When I first freed myself from my toxic relationship, I wrote and talked about relationship violence often. I talked about it to cope, I talked about it so people would know what had happened to me and I talked about it because I felt like emotionally I could and therefore I should. Eventually I stopped talking about it so much because in a sense, it felt like I had healed. I didn’t want to be that girl who was constantly rambling on about her bad relationship because by becoming that girl I felt as if the experience was somehow invalidated. So I don’t want to whine. I don’t want anyone reading here to feel bad for me. I just feel as if I should share my story just to highlight a point that I think a lot of us don’t realize.
Several years ago, I broke up with my humanitarian of a boyfriend whom I had dated for four years after moving to a new city. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was really vulnerable. I hadn’t been without the emotionally intimate companionship a relationship offered for my entire adult life and I didn’t know how to process that sort of emotional loss. I fell into a new relationship and things got serious, fast.
I should have seen that my new partner was too excited about me too early on. I should have realized his claims of love and devotion were too much too soon. I should have rolled my eyes at his constant compliments and accolades. But I was twenty years old, feeling lonely and rejected and frankly, it just felt really good to feel pretty and accepted.
Early on my boyfriend at the time showed signs of possessive behavior; I’d never experienced a possessive boyfriend before so I didn’t know how to process it. He didn’t like the clothes I wore, yet I’d worn the same “skimpy” outfits when we first met. I couldn’t reason why he hadn’t disliked them then and suddenly did now. It became an argument every time I wanted to hang out with my friends or go out and I gradually pushed away my few male friends because it became too much of an issue to see them. There was clearly a jealousy issue; I just figured it would go away overtime as I demonstrated that I was loyal and trustworthy. I reasoned that the “little issues” we had were worth it because of all the good parts of our relationship.
Without going into too much detail, the jealousy and insecurity issues never went away. The possessiveness early on only foreshadowed the physical and emotional violence that was to follow. I would like to say that the worst part was a bit of physical pain in the heat of arguments but the emotional scarring and isolation from people I cared about was far worse. I felt like I was trapped in a snow globe; to everyone looking in it appeared as if I had isolated myself into my own happy little world, but I felt cold and suffocated, stuck in a tiny box I didn’t know how to break through from.
I say that anyone can become a victim of relationship abuse because it doesn’t always start with your boyfriend coming home drunk and beating you until your neighbor calls the police and you’re sent to the emergency room. Not all abusers are stupid or characterized by a lack of control. My abuser was incredibly manipulative, a skinny guy who loved dogs, who was popular in high school and who was studying photography. He didn’t start off “so bad” that I wanted to flee, he did just enough that at first I could forgive him. He did just enough that I could reason “my friend’s boyfriend doesn’t like it when she goes out either…” or “sometimes couples just fight, who could possibly know what really happens?” He would tell me he was “working on his jealousy” (though never admitting that this was brought on by his own insecurity, it was either always pinned on my “promiscuity” or that of his exes). I believe a lot of people who accept abuse are the kind of people that regular, kind-hearted people want as friends, I say this because we give people second chances. When my ex promised he was working on himself I couldn’t not give him a chance because I believe in working to become a better person. I believe in forgiveness.
It took two years, a neighbor calling the police, countless tears and my abuser hurting someone else I cared about before I was able to step back and see the situation with untainted eyes. I wasn’t just terrified, I was enraged.
Two years felt like a lot of wasted time for me, and for a while I was really angry at myself for letting me “waste” my last two years of college in such a miserable way. My grades had suffered, my social life had suffered, I was depressed and anxious. I was so angry at my abuser, and I admit I was angry at myself for not running from such a treacherous relationship sooner.
I’m not a weak person and I’ve never been the sort of girl who just goes with what her boyfriend wants. In fact, I think my sassiness, strong-willed nature and honestly bossiness is one of the main reasons no one would have suspected I was being abused. I had no trouble calling my ex out on a lie in public (he was a pathological liar), I would not just passively acquiesce when he tried to keep me from going to parties with my friends… I would argue and fight until I had no energy left to move let alone dance. Even now (in my healthy relationship) I’m independent. I’ve been called high maintenance (a princess). I think it was this part of me that made it difficult to see that I was so suppressed.
Anyone can be the victim of abuse.
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