Trigger warning: rape, sexual assault, domestic abuse, graphic sexual content
In Part 1 of this story, I introduced a discussion of Johan Galtung’s theory of cultural violence as it relates to my experience as a young woman in an abusive relationship. To recap:
Cultural violence is: “…any aspect of a culture that can be used to legitimize violence in its direct or structural form. Symbolic violence built into a culture does not kill or maim like direct violence or the violence built into the structure. However, it is used to legitimize either or both.”
Cultural violence against women is: Normalization and promotion of pornography, prostitution, degradation, and sexual objectification of females in media, predominantly male language in civic, business, and religious institutions, gender roles and stereotypes, misogynist humor, gaslighting, minimizing or denying any of these forms of violence.
Part 1 ended right before my ex convinced me to leave MIT and move with him to Minnesota. I had been trying my best to please him by sculpting my appearance to match his preferences, believing that it was my job as a female partner to try to satisfy my male partner sexually.
One summer day, we packed up the car and drove west to our new home. I could tell right away that he had changed. In the hotel the first night of our trip, the sex lost any former vestiges of tenderness or romance. He was rough, sleazy, and cold. I went into the bathroom afterwards and cried, wondering was wrong. Romance was never again a part of sex. Outside the bedroom, he was hyper romantic in the way of abusers, talking about how I was everything to him, I was the most pure, loving, kind person he had ever known, I was the only person he had ever felt this way for, the only one who could help him be a better man.
But the sex grew increasingly violent. It happened about 4 times per day, of which one or two were always me performing oral sex on him. His demands about my appearance grew ever more stringent, such that I was now causing myself daily physical pain to conform to his “beauty” standards. I put my health at risk, going to multiple tanning salons in one day. His treatment of my body grew rougher and more intentionally damaging. He admitted that he enjoyed causing me pain. He woke me up in the middle of the night by penetrating me in various ways. He called me “whore” during sex, and said other degrading things. I developed wounds in my mouth, vagina, and anus that would not heal because they were never given a rest. I had such bad bruises that I had to wear concealing clothing in hot weather.
I became actively suicidal. I was so young and inexperienced, and in so far over my head, that I could not even begin to understand what was happening to me, or what to do about it. My family was furious with me for leaving MIT, and some parts of my family had cut me off completely – I did not see them as an option for help. I knew no one at all, the midwest culture felt totally foreign and unwelcoming, and I had nowhere to turn. After one day when I came very close to attempting suicide, I realized I had only one job: to survive. Survival became my only goal. I believed that if I could just survive long enough, at some point I would be able to escape him and be free. We had been together less than one year.
If you are familiar with malignant narcissist abusers, you will understand the psychological hold he had over me. All abusers find ways to trap their victims into staying with them, psychological strategies that keep an abused partner feeling unable to escape. He remains to this day one of the smartest people I have ever known. He never studied or went to class while at MIT; he showed up for tests and figured out the answers there during the exam. He was the top student in the nation in high school in certain subjects. Please don’t ask why I did not leave him. You would not have been able to leave him, either. He was a master manipulator unlike anything I have ever known.
Most of the physical abuse was sexual, but of course some of it was not. There were times when in anger, he kicked me, punched me, choked me, threw me into walls, etc. However, most of the physical abuse was done in the context of sex, and he framed it as my fault. You see, I did not look exactly like he wanted me to, and thus I was depriving him of the sexual satisfaction he deserved. So he had to make up for my lack by finding other, creative ways of feeling satisfied sexually, by punishing and degrading me. The first few months of our relationship, most of the sex was consensual. But after we moved, 100% of the sex was rape. I was usually compliant, but he knew I hated every second of it. Of course, he would punish me if I did not pretend to enjoy it. Sometimes, in desperation, I would sob and beg literally on my knees for a break, just a day or two off. He would furiously agree, and then spend the next day seething with rage and resentment, punishing me in countless other ways, until I surrendered and got back down on my knees, as his subhuman sexual slave. And the entire premise of our relationship was that he, as a man, deserved to be completely gratified sexually by having unlimited access to using and abusing a female body, without any regard whatsoever to her preferences, choice, health, safety, dignity, or humanity. You see, females, in this world, are not human.
