This March marked ten years since an emotionally abusive relationship ended. I wish I could say that I was the one that ended the relationship, but sadly I wasn’t. I wish I could say that I realized that I was better off quickly and moved on, but that wouldn’t be true either. Unfortunately, the end of that relationship sent me into a deep depression that started my journey to getting mentally healthy. You can read more about that journey here and here. And it wasn’t until several years later, although I had been over the relationship for awhile, that I realized that it was an emotionally abusive relationship.
I had always defined abuse as physical abuse. Since this boyfriend had never hit me I had a hard time characterizing how he had treated me as abuse. But emotional abuse is very real and often especially dangerous because most people don’t even know what it looks like. And just like physical abuse, it can be incredibly hard to escape. The basis of any abuser’s control over their victim is manipulation and I became that woman that stayed even though I was being treated poorly.
Signs of Emotional Abuse
Here are just some of the signs that you might be in an emotionally abusive relationship, as illustrated through my personal experience. If you’d like to read more about the signs of emotional abuse, visit Pyschology Today and The Crisis Textline.
Makes accusations of cheating- I got accused of cheating several times. Most of the time in emotionally abusive relationships this is due to jealousy, but I’m pretty sure it was another deflection technique on the part of my boyfriend to blame me for whatever was occurring at the time.
Accusing you of being “too sensitive” or “over-reacting” and regularly invalidating your feelings- Many conversations resulted in my feelings being dismissed as over-reactions or simply stupid.
Monopolizing your time- I stayed up late at night so we could talk after he got home from all his important commitments. The majority of our time together was spent at his house and with his friends. My education and work were pushed to the side so I could accommodate his schedule and even on several occasions, do part of his work for him at his job.
Making everything your fault- In conversations about bad behavior on his part everything was always twisted around until I was the one at fault.
Name calling and criticism that breaks down your self esteem- The worst of this was in a conversation in which I broached the topic of breaking up several months before we actually did. He told me that no one else would want me (and then listed the reasons why). They were all things that I had shared in confidence and had particular sensitivity about. If I hadn’t had my self esteem trampled to bits at this point by similar conversations that made me feel like I had something to be ashamed about I might have been able to recognize this as another method he was using to control and manipulate me.
Controlling finances- He couldn’t manage his own personal finances, which led him into guilting me into giving him a loan so he could pay his rent. He never paid it back, even after we broke up and I pursued trying to get it back.
Gaslighting through denying previous events happened- He attempted to make me feel crazy and out of control by denying certain things had happened or saying that they did not happen in the way I was remembering.
The Results of Emotional Abuse
The most direct result of being in an emotionally abusive relationship was several years of battling intense depression and anxiety. My self esteem, which admittedly wasn’t very good before the relationship started, took a nosedive during and especially after the relationship ended. I struggled even more with my body image. It was easy for me to equate rejection and poor treatment with the fact that I wasn’t pretty enough or smart enough or just enough.
I constantly felt like I wasn’t good enough. I made poor choices by getting involved in relationships and non-relationships with guys that weren’t any good for me because I didn’t believe that I deserved any better. Because of the poor self esteem I also stuck around in friendships that weren’t healthy and actually were pretty emotionally abusive themselves.
I still deal with overwhelming feelings of abandonment and rejection when I am let down and disappointed by the people in my life. This is something that I am actively working on in therapy.
Overcoming Emotional Abuse
If you are currently in an emotional abusive relationship or working through the emotional effects of being in one, I want to tell you that you are so much more then that relationship. And you are so much more then how you were treated. You did not deserve to be treated that way. Everyone deserves to be treated with respect and kindness by their partner. Even if you feel broken beyond repair right now, you are not! For several years after that relationship ended I didn’t believe that I was worth being treated well. I didn’t believe I would “amount to anything.” I would always be a failure, ashamed of my depression and anxiety, and unable to crack it in the real world or have a successful relationship. But looking back over the last ten years, I have accomplished a lot:
Finished graduate school and obtained a MA in Children’s Literature
Received treatment for my depression and anxiety and became a mental health advocate
Wrote dozens of articles for websites and print magazines
Developed the curriculum for and taught workshops and summer camps in literacy, history, and creative writing for schools, art centers, and non profits
Had my own classroom in an after school and summer camp program
Started a blog
Opened an Etsy shop and sold my designs
Had a beautiful baby girl
What have you accomplished since the end of an abusive relationship?