Misunderstandings and Misnomers

Today Carolyn printed a letter from a man looking for a clear definition of “abuse” so he’d know more easily whether or not to leave his relationship. My first instinct is that if you have to ask, there’s clearly something very wrong, and you should probably get out anyway. Carolyn offered similar advice: In his situation there were no physical attacks, and arguments were littered with sort of garden-variety name calling. Carolyn didn’t send him to an abuse hotline, but said regardless of what you call it, clearly the relationship was not a productive or healthy one.

However, I think she misunderstood something that he said, which to me makes all the difference.

Dear Carolyn:

How do you know if your partner’s behavior during a fight is abusive? I think that label would make breaking up easier. I wouldn’t feel like there was still something we could do to save the relationship.

The fight was about her (in my opinion) overreaction to something I did, which I didn’t think was that bad. There was name-calling, including accusations of being a liar and a cheater. She was out-of-control angry. The thing that causes me the most PTSD is that she pulled the emergency brake in the car while we were on a highway ramp. No harm done, thank God, but is that abusive?

Carolyn seemed to think that this guy was throwing around the term PTSD to describe how upset this guy got when his girlfriend did this. This, I think, ticked her off a little and colored her advice back to him. This is an excerpt from the middle of her response:

Certainly the brake-pulling, which could have sent your car out of control, was reckless and beyond the pale.

If her volatility is a pattern that leads you to alter your behavior, then that’s a form of control.

But you don’t need labels any more than you need the diagnosis (come on, PTSD?) on your horror. The tantrum tells you all you need to know about her: She’s not mature enough for a serious relationship.

I read the letter differently, however….it sounded to me like the writer actually HAS PTSD, and that pulling the emergency brake on the highway was a trigger known by both him and his girlfriend, that she used on purpose to upset him. Which, I think, I would consider abuse.

Hm, but now I’m reading it again, and I think Carolyn’s right after all. He’s using PTSD to describe his state after their fight, not after being in a war zone. So, never mind. Carry on.

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