Are you okay? You look sad? What’s the matter? Is something bothering you? Have you ever heard this when you didn’t want to be asked?
Some people are truly concerned. Some people greedily shake you down for some juicy drama. Then there are people within your social circle who want to keep you in line. They are allies to your abuser and loyal traitors to you. They side against you, yet stay your “friend.” After denying the existence of domestic violence, they later inquire why you look sad yet want to retain their version of your story. They take invasion to a whole new level. Here’s my experience involving one such emotional auditor, Michelle (not her real name).
I was in seventh grade, and it was March. Around 8:30 p.m., my older brother burst through my bedroom door, held me down on the ground and pummeled me for not going to bed when ordered. I futilely tried to hit back from the ground, but he yelled at me, held my arm, and continued to beat. He ran into my room a few more times that night, including once to beat me for crying.
In the morning, I tried telling my mother who shrugged with a half-hearted response that she would talk to him.
In gym class that day, I broke down spontaneously, crying. After school, my friend Michelle told her parents about my brother battering me. Her mom called my house inquiring about the incident. My mom came into my bedroom, and without asking, checked my body. There were no bruises, therefore it didn’t happen. My dad said, “You’re making mountains out of molehills.” My brother was not punished. This gave him the green light to beat me on countless occasions.
I could tell you more, but this is about the emotional auditing from Michelle.
The next day after my first beating, I came to the lunch table where my so-called friend and I sat. Since my mother wasn’t open to discussing the battering, I wanted to talk to Michelle. I needed to grieve. I started to talk about it, and Michelle interrupted, “Well I heard you tried to hit him.” I told her I was trying to defend myself. I tried explaining that 100 hits are worse than one futile, non-existent tap while being held down on the ground. Michelle never gave me a chance to make that point. She said, “Well, even though you did something wrong, I forgive you, and I’ll stay friends with you.”
Those words knocked a hole in my heart. I was speechless. I finally said, “Michelle, I don’t want to be friends with you anymore.” Then she was befuddled, wondering why? I attempted to explain what just transpired, then she reiterated, “But you tried to hit him.” Then I re-explained the concept of self-defense not being wrong. She said, “Oh…” with pretentious agreement.
The next day at lunch, Michelle asked, “So Julia, what’s new?” With frustration, I answered, hey, I was beaten! Michelle only replied with, “But that was a few days ago. How’s your day going?” When I tried to voice my lamentation again, she then said, “But you tried to hit him. Didn’t we go over this yesterday?”
I didn’t want to sit with Michelle anymore, but I was locked into the same lunch table with her unless I could find a table with less than six people. I looked around the cafeteria, and Michelle still insisted that I pay attention to only her. I tried to tell her, “Michelle, we are not friends anymore.” Then she would frantically demand to know why. When I would attempt to answer, she would cut me off at every syllable. At some point I remember her remarking on one snippet, “So this is all you’re mad about?” This “friendship” was not a mutual contract.
Michelle engaged in a myriad of controlling behaviors, but one behavior stood out and led me to coining the term, emotional auditing. She would ask me, “What’s wrong” as if something other than my beatings was bothering me – something other than her, too! I anticipated her interruptions, uttering, “Michelle! You should know by now!” Silence followed. Michelle said, “Oh…” and continued to eat.
Another time she asked, “What’s wrong?” I answered, “Nothing.” Then she followed up with, “Oh come on! There must be something wrong. You look sad while eating that brownie!”
If she caught me looking sad or having a resting face, she would insist that I smile. Instead of editing my words, she wanted to edit my facial expression. She kept demanding me to smile, and when I gave in, it was only to get her to shut up.
One day I was lucky. She asked, “Julia, you look sad. Why?” I felt apprehensive, knowing I was being scrutinized. Then she provided me answers. “Did something happen today?” “No.” “Are you just tired?” “Yes.” Then Michelle accepted the answer, and that became my all-purpose response to “Are you sad?” and “What’s wrong?” Me: “I’m just tired.”
Michelle only accepted what she wanted to hear and anything else she relentlessly interrupted until I would only listen to her. She inquired about my emotions only so she could check if she needed to edit my responses so they would be right in her perception.
Interesting to note, I ran into Michelle recently. I really didn’t want to talk to her, but my mother told me to be cordial. The only way to deal with the encounter was knowing that I wrote this. She always tried to silence me, and this entry is documented proof that she failed. What empowers me is knowing that Michelle could never break my sense of justice. I knew I was right and that she was wrong.
My brother has been estranged from the family for years. Managing my relationship with my parents is tricky, because I have to accept that they are in denial of various times I’ve been abused, and it’s very hard to love my parents. I try to measure them by their actions in the present.
I’ve had my share of good friends and bad. For the good friends in my life, I try to always be open to listening and be supportive. Whenever I have a friend who is going through a hard time, I am all ears. One of my friends is practically a sister to me, and another friend lives faraway but once we meet up, we go on adventures where we draw paper destinations out of a hat.
AWP has allowed me to write about my past so I may help other people through my experiences. I hope people recognize that abuse can take on non-stereotypical forms, and that they know that they are not alone.