When we hear the word "abuse", we normally (rightfully) attach negative connotations to it and understand that it should not be inflicted on or tolerated by anyone. However, it is easier said than done. Many people do not recognise their situations as abusive and others may not have the peer support, financial support, resources or emotional/mental strength to leave abusive people/situations. Lafiya Health managed to interview someone that overcame their emotionally abusive experience to get her hindsight perspective. She decided to remain anonymous. (Questions are in blue, answers are in grey.)
A lot of people are unaware of what emotional abuse in a relationship involves and find it hard to believe/understand that they are being abused. Why do you think that is?
I think it's because it's coming from someone who you think you love.. so because you think the person loves you back, you trust that there's no way this person would abuse you. Like it doesn't even cross your mind & it's not like physical abuse where you can actually see the damage being done onto you so you can't really point it out straight away. Others who aren't in the relationship wouldn't be sure about it because you don't really want to tell your relationship issues to anyone out of embarrassment and fear of judgement - so friends and family wouldn't really be aware of what's happening. Other outsiders are just ignorant and may think that you're just too emotional. Well, this is how I felt anyway.
Why do you think that you were vulnerable to this kind of abuse?
I was vulnerable to this kind of abuse because I had just left a damaging relationship and I was quite young at the time. The guy I was with before entering an emotionally abusive relationship was a cheater and through the course of the relationship we'd have really heated arguments about his cheating ways, the arguments eventually turned into fights - like I remember one time in the park I punched his nose and it bled and he punched me back and I coughed up blood. Although I used to laugh at it, looking back now I realised how toxic that relationship was and how much it damaged me and lowered my expectations of relationships but I didn't want to face it. I didn't really know myself so couldn't love myself. I just wanted to be loved and cared for. So when that relationship ended I jumped straight into another relationship.. where I just thought the world of this new guy because he was smart and had a good reputation, he wasn't known to cheat and just seemed like an all around good person so I automatically fell for him and thought he was an upgrade. I let other people's judgment of him take control instead of judging/assessing him myself.
How were you abused?
I was emotionally abused. He didn't think highly of me, the way he spoke to me and the way he treated me was constantly disrespectful. Whenever I had a plan he wouldn't encourage me but would challenge me and make me feel silly for choosing to do something. He made me feel like I had no common sense. He didn't really value what I'd say. He'd always belittle me and say things like he's more mature than me or "who are you to say this or that to me" whenever, I would try to complain, he was defensive and made horrible accusations whenever I requested for him to treat me better. He was controlling and didn't like me having fun with my friends, he just wanted me all to himself, he always made me feel guilty for doing things that didn't involve him. He made me feel bad about myself and said things like "remember who you were without makeup", so I felt ugly. He'd break up with me all the time then manipulate me to get back with him. I went through 2.5 years of this destructive cycle before eventually gaining the strength to leave.
A lot of people's reaction to abuse is to tell people to leave. What do you think stopped you from leaving straight away?
What stopped me from leaving straight away is that I believed I loved him. I trusted and cared for his judgment a lot to the point when he'd say bad things about my ideas, I'd agree with him and think that yeah, my points were silly. Or I'd make excuses for what he'd do or say to me.
What were the effects of the abusive relationship on your mental health?
I just wasn't happy and was carrying a lot of pain inside but couldn't leave him because it was felt like I would be worse off. I couldn't believe in myself and never really had the motivation to work hard and perform well in my education/career or personal goals. I would ALWAYS pretend that I'm happy because I didn't want those around me thinking he was evil. I lacked so much confidence and didn't think I was capable of anything.
When did you realise that you were in an abusive relationship?
I realised I was emotionally abused after the relationship had ended.
What steps did you take in order to recover from the mental effects that the abuse caused you?
I took Christianity more seriously which was a huge part of me recovering. Going to church really helped because I was constantly hearing positive things. I was always encouraged by the word. Reading passages from the bible and constantly meditating on it especially when a bad thought would come into my head also helped. I repeatedly affirmed that I am good enough. I made it a goal of mine to make an effort on how I looked. I made more of an effort in my education; improving myself and focusing on myself, especially on what I'm already good at and perfecting that (still a journey though). I also had friends that were constantly reassuring me that I was enough and helping me get out of my comfort zone. Reading blogs and other people's stories gave me hope that I too would recover. My friends cared for me, supported me and listened to me which was a big relief, they didn't think I was silly, they just wanted the best.