The Slow Burn

Michon Neal
Aug 24 · 4 min read

My ulcer kicked my ass twice today. Second time nearly vomited again. I hate this. There’s a tight band across my upper abdomen. Trying to relax it. I survived, and took my meds. But good godde, that’s the second time this week!!!

Anyway, in the aftermath, I thought back to my relationship with that person. And I realize there is a kind of predator that works at a slow burn. These are the ones that ratchet it up so slowly it takes ten years before they escalate to a point that you start to notice it's abuse. They wait until your fully invested. And they don't abuse you often enough for you to be conscious of it.

But you'll know because several years in, you'll feel more anxious and uneasy but you can't pick anything out as the source. And then they pretend to stop when you bring something up. But then months or years later, something else happens. And then you remember. The gaslighting is super subtle, taking advantage of the way time and memory works.

They carve away at you in the tiniest chunks, til over a decade later you finally feel all of the effects. It feels sudden, the onset; you just wake up one day incredibly ill, depressed, and displaying symptoms of PTSD. They approach it like a game, with smiles and just kiddings. But later on you just feel something is off.

Slow burn abuse is the worst, because it's harder to prove until it's too late. The boundary violations are so subtle. It's a microaggressive approach. You find yourself wondering if they just really don't grasp basic concepts, because no one can really be that careless, right? They abuse through neglect, leaving vital things undone in a way that always makes it worse for you or makes it impossible for you to do what you need to do.

You glance up one day and realize there are walls around you, blocking access to what you need. And sure, they like you, or seem to. They want what you have, but too late you realize they mean to take it from you, forcing you into what they wish you to be, that they want to erase your existence.

You realize you're a trophy they think they've won, and not a whole human being. Their arguments sound reasonable, but then there are those conversations in which everything goes sideways and you cannot for the life of you figure out how you got from apples to politics. Asking for anything becomes a drawn out dance competition, in which the loser is sentenced to death.

Nothing is simple with a slow burn abuser, everything is as complicated as it can be. But you work at it, because obviously communication is important, and so you learn new ways to do that, and things seem fine. But then they're complicated again. Impasses abound. Impossible choices flourish. And then you're hit in the gut with judgment, especially about old, old shit.

Their feelings are always hurt. Always. Everything you do is not loving enough, isn't committed enough. Suddenly, you're working another job affirming and reassuring them. You bring up things you've done as proof. They have an epiphany and say you're totally right.

And then the cycle begins again. Strange little things you can't quite name. General unease and hyperalertness. Sure enough, years later, you're having a very similar conversation, but there's some odd new point to consider. And there's no way to solve it.

Slow burn abuse is psychological torture. They don’t hit you (on purpose, anyway), they might cross sexual boundaries but only briefly and immediately apologize and don’t do it again... or at least that particular thing; they will change it up the next time... They may have grabbed your ass before but after discussion they didn’t without permission, but then months later they’ll force a kiss on you.

Psychological torture is incredibly damaging, changing your brain and physiology. The more time that goes by, the worse it will be. People forget that the body responds to everything! And abuse causes physical damage. But most won’t know what to look for with psychological abuse. Emotional literacy is still widely disregarded. We try to approach with rationality, but irrationality is all we’ll get back from this type of abuser.

This is terrifying, because these are the ones who slip under the radar and cause the most damage. They often concentrate on one victim at a time, but they seek to utterly destroy them.

It is done on purpose. They literally mean to destroy you completely and make a puppet of you.

I’m so pissed at myself, because all this time I’ve been watching for the “loud" abuser — the one who hits and is rough when forcing sex on you and who berates you constantly. But the slow burn mofo just slipped right in and began to warp my mind. They only say something fucked up every once in a while. But it's always devastating and damning. They'll only hit you once, but it was a fluke. They only touch you without your consent when they're drunk.

That’s the kind of shit terrible cults do. There’s an excellent example of this depicted in The Sinner.

Ok. I need rest. But this is definitely going in the Intersectional Non-Mongamy book/course on abuse culture.

    Michon Neal

    Written by

    Integrated Non-Monogamy, Metanoiac Alethiology, aro love terms, cuil fiction, & more; Speaker; Sensitivity Editor Cuil Press. https://the-metanoiac-portal.mn.co

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