Emotional abuse is very hard to define, let alone pinpoint. How does one know they are in an emotionally abusive relationship? With physical abuse, there are the obvious physical markings that you can point to and say ‘look I have been physically abused’, a scratch, a bite mark, a bruise or a scar. With verbal abuse, you hear the verbal ranting or outbursts and can even record them to use later as evidence!
However, emotional abuse is much more elusive and subtle. There are no tell-tale physical marks on your body. In fact you could have a sense that ‘something doesn’t feel right,’ but go on for many years without any idea that you are being emotionally abused by a friend, parent or partner.
That’s how it was for me. I have been trying to run from my marriage from the very early stages of the relationship. I was unsuccessful each time because I didn’t know what I was running from. You have to be able to name the thing you are running away from to rationalise and justify it to your mind and to other people. People don’t just end relationships for no reason. You have to be clear about what is so wrong about it.
I was married to my husband for 13 years and I met him 3 years before I married him. From the very beginning of our 16 year relationship, I had a very strong sense of uneasiness. I felt pressured to go along with things that I was not quite happy about, and I didn’t have the space to stop and reflect. Things moved very quickly and within a month of meeting him, he confessed his love for me, revealed everything about is abusive childhood at the hands of his father and wanted to move in with me.
When I questioned how he could love someone so soon after meeting them, he tried to prove his love in all kinds of irrational ways and told me that he couldn’t live without me and that I was the only one he had ever told about his painful past.
I was hooked! How could I leave this man who clearly needed my love so much! GUILT was the first tactic he used!
Then he tried to change things about me, but ever so subtly. Things that he had seemed fine about when we first met. He started to lecture me about smoking! He didn’t like my friends. They were easy girls, not good enough for me to hang out with. I slept too much, I didn’t know enough about cooking, I went out too much, I needed to remove my ear piercing, my spiritual beliefs were questionable. Why did I need to mediate; the mind-body-spirit thing was a huge sham! Why did I study such a useless major at university, I could’ve done much better and would be able to earn more if I was more sensible.
I changed because his ‘suggestions’ were so well meant and he drummed them into my head over and over showing me how lost I was and how I was so lucky to have found someone like him; who loved me enough to save me from eternal damnation! CRITICISM was the second tool he employed!
He then went on to compare me with other women. ‘Oh, look how well she looks after her man! You never do that for me.’ ‘My mother doesn’t cook like that.’ ‘Girls from where I am from don’t behave like that.’ And so he compared me with seemingly more capable, more confident woman all the time! COMPARISON was another one!
I felt like the worst person to walk the earth! Everything was my fault of course. Everything that went wrong in the relationship; every argument and every disagreement. My opinion and the reasoning behind it was always flawed and because of that, I had to listen to his very long diatribes about why I was wrong. I was so worn out that it was much easier to just agree and swallow my own words
He was teaching me about the world because I was from a small place. I had to learn about how the world really worked. I was too trusting and naive! My parents didn’t do a good job with me. His mother had trained him well. BLAME and INVALIDATION and UNDERMINING were other useful tools in his trickery box!
I didn’t know how to behave around people. I always said the wrong thing! I felt more socially awkward with him than I had ever felt. He would show me how to pay for things in a shop so that I used up all my excess coins and he would kindly show me how to make sure the milk and eggs I was buying were not passed their expiration date. There was always a problem with the customer service and his food was never cooked properly in restaurants. I had to agree with him because he sensed my excruciating embarrassment and wanted me to take his side against everyone else even when he was being unreasonable. EMBARRASSMENT and ‘US against the WORLD’!
I had a very bad memory and didn’t remember things the way they happened. No, I actually did kiss his friend on the lips deliberately. I did say this or that. I was a hardened liar! Why was I so bad! MANIPULATION of the facts outside of the context and FALSE ACCUSATIONS were his favourite!
My personal favourite was the fact that he constantly accused me of being too sensitive. He would insult me, my family and everything that I held dear and then say in a honey-sweet voice, ‘You are too sensitive, why are you getting so upset. You have a complex about yourself because you are mixed race!’
There were many other tools he used to make me question my sanity, my memory and my perceptions. There were THREATS that he would commit suicide because I had damaged him and making me listen to him for hours even if it meant that he would keep me awake. There was the IRRATIONAL JEALOUSY and accusations that I was entertaining men in my office at work.
I felt bad bad bad, drained and unhappy all the time. I wanted to run from him but how could I, I was the one who was to blame, I had to stay and fix myself!
I physically left once and we were separated for about six months. I then begged him to take me back. I had destroyed his life and I had to redeem myself by taking him back and prove that I wasn’t bad.
When he started to physically abuse me and the verbal abuse became more and more frequent, I finally decided to seek therapy to help me to leave. It was only then that I was able to uncover the emotional abuse and see how manipulative and controlling my husband really is. The hidden scars of emotional abuse run deep! They have affected my ability to make independent decisions and stick to them, my ability to believe in myself and have compassion for myself. They have shaken me at the very core and I am now undoing the damage and re-building myself with the help of therapy, meditation, good friends, positivity and hope.
If you sense that something is wrong in your relationship, believe it!! You know best! Trust yourself! Please learn to recognise the signs of emotional abuse from my story.