or subconscious.
Denial of abuse and his role as a batterer
An abuser can flip from “please forgive me” to “what are you talking about” very quickly.
An abuser rarely sees himself as “that guy” — a woman beater.
Obsessive and out-of-control phone calls
A certain amount of obsessive calling has been somewhat romanticized in our culture. Who among us hasn’t gleefully said something like “Girl, he calls me 10 times a day! He is soooo into me!”.
We love the scene in the movies when the dashing hero, terrified of losing the woman he loves, doesn’t give up. He stands out in the rain, wet clothing clinging to his body, while he frantically calls his beloved, trying to win her back. Maybe he quits a job spontaneously and hops on a plane (or bus or train or he steals a car) to go to her. When he finally reaches her, he stands in front of her saying “I won’t leave until you tell me that you will marry me.” With tears streaming down her face, his beloved nods her head yes, too emotional to speak.
Isn’t that all romantic? Yes. In a movie. One time. Because it’s fiction.
It’s not romantic when it’s every day, or every time you have an argument. It’s not romantic when it’s accompanied with “I’ll come blow up your office building” or “you’ll have to kill me to get me to leave” or “answer the phone, bitch, I know where everyone is.”
You can see the reality of this scenario in the image below. These calls tend to continue through the night. Abusers don’t usually say “well it’s after 10, time to stop obsessively texting and calling ’til morning.” The victim’s sleep is interrupted, and often the sleep of children is affected by this, too.
The abuser will go after the victim’s friends.
The abuser will enlist friends and family to lie for him or to try to convince the victim to stay or return to the abusive relationship.
The abuser’s friends and family, for various reasons, are often willing to go along with the abuser’s requests. Keep in mind that confusion reigns in an abusive relationship. In the case of Julian Williams, his victim had numerous moments of clarity in which she asked questions, but the lies and pleading from the abuser’s friends and family members were convincing. Therefore, Julian Williams was able to continue with his abuse, his infidelity, and more.
Helping a victim by “siding” with them is almost always dangerous for the victim.
One thing is certain — anyone who sides with the victim should understand that it WILL be the victim who pays for the well-intentioned loyalty.
In the case involving Julian Williams of Duncanville, Texas, his brother Chris got involved to try to help the victim. Chris, desperate to try to help the victim, invoked Julian’s wrath when he contacted his and Julian’s mother. When Julian’s victim arrived home later that day, she was subjected to two full hours of terrorism and profoundly sadistic abuse that included Julian repeatedly hitting her in the head with a book and screaming “pray now, bitch…where’s your God now?” Julian followed up his terrorism with lashing out at the brother who was attempting valiantly to help both his brother and the victim.
To protect the brother and herself, the victim was forced to cut all ties with the only person who had tried to help her.
Once violence is introduced into the relationship, the threat of violence becomes a way of life.
Mea Culpa can be an effective tool, too.
The abuser will be concerned about “humiliation” if the victim leaves him.
This is a dangerous phase for many victims. Causing a narcissistic abuser to “lose face” is serious. He will try to suck the victim into his humiliation with him. Many victims stay with their abusers because they are embarrassed to fail.
The abusers begging and pleading will become intense.
It will get really bad as the abuser becomes more desperate.
And it will get worse.
In these texts, Julian begins to threaten the victim’s children: “3 is a magic number, figure that one out’ = the victim and her two children.
And once it gets worse, it won’t get better.
Sometimes….’til death do us part. Get out. Whatever you have to do.
The abuser will eventually abuse the victim in front of her children.
If the abuser and victim are married, this will begin much sooner. But if the abuser comes into the victim’s life when her children are older, he will usually try to hide the abuse for a while. But eventually, he will abuse the victim in front of her children. Once he starts doing this, there’s no turning back. Fortunately for Julian’s victim, she knew this. Fear for her children — seeing her abused or worse — motivated her in a way that fear for herself, sadly, did not.
It won’t get better. Ever.
And that is when I left Julian Williams.
Those eyes in the image at the top of this story are mine. My close friends and family won’t recognize my eyes in that photo because that’s not who I am. The screenshots I have shared here are only the tip of the iceberg. I only saved those things that I thought I might someday need as a record for the police or if something happened to me. This is only a fraction of what he said and did.
When Julian Williams — in my car, in front of my little boy — twisted my arm while we were driving down the road, threatened to hit me, and cursed at me, that’s when I left. When we got to his house, he menaced me outside of my car and forced open my door. He was still nervous about going further in front of my child, but it only would have taken one time for him to become comfortable with it and I knew this.
The mental bondage that Julian Williams had me in didn’t stop that day. It continued for a long time afterwards. On many occasions, I considered going back to him. That is the most shameful part to me. I didn’t blame myself for landing in an abusive relationship; I blamed myself for being too weak to leave sooner, too stupid to stop loving him, and completely insane for missing him.
