As I sit here writing this, Biden has just been called as the President elect.
Twitter went bananas, people have been dancing in the streets all over the world, and we can’t stop gushing about how cool it is to have a Black woman VP.
I’m relieved. This is good. By the time you’re reading this, I’m sure it will have settled in a bit.
But what I want to talk about is the feeling I have right now as I watch the news unfold.
This feeling had been creeping up over the whole election week, as Tr*mp started shouting about fraud, trying to destroy our faith in democracy, and saying he refuses to concede or leave office.
The feeling is that the US has just left an abusive relationship.
When Biden first spoke on Friday before it was official, everyone was stunned by his dignity, compassion, and normal pattern of speech. It was jarring to hear someone encourage calm, talk about something other than himself, and acknowledge the dead.
Those few short minutes of his pre-win speech threw into stark relief how fucking psychotic our president has been for the last four years.
One of the most important things to understand about being abused is that our brains do what they need to survive, so they find ways to justify our abuser’s behavior and normalize what’s happening, especially while we don’t feel like leaving is a possibility.
Maybe something in her gut felt off, but some part of her brain still whispered “it’s not that bad.”
This is what the last four years have been. We’ve been justifying and normalizing our own abuse.
Watching the news all week has felt like watching the world publicly acknowledge and name their abuse for the very first time. It’s a big deal, and a very important step toward healing.
There’s this thing that often happens when a person is almost free from their abuser. After months or years of justifying, normalizing, and downplaying the abuse, the veil starts to lift and the victim can see peeks of reality—a reality in which this behavior isn’t normal, that it’s abuse, that they won’t change, that it’s all built on lies.
Given how gaslighting and manipulation works, the victim often goes from living in a reality created entirely for them by their abuser to living back in a reality shared with the rest of the world, and it’s like… holy SHIT. Everything flips upside down.
Being treated with kindness, compassion, and dignity can be one of those moments, which is exactly why abusers keep their victims isolated. It’s much easier to keep someone trapped in an artificial version of reality when they never talk to anyone else. (This is also why Trump intentionally demonized and discredited the free press, and anyone who ever spoke up against his version of reality.)
I had a client once leave her abusive husband after a friend’s husband pulled her aside at a dinner party and asked if she was ok. She told me through tears that the genuine kindness and concern in his face shocked her to her core.
She had gotten so used to cruelty and nastiness, interspersed with a manipulative doting and begging. This man’s sincere and expressive face, this genuine moment of care changed everything for her. Suddenly the veil lifted; suddenly her brain allowed her to look back over what had been happening and see it for what it was.
I feel like this is what happened in the news all of last week. Reporters who had previously been trying desperately to make sense of his behavior finally just went… oh, we can’t make sense of it because it’s abuse, and abuse doesn’t make sense except to the abuser.
Once your brain lets you fully see and acknowledge the abuse, things tend to move really quickly. I’ve worked with clients in this situation more times than I’d like to count.
The really interesting and horrifying thing though is that once you acknowledge the abuse to yourself, your abuser can fucking feel it. They can feel that they’re about to lose control over you, and their controlling behavior escalates accordingly in a desperate attempt to get you back.
One of the best (and most dangerous) ways to get an abuser to reveal his true character** is to question their authority, let them know that you no longer believe in the reality they created for you, and start preparing to leave.
That’s what we saw this week, and what I expect we may continue to see for a while.
Watching Biden speak helped that veil to finally lift.
“Wow, that’s how a president is supposed to sound— like they actually care about us. What on earth have we been listening to for the last four years??”
And as we all processed what it will mean to have a president who is normal, dignified, and presidential again, Tr*mp revealed himself with predictably escalating tantrums, lies, and attacks.
There is, truly, nothing more terrifying or pathetic than the behavior of a narcissistic abuser when his victim has seen the truth and left. His entire identity is based on being the best, the only, the big man, the sun and moon to his victim(s).
Without someone to control, their smallness and powerlessness is revealed, and they literally cannot handle that. This is why it’s so dangerous to leave an abuser; the vast majority of homicides by domestic violence are done when/after she tries to leave.
If you’ve never left an abuser, you probably can’t imagine the depths of deranged and terrifying behavior that a previously likeable, charming, normal person will go. (Think: threatening suicide, or… I don’t know, trying to destroy democracy.)
There’s a lot to process for the victim(s) during that time, especially as the abuser’s lies and behavior gets bigger, wilder, and more threatening. There’s a lot to reconcile as they realize that their brain has been covering up and justifying abusive behavior which now could not be more obvious.
In some ways, I’m glad Tr*mp is acting out and revealing the depth of his narcissism and abuse, because it has solidified his fate. His ridiculous lies about having won the presidency, his demands to stop the vote count, his refusal to concede.
He may still attempt an authoritarian overthrow, but he no longer has credibility. And credibility in the mind of the victim(s) is really all an abuser needs to continue their abuse.
That said, we’re still in a very dangerous period of time in which he feels threatened and still has some power. His lies, tantrums, and threats may continue to escalate through the end of the year.
For this reason, as relieved as I am that Biden won, I am also still wary and watchful. At this point, I wouldn’t put anything past him. We are not out yet, but I am beyond relieved that the veil has been lifted and we can all see clearly now.
And as a country, we have a lot of healing and processing to do.
**Note: To better understand and identify patterns of abuse, I highly recommend the book “Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Abusive Men.” This invaluable resource should be required reading for all women, as it beautifully outlines the formula of behavior nearly all abusers follow, and which Tr*mp will undoubtedly continue to follow.