Let me start by saying this is the hardest and longest article I’ve ever had to write, but writing for me is therapeutic. I have been in an abusive relationship for five years. At first glance, my husband checks all the boxes of a perfect partner. He’s handsome and charming, and in the beginning, he portrayed himself as a knight in shining armor. He sold me a fairytale that ended up being my worst nightmare. I’m still in shock realizing how long I have been with him, dealing with emotional abuse.
I am not alone in dealing with intimate partner abuse. The National Domestic Violence Hotline defines domestic violence or intimate partner violence as “a pattern of behaviors used by one partner to maintain power and control over another partner in an intimate relationship.” For me, the abuse started out as jealousy and invasion of privacy. I used to keep a journal full of poetry under my bed, which I felt was a safe enough place, because who goes rummaging under their girlfriend’s bed? And yet he did. After reading it, he showed classic signs of jealousy and trust issues. He accused me of still being in contact with my ex in an intimate way. He made me feel so bad that I bypassed the obvious issue of him invading my privacy and apologized for the contents of the journal, as though I had done something wrong by writing down my feelings. I learned a quick lesson in not keeping anything personal where he could get to it. Soon, though, I found that the only safe place was inside my mind. I no longer had an outlet for working through my problems; he stripped me of my favorite coping mechanism.
Within the first few months of us dating, he proposed. Of course, the proposal made red flags go up for me, and I would often ask him, “Why? Aren’t we moving too fast?” He brushed off my concerns by saying, “When you know, you know. Why wait?” With no outlet for my thoughts, my doubts and concerns compounded until I ended up having a mental breakdown–which landed me in the psych ward for two weeks. Nevertheless, the engagement remained intact, giving me hope that he was the one for me because he stood by me through that rough period. Social worker and educator Lisa Ferentz explains, “Unlike physical or sexual abuse, there is a subtlety to emotional abuse. It’s a lot more confusing to victims, as it typically is couched in behaviors that can initially be perceived as ‘caring.’”
There are many examples and forms of emotional abuse. My husband’s go to is gaslighting, isolation, and economic abuse. Gaslighting is extremely dangerous because it causes the victim to question their own sanity, memory, and feelings. He would play on my weaknesses, my poor memory, and my mental illness. If I couldn’t provide physical evidence for my grievance with him, it didn’t exist, and I was being “too sensitive” or “not remembering things correctly.” He broke me down to the point I didn’t trust my own opinion on things like my own appearance, which gave him a way to diminish my self-esteem and self-worth. He dictated how I dressed and wore my hair. If you go back to my social media, you can literally tell when we were together and when we were not because of how I looked. When I met him, I had blonde tipped dreadlocks, and I dressed however I wanted. If I wanted to wear something form fitting, I would, until he started putting me down. He’d remark that my hair looked bad, or I dressed like a whore, so I changed how I looked to appease him. I got a new wardrobe and a haircut. It wasn’t enough for him. He then would put me down for being too skinny or too fat. I was slowly losing myself, and I would try to escape. I would find myself running away from him because I told myself “he was crazy,” and “he was making me crazy.” He always reeled me back in. When his charm and promises of better didn’t work, he would threaten suicide. Looking back now, I was being held hostage.
In parts two and three of this in-depth article on emotional abuse and domestic violence, I’ll discuss more of my experiences–plus offer guidance and support for those who, like me, are seeking help.
If you or someone you know is in an emotionally abusive relationship, you are not alone and can get help. The National Domestic Violence hotline offers free and confidential help via phone and chat. Learn more at https://www.thehotline.org/ or by calling 1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY). If you are local to the Triangle in NC, the organization Interact offers free and confidential services, including support groups: http://interactofwake.wpengine.com/get-help/.