Because miss him I did. There is an intensity to many abusive relationships that is addictive. I loved Julian. Julian loved me, albeit in his own sick way. I was convinced that no one could hurt me when I was with Julian.
He protected me fiercely and in a way that was terrifying to me — he wasn’t above going after the most random people, including ex-boyfriends and my ex-husband, to seek a revenge that I didn’t need. He was even jealous of my dead first husband and tried to destroy our photos. Julian protected me from everyone except the person most dangerous to me: himself.
Most abusers suffer from an illness. It may be addiction, or even a mental illness that could be diagnosed. Most won’t get help. In their minds, nothing is wrong with them. They project their own “craziness” onto their victims.
Anytime I see a man or woman repeatedly calling their significant others “crazy,” it terrifies me. The victims are being gas-lighted as I was with Julian.
Julian Williams is so terrifyingly complex that I can’t begin to guess what may be causing him to be the way he is. One thing is certain — he shows many of the symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Dr. Sam Vaknin’s book, Malignant Self Love – Narcissism Revisited, is an excellent resource for victims and reading Dr. Vaknin changed my life.
Pathological narcissism masks a deep-rooted insecurity. The problem with NPD is that the narcissist rarely thinks he has a problem. Everyone else is the problem. The victim is the crazy one. I recently had a heartfelt conversation with Julian Williams. Unfortunately, as I told my Facebook friends “I’m trying to talk to my ex-boyfriend about his pathological narcissism, but he only wants to talk about himself.” In Julian’s mind, he is simply misunderstood….tortured….depressed…disadvantaged…whatever. Never a batterer. Julian Williams, in his mind, is the victim.
One of the most confusing aspects of my relationship with Julian Williams is that we had fun together when he wasn’t twisting my neck until it nearly snapped, bruising my ribs, or causing nerve damage in my arm. There has never in my life been a more fun time than the times that Julian and I spent watching the 2012 GOP primaries together. He once printed a photo of Herman Cain on card stock. For months, he chased me around the house with that photo, saying in a lecherous voice “come here, baby….you want a job, right?” We would collapse, laughing hysterically, on the bed. Newt Gingrich’s declaration that he would launch a moon base and make it the 51st state provided fodder for months. Julian even bought a sweater vest and began wearing it, citing Rick Santorum as his role model.
There are so many reasons why women stay. That’s another story. A series of stories. A website with resources. A book, even. The answers are complicated and are very well explained by Leslie Morgan Steiner’s video that is embedded at the end of this post. Some of the things that Leslie says can be applied to most battered women.
- “We victims know something you usually don’t. It’s incredibly dangerous to leave an abuser.”
- “70% of murders happen after the victim has ended the relationship because then the abuser has nothing to lose.”
- “I was a very strong woman in love with a deeply troubled man and I was the only person on earth who could help him face his demons.”
What saved Leslie Morgan Steiner?
“I broke the silence. I told everyone. The police, my neighbors, my friends and family…total strangers.”
Abuse thrives only in silence. Abuse thrives in isolation.
The abuser will cut you off from your friends, your coworkers, even your family if he can. He will feel threatened anytime you do anything outside of the relationship. Julian tried on numerous occasions to cause problems with my clients, for example. He hated my friends. When I joined a gym, he flew into a rage.
What saved me? I realized that my children could be drawn into my hell. I left for them. I don’t know if I would have ever had the strength to leave for myself. I was beaten down. I was broken. I no longer recognized myself. I no longer laughed. Julian Williams sucked the life and blood from me. There was no fight left in me.
Why am I sharing this now, you may ask? Because it’s my story and I can share it when I want and how I want. The people who love me don’t know this story. They’ll find out just as you have — by reading this. I didn’t share it before because I was ashamed.
Shame and fear form the foundation of abuse.
My story is much simpler than most. Julian and I weren’t married. We don’t have children together. I have a home that no one can ever take from me. I have a car of my own. I have an income. Imagine if I did not? Stop reading this for one minute an insert into my story — those texts and phone calls — a woman who does not have my resources. Ask yourself: why does she stay?
The entire relationship was built on lies — a fictitious life that Julian Williams created for himself. If a NPD sufferer doesn’t have the life he/she feels he/she should have, they’ll invent one, or aspects of one. I believe Julian Williams invented a whole imaginary life to present to me. He lied about his age (he’s much younger than he told me), numerous horrific diseases and deaths in his family (some true, but mostly lies), his education (he never graduated from college), he lied about where he grew up, and he said he has cancer (we have no evidence of this). Meaningless lies.
He invented brothers and friends that he doesn’t have. He created social media accounts for these people and used the accounts to have his “friends” and “family” beg me to stay with “their poor Julian who will kill himself if you leave.” He used these fake people to manipulate me and control me. He subsequently killed them off when he didn’t need the personas anymore. One death after another of these fake people, and even the children of these fake people. They served the dual purpose of being used for manipulation, then dying and being used for sympathy.