…To be continued.
Trelawney Grenfell-Muir teaches courses about Sex, Dating, Marriage, and Work in the Religion and Theological Studies Department at Merrimack College and about Cross Cultural Conflict in the Department of Conflict Resolution, Human Security, and Global Governance at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A Senior Discussant at the Religion and the Practices of Peace Initiative at Harvard University, she holds an M.Div. from the Boston University School of Theology with a concentration in Religion and Conflict, and a Ph.D. in Conflict Studies and Religion with the University Professors Program at Boston University. Previously a fellow at the Institute of Culture, Religion, and World Affairs and at the Earhart Foundation, Grenfell-Muir has conducted field research in situations of ongoing conflict in Syria, Lebanon, and Northern Ireland. Her dissertation explores the methodology, constraints, and effectiveness of clergy peacebuilders in Northern Ireland. She has been an invited speaker in community settings and at MIT, Boston University, Tufts, and Boston College on topics of gender violence, economic injustice, and religious or ethnic conflicts and has also moderated panels on genetic engineering, cloning, and other bioethics issues. She currently writes articles, book chapters, and liturgical resources about feminist, nature-based Christianity.
 Galtung, Johan. Cultural Violence. Journal of Peace Research, 27(3) 1990, p291.
This paragraph is taken from my previous work https://gcsrw.wordpress.com/2017/09/28/expansive-language-for-the-divine-come-holy-power-within-help-us-thy-names-to-sing/#_ftn3
18 thoughts on “I Was Brainwashed to Believe I Wasn’t Human. Now I’m on a Mission Against that Cult – Part 2 by Trelawney Grenfell-Muir”
A lot of women are still silently suffering from domestic violence and abuse from their partners /husbands. And worst many people are indifferent towards it and infact are indirectly supporting it.
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Yes, we live in a dystopian nightmare epidemic of misogynist violence everywhere. It’s overwhelming.
Sadly some version of this is what sexism, female subordination (wifely obedience) etc. look like for far too many women. Women who speak out about abuse are often asked, why did you accept it (implict message: when I the speaker did not). The reason is because we are brainwashed (not just influenced) by cultural symbols from a very young age.
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Yes, well said. Our whole society is brainwashed.
Church messaging when I was growing up was part and parcel of this – women were to satisfy their husbands in all spheres of life. My abuse was different in content but the intent was the same. Leaving required overcoming church teaching that marriage was for life. Women of faith can be trapped on all sides; Faith Groups have a responsibility for perpetuating this abuse, they need to acknowledge this and change.
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That’s very brave and powerful of you. In my case, it was less religious in origin; I salute your strength and courage.
I am thankful that I wasn’t raised in a household or religion like this.
Trelawney, dear sister, I am in awe of your courage and strength to tell your story. Too often women stay silent, but when we speak out other women find their voice, and maybe even their freedom to be “alive again”.
I pray healing for your abused body and peace for your spirit as it heals and becomes healing for others.
Dear Barbara, thank you so much for your supportive and affirming comment. It has been quite painful for me to tell this story, and even to come read the comments, because I spend so much of my life trying to float above the stored trauma from this experience, only delving into it in very controlled healing sessions… but as you say, I want to help other woman find their voice, the way other women helped me find my voice, and find freedom as I have found freedom. Thank you for your prayers and blessings, they mean more than words can say. <3 <3 <3
Is he in jail? He certainly should be. I think you’re very brave to tell this story. Perhaps some younger women will read it and begin to understand what’s going on in their lives. Is that why you’re writing it?
This guy reminds me of the first husband of a good friend of mine. He was so abusive that she took their two sons and the dog and drove to Carbondale, Illinois, where she and I met in a consciousness-raising group I was facilitating. For a reason I still don’t understand, she went back to him, and when I moved to California, I lived in their house for two very difficult months. She finally left him for good. There wasn’t any religious aspect to their marriage or his abuse, which I still don’t understand. I think she was brainwashed. Why else would she have gone back to him?
Such sad stories. It’s heart-breaking to hear or read them, but it’s wonderful to know that women escape. Good for you!
