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What Led Me to Accept the Abuse I Endured in My Relationship

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Editor's Note

If you have experienced emotional abuse, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

“Stable” is a word I tend to run from and to. My entire life I have been described as stable, secure, mature, etc. Yet, in contrast, I have also always been described as sensitive, overreactive and dramatic. The confusion of words with very opposing connotations has always been felt. I am confident and insecure in my maturity at all times.

At a very young age, I was confronted with this complex question, “How is it I am so mature for my age, but I’m always getting in trouble or being made fun of for being overemotional?” It made me feel like I had to split my personality at a young age. The real me was mature, but sometimes my “bad” side would come out and I would become overreactive. This was confirmed for me by situations that happened in my life where my mental illness was mistaken as a lapse in judgment or even a part of my personality by people in my life. As I got older, that complex only grew.

Once I hit middle school, I started to realize something was wrong. I knew I struggled to control negative thoughts and feelings, but that was just because I was being immature. All I needed to do was to process as quickly as possible and move on. I hid the part of me I felt was “wrong” so only my ideal side was apparent to everyone else in my life. Of course, because I was never actually taught how to process my big emotions, I would sometimes lose control, but in my mind, that was my fault for not trying hard enough to be stable. It wasn’t until my sophomore year of high school that I reached out and got help. But by then, it was too late. My mindset had already been made up, and it would continue until I was several years into therapy.

This mindset was a key factor in me ending up in an emotionally abusive relationship for two to three years in high school. From the time I was 15, until a few weeks shy of 18, I grew up being manipulated daily. However, many of the ways I was being manipulated were just more confirmation of the negative thought process I had developed as a child and integrated into my everyday life. Up to that point, it was normalized for me to ignore my emotions to try and make other people more comfortable.

At home, if I was struggling, I was supported until I had a breakdown. No one knew how to handle the way I was feeling, so I was taught to ignore any negativity within myself. It was not an illness. It was simply just a part of my personality I needed to work on. At school, if I was struggling, it was because I wasn’t focused enough. I must’ve been staying up too late or not studying enough. At work, if I was struggling, it was because I wasn’t dedicated enough. I was spending too much time with friends and my boyfriend. In friendships, if I was struggling and had an outburst, I was being dramatic and sensitive. At no point in my mind was I ever struggling because I needed help. It was all because I wasn’t trying hard enough to be good enough for myself and the people in my life.

Then, in my relationship, this pattern continued, but tenfold. I would get “punished” if I ever showed my emotions. If I started having a panic attack, I was told to stop because it made him nervous. If he thought I was upset about anything, he would cut me off until I was able to calm down. If I asked for help, I was being manipulative because it wasn’t his job to worry about me. To me, this was all normal, and any time it went too far, it was OK because he had a mental illness and his condition was accepted. If I ever called him out, I was yelled at for being insensitive about his condition that I would never be able to understand because I’m so stable. Friends and family wondered why I wouldn’t just leave. I was so much more stable and mature, why was I choosing to stay with this guy? Often, his family asked me to stay because I was just so stable.

Yet, behind doors, I was losing it, and my boyfriend would see it. However, what was presented as me being a “crazy girlfriend,” was me being pushed to a breaking point. I would be called names, cheated on and lied about to all of our mutual friends. He would stand me up or change plans without letting me know and then complain about me getting upset. He would lie to his friends and told them I broke up with him, and even convince me I did, too. He would randomly tell me he didn’t care about me. Followed up by him yelling at me for being paranoid and asking why he didn’t care about me. Most memorably, he would fondly refer to me as baggage, in private, because I was so much to handle, but he didn’t want to go anywhere without me. It stuck until I got mad, and he still just called me sensitive and dramatic.

Countless other things happened, and yet there was always a common theme: It was my fault for not being stable. It wasn’t until he left me, I was finally free, and I’m forever grateful to him for that. Since then, I’ve been in countless more therapy sessions, written more journal entries than I can count and started to restructure the relationships in my life and with myself to be as healthy for me as possible. In the end, the thing I still get complimented for is being so stable. The thing I get critiqued for the most is being unstable, but I’m no longer trying to run to or from those labels.

Now, I know I am mature because I was always expected to be mature, but I’m still a very vulnerable person. I am more in control of myself than ever because I’m no longer trying to get rid of my emotions. I’m now aware the reasons why I struggle are because of issues I have with my mental health, not myself, and I can work to manage my reaction to my condition. Of course, there were times when I was in the wrong. Mental illness is not an excuse for any actions, but it is an explanation. I’m still going to fail and have breakdowns or outbursts, but now I can apologize and move on instead of living in a constant state of repenting for my last mistake.

All in all, I believe if my mental illness was not constantly rejected, I would’ve been able to get the help I needed earlier. Instead, I had to struggle through my untreated illness, and it instilled the idea in me I was not mentally ill. I was just not trying hard enough to make the people in my life and myself happy. It normalized me being held accountable for any emotion I had.

However, now that I’ve worked on myself, I feel considerably less guilty for my negative emotions. I realize I can’t control how I feel, only how I handle my feelings. In relationships, I still struggle to set boundaries, but I know now I have the tools to realize what is abuse and how to leave. With the most boundaries in my life, I feel the freest, and I only wish I had acceptance earlier. It was never anyone’s fault they didn’t know how to recognize what I was going through. I had no idea, so how could anyone else? But if there was societal acceptance and education of mental health, maybe I would’ve had the tools to help myself before I ended up in an emotionally abusive relationship.

I know this experience is not exclusive to me. Often people who are in abusive relationships struggle with mental health themselves. We need treatment not blame. Educate yourself on warning signs and check in on your loved ones, and most importantly, ask for help. Know if you feel like you have to hide your struggles to protect someone hurting you, it probably isn’t healthy.

Lastly, let’s stop using mature as the ultimate compliment for children and teens. Kids should not strive to be more emotionally intelligent than what is expected of them. People experience so many emotions, especially growing up. It is not realistic to expect them to know how to respond to every situation appropriately. With increased communication, we can all work to take better care of each other so we can all be as stable as possible knowing we have support if we need it.

Unsplash image by Emiliano Vittoriosi

Originally published: July 19, 2021
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