Julian Williams invented dead babies, miscarriages, and still-born births for his fictitious siblings. One of his fake brothers was in the military and did fake prison time for committing a war crime and murdering a fake innocent family in Iraq. It’s sick. Terrifyingly sick. The elaborate details are mind-boggling and it’s impossible to try to sort out or wrap one’s mind around it.
Julian cheated on me right under my nose. While lying in my bed, he called another woman and talked to her for 1o minutes on the phone. He told me it was his sister. The women were numerous. His friends lied for him. His family members lied for him.
But the crazy thing is that no lies were necessary. I didn’t fall in love with Julian William’s fake persona. I fell in love with how he made me feel for the first few months of our relationship. I fell in love with being deeply loved. Had I known Julian’s true life story, this still would have happened. All of it. Because he didn’t abuse me in the beginning. The rumors that I heard about the abuse of another woman (now on his record for domestic violence) were explained away by him, his friends, and his family as him “defending himself.” I know now that it’s simply not true.
The fact is, after Julian Williams began physically abusing me, it was too late. I was already mentally broken and I was gas-lighted. He broke me, just as he promised he would. He did it deliberately and methodically.
Leslie Morgan Steiner teaches us that we all have the power to end domestic violence “simply by shining a spotlight on it.” I have a spotlight. I have all of you who will read this, share this, and learn from this.
You may be a victim. You may be an abuser. You may be in a position to help a victim. You may be the friend or family member of an abuser and you may even be guilty of helping him abuse his victim if you’ve lied for him. It’s not too late. But use caution. Take the knowledge that I’ve imparted here and understand that anything you do can be used to further harm the victim. Most importantly: do not do anything that will cause the victim to have to cut ties to you. However painful it may be to watch what’s going on, she needs the lifeline you provide.
I don’t know the power of this story, but I know this: if even one woman in the entire world is saved because she or someone she loves reads this, everything I’ve suffered will have had a purpose. I’ll not have been broken in vain.
The lady with in the photo at the top of this story? That’s not me. I’ve gotten me back.
How I spend my free time now:
I’ve used this platform on numerous occasions to shine light on domestic violence. The time has come for me to use my spotlight to share my story. I’m still broken. I’m not sure if I’ll ever be completely healed. But I can still make a difference, and I will. Stay tuned.
Be sure to watch Leslie Morgan Steiner’s incredible and life-changing video after the notes.
UPDATE: Please send your survivor stories to [email protected] I’m receiving so many messages with people who are connecting to my story and wanting to share their own. I’ll put them on our new site: www.withabrokenwing.org
To answer some of the questions that will inevitably come:
- First and most importantly, this is my story told with the voice of a female victim and a male abuser because that was my experience. It in no way negates a male victim’s experience. I have a long history of advocating for male victims and my planned projects in domestic violence include men.
- No, my horrible experience with Julian Williams did not make me a “man hater.” I recognize that I encountered one evil person.
- No, I’m not a bitter, scorned woman. I left.
- Am I still afraid of Julian? Not really. He’s far enough away from me to make it inconvenient for him to come after me. If he were in my physical presence, I’d be in danger. But my greatest fear since I left Julian has always been Julian having someone else come after me. This article will make it harder for him to ever do that.
- I used Julian’s real name in this article so that he’ll show up in search engines. Another of his victims (she received the brunt of his verbal and emotional abuse) asked me “How can we keep him from doing this again? We can’t force him to wear a Scarlet Letter (A for Abuser).” This is what we can do — tell this story. I didn’t have the chance before meeting him to know what I was getting into. Julian Williams WILL do this again. He’ll do it over and over. The threat of him accidentally killing someone in a rage someday is very real. Maybe by putting this out there, someone else will have a chance.
- Yes, I can legally share my personal story and photos that I own.
- Will I ever be unbroken enough to have an intimate relationship? I don’t know. Not so far. Whether I like it or not, whether any of you like it or not, Julian Williams broke something inside of me. It’s not easy to admit that. I want to be the victor and say that I beat him. Maybe someday. I’m focused on other things right now.
- I found the strength to finally tell this story because of the support of some very special people: my readers who let me know I’m not alone, my friends, and most of all, the butterflies: A and B — this article and the work that will follow never would have happened without them.
Here is Leslie’s story:
Tiffany Willis is the founder and editor-in-chief of Liberal America. An unapologetic member of the Christian Left, she has spent most of her career actively working with “the least of these” and disadvantaged and oppressed populations. She’s passionate about their struggles. To stay on top of topics she discusses, subscribe to her public updates on Facebook, follow her on Twitter, or connect with her via LinkedIn. She also have a grossly neglected personal blog and a literary quotes blog that is a labor of love. Find her somewhere and join the discussion.