The Reality of Emotional Abuse
You may have noticed the hashtag #MaybeHeDoesntHitYou trending on social media recently. For some, the corresponding information regarding emotional abuse may be new and surprising. For others like myself, the hashtag hits a little too close to home.
Emotional abuse is widely neglected when it comes to awareness. When someone mentions “violence,” the first thing that comes to a person’s mind is often punching, kicking, etc. Yet, the most horrendous violence isn’t always visible.
Emotional abuse, also referred to as psychological abuse, is a type of violence characterized by the abuser’s nonphysical efforts to control the victim. Common tactics include dominance, humiliation, isolation, threats, intimidation, denial and blame. Many believe this abuse occurs primarily within the confines of marriage or adult relationships. However, this is not often the case.
At 14, I coincidentally met a boy who changed my feelings towards relationships for the rest of my life.
In the beginning, everything was great. We were obsessed with each other. It was my dream relationship. Being young and naïve, I assumed this was the boy I would marry. But just a month or so into our relationship, his behavior changed. At the time, I didn’t realize what was happening. My mom, myself and our long time family friends went on a camping trip. While I was away, the texts and calls I received were relentless. He wanted to know what I was doing at every second. He was beside himself that a boy his age was there. Blinded by my adoration, I returned every concern with a reassuring response.
That was the first incident. There were too many to count in the two years that followed. They got worse and more frequent.
Without me even being aware of it, he slowly isolated me from my friends and as much as possible from my family. I wasn’t allowed to hang out with anyone. If I mentioned any plans I had with someone else, he made me feel bad about it. So I hung out with no one other than him.
I wasn’t allowed to have any contact with males whatsoever – even when I didn’t initiate it. If a guy texted me asking what our homework was, I would go numb with fear. One time, while we were walking in town, a friend of mine walked by and simply said “Hi.” I got reprimanded for it… for the rest of the day. Another time, my best friend and her friend (who was male) made an igloo in my yard while I was away. When he came over later that night, he was infuriated. His fists were clenched, veins showing. We sat in a dark room for hours while he scolded me for my friends’ actions.
I couldn’t wear what I wanted. I was told I looked like a “whore” when I wore anything relatively attractive. So I hid. I chose to look and feel terrible about myself rather than be called names by my own boyfriend.
He constantly made me feel stupid. It didn’t help that he was incredibly intelligent; I could never match the grades he got, nor his talents. He was good at everything but liked nothing. He was bland and boring. The only thing he took interest in was controlling me. Everything was a competition. I wasn’t his girlfriend; I was a possession that made him feel better about himself. He’d make fun of my failures and consistently try to one-up me as you would a sibling. I lost all confidence in myself and my abilities.
He never laid a hand on me, but I was terrified nonetheless. I knew if I ever tried to leave him, he’d stalk me. There was no way to get rid of him. I feared breaking up with him would put myself and others at risk. When he was upset, he was irrational. One time when I was mad at him, he showed up on my driveway in the middle of the night. He babbled nonsense through tears and begged me to forgive him. Eventually I did, just so he’d stop crying and leave.
He believed he never did anything wrong. Even when he hurt my feelings, he’d twist the situation to somehow being my fault. Never once in those two years did I get a sincere “I’m sorry,” or “That was my fault.” In his mind, he was perfect, and I was far from it.
It took me nearly two years to finally look up symptoms of his abuse online. I read down the list of emotional abuse characteristics, and to my horror, I found myself amidst a classic case of psychological violence. Even then, I couldn’t bring myself to leave.
He broke up with me on my birthday because I was with a male family friend.
Six months later, he tried to come back. They always do.
After our relationship, I didn’t believe in the idea of love. I scoffed at intimacy. Even romantic comedies made me sick. I decided I couldn’t trust men – it wasn’t worth it. Until one day, it was. I found someone who patiently helped me put myself back together again, piece by piece. It took a long time for me to realize I didn’t need to be on edge all the time. I wasn’t going to be questioned about where I was or what I was doing every minute. I was allowed to go out with friends. I could talk to guys.
But somewhere, in the back of my mind, remnants of the emotional violence I suffered still linger.
Maybe he doesn’t hit you, but he doesn’t have to.