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I’m with you, Barbara, with your outrage. The way I see it is that an androcentric interpretation of religious myths has infiltrated all of our patriarchal societies, and that infiltration is not just contained in our synagogues, ashrams, churches, mosques, and temples. So, I think that even though, as you note, there was not a religious aspect to your friend’s marriage, don’t you think that religion’s influence is felt way beyond itself? Religion, after all, emerges from culture and then, in turn, influences and shapes culture. One need not be overtly religious to suffer at the hands of the dark side of that institution.
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Thank you so much, Barbara. It has taken a tremendous amount of courage for me to break this silence. even though I have already broken the silence about other date rapes, etc… this one is very scary to voice. I do think abused women are brainwashed, and I agree that it is religio-cultural, and we can’t really separate one from the other – all of our religious arose from a patriarchal culture, which infects everything and everyone… in my case, my family was actually pretty progressive religiously. But that doesn’t matter when misogyny and sexism permeate every aspect of life and poison everything. Thank you again for your affirmation and support!!!! It means a tremendous amount. <3
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Because of your incredible courage to write such intimate details of your abuse and of your years as a target of criminal partner violence, you will empower others to be Brave, even if only in the rich silence of their own hearts. This is what it is all about, these forums, writings, gatherings. It is the power of speaking in public of the acts against our humanity that were committed in isolation. We are your witnesses, and we are bowing to you in awe and respect as we would any soldier who came through a time of horrific torture. We must never ask “why does she stay?”, but always ask “why does he abuse?” and put the focus where it belongs–on the criminal. All hail the speaker!
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Thank you, Stephanie, your comment made me cry. I’ve been asked so many, many, many times why I stayed… and I have heard that question resounding through our culture, our sick culture that spawns this pattern of abuse and traps women inside misogynist cages of self-negation. I am weeping as I write this… just so grateful for this framing, this beautiful, powerful, healing framing of my story, which is so obviously true and right and holy, but is so heartbreakingly rare. Thank you, thank you, thank you. <3
Your immense courage to speak out will help others in ways that you probably will never know… The question we all need to be asking is: Why is he abusive? And we know the horrible truth – he abuses because he can. Patriarchy supports all forms of abuse, sexual and otherwise. And that’s why this poor excuse for a man is not in jail.
NEVER NEVER NEVER do we question why any woman stays….
I worked for the Abused Women’s Advocacy Project in the 80’s… and know first hand that the most dangerous time for a woman is the moment she leaves him. He’s lost control and may literally kill her. Power over at any cost is his game.
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Thank you so very, very much, Sara… I hope and pray… desperately hope and pray… that sharing my story will indeed help others. Thank you for your affirmation and your prophetic naming of the violent truth that frames the issue properly while distorting our culture’s vision about it. Thank you for your work with abused women… thank you for your insights and support. As I said above to Stephanie, I’ve been asked so many, many times why I stayed… leaving was the scariest thing I have ever done. I am still afraid of him. Writing this out and making it public makes me afraid of him all over again. Twenty-three years later, I still sit here, shaking in fear, about what he might do if he finds out about this. But I do desperately hope and pray that I can give other women the courage to speak, or at least the ability to recognize the sickness in our society… and just add my voice to the host of women who are singing our lament-rage-freedom songs together. Thank you again, from the bottom of my heart. <3 <3 <3
And thank you again for writing such a courageous story – leaving is scary because that’s when these horrible men kill their partners and somewhere deep inside women KNOW this… Of course you are still afraid of him. You have every reason to be so but by speaking out you break the hideous silence and the shame that attaches itself to you and every other woman who has to endure this torment… Who knows how many women will be helped by your story. So on behalf of those women and myself, I thank YOU with all my heart.
I have no words for how much I love you and admire how brave you are. You are the body of Christ, and you are breaking yourself open over and over for the sake of a broken world, in order to bring healing and justice. You just keep putting yourself on that cross, because you believe that the girls and women (and men) of our world are worth it. The world does not deserve you; it rejects you; it fears you; but you do it anyway. Bless you, bless you, bless you, bless you, bless you.