I recently re-read one of my previous blog posts, which was an open letter that I called "Things I Wish I'd Said to My Abuser"- I will link it here. During this blog post, I mentioned wanting to talk about the signs of emotional + verbal + psychological abuse, but I didn't feel like I could properly talk about it until I had shared my own story. Now that I've talked about my own personal history with abuse, I feel much more equipped to share this post.
My previous relationship was the only "serious" relationship I had ever had- we were together for two years, and I had nothing real to compare it to. I was 18 when I met him- I was naive, barely an adult, really just a kid with an adult title. There were so many red flags and warning signs in our relationship that I ignored, or missed entirely, because I had never been in a serious relationship where a man had treated me with respect. It sounds sad, but I'm making this blog post because emotional abuse isn't always as obvious as physical abuse, but emotional abuse is just as dangerous.
I didn't learn about gas lighting until after the destruction of our relationship. The key emotion that I associate with gas lighting is the feeling of being crazy. I often felt the suffocating need to justify my reactions to my abuser, and I was regularly accused of being crazy for feeling things that are entirely justifiable. If this is happening to you, you need to understand that your reactions are normal, your abuser's actions are not.
My abuser would say horrible things to me, and then act as if he'd never said them, only minutes later. If I mentioned that there was a problem, he would always find a way to victim blame, and turn the situation on me. This is not normal. I learned to shut my mouth and not complain, because I could never bring up an issue without it escalating into a fight, and somehow, I always ended up being the one to apologize. A healthy relationship should never make you feel afraid.
Another strong feeling associated with emotional abuse is self-worthlessness. Abusers thrive on control, and in order to keep you in a mental state of submission, an abuser will often degrade you, and chip away at your self-worth. For much of our relationship, I felt like 'this is as good as it's gonna get.' Between the degradation and the gas lighting, my abuser had convinced me that I was crazy, and unmanageable, and I was lucky to have someone who would put up with me. The couple times that I tried leaving, he dragged me back down, and I thought I deserved it. A healthy relationship should never make you feel worthless. This is your partner: they should be your confidant, they should be your hype-man, they should be your best friend. The outside world is ugly enough without your inside world attacking you too. We all need people in this life who will lift us up, and want us to succeed.
Abusive relationships also tend to feel isolated. My abuser never met any of my friends, in the two years that we dated. It never occurred to me that this was strange, until I met my current boyfriend. My abuser also rarely went out with his friends, and never wanted me to spend any time with them. He kept our relationship really personal, quiet, and isolated. I think we spent the majority of those two years on a bed, inside of a room with a closed door. He disliked my best friend, and was jealous that I considered her my best friend, rather than him. I don't think he liked me spending time with other people. Our life together felt like a bubble- he was disconnected from my friends, my social life, my blog work, everything. It was an incredibly isolated relationship.
Abusive relationships are usually held together by two things: fear, and a false promise for change. My abuser was an alcoholic (which is a separate Let's Get Coffee in itself), and much of our relationship was held together by a promise that he would give up drinking. Considering our relationship ended (for the last time) over a jail phone after he got arrested for a DUI, that promise never got fulfilled. But there is a pattern to abusive relationships- there are periods of calm, where everything feels stable, and normal. This period can gradually escalate to a greater and greater issue, until there's a critical blow up. The blow up may include screaming, crying, threats of leaving, and violence. Our peak blow ups usually happened while he was black-out drunk and couldn't remember anything. It would always end with me telling him that I'm leaving. After the critical blow up, in the calm after the storm, my abuser would transform into a version of himself that I loved. Some of our happiest moments happened right after our worst, when the panic of losing me would turn my abuser into a man, ready to make more false promises for the future. But it was a endless cycle: it happened again and again and again. I hate to send the message that 'people can't change', but when it comes to abusers, it is not your responsibility to wait for that change. The cycle does not end when they change, the cycle only ends when you break it, or it breaks you.
I thought that it was my responsibility to fix my abuser. I built our relationship like a game of Jenga: it was only a matter of time before I pulled the wrong piece and the whole thing came crashing down.
If no one else has told you this, I will:
- No relationship should make you feel unsafe.
- No relationship should make you feel like a burden.
- No relationship should make you feel like you are crazy.
- No relationship should put you down.
- If your partner is mean to you, there is not a thing in this world that can justify that. No one deserves ill treatment from the people that claim to love them.
YOU ARE ALREADY A WHOLE HUMAN BEING, AND THERE IS NOT A GOD DAMN PERSON ALIVE THAT YOU NEED TO COMPLETE YOU.
If you are making justifications like, "but they never hit me..." GET OUT. You are already in danger. I don't care if they never lay a scratch on you, abuse is abuse, no matter what.
Do not make excuses for the way your partner treats you. You are in a relationship, not a prison cell. This doesn't have to be it. You are allowed to leave.
The hardest part is leaving.
Once you're gone, you see it.
All the reasons why you should've left long ago. All the ways you justified unacceptable behavior. All the time you wasted on a person who tried to break you.
All the red flags.
I am in a very different relationship now. Sometimes we argue. Sometimes we disagree.
But we always talk it out like rational adults.
He has never made me feel crazy for being upset about something justifiable. I have never doubted that he loves me.
We all deserve to be in a relationship that makes us feel safe and loved. Take care of yourself.
NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION HOTLINE:
THE NATIONAL DOMESTIC VIOLENCE HOTLINE:
Can my abuser change? Read here.
**And please remember that while I am not a professional, I am someone who will listen to you, if you need to talk.**