What I learned from an emotionally abusive relationship

When someone beseeches you with “please don’t leave me” it doesn’t mean anything when there’s nothing to stay for. This was one of the biggest lessons I learned when I dated an emotionally abusive person. The first lesson I learned though? How difficult it is to say the words “emotionally abusive” having it refer to something I personally was experiencing.

Abuse was physical, wasn’t it? Not words. Not manipulation of my feelings. Degradation of my goals, my talent in order to keep me feeling small. Wouldn’t you simply call that person a jerk? It was my therapist who gently brought it to my attention when I asked her how it was possible that someone I loved could make me feel so terrible.

It was still hard to process because again I believed emotional abuse had to be yelling or hurling terrible names at someone for it to be classified as such. This was much quieter. It involved insinuating that I was always at fault for any rift in our relationship. It revolved around accusations that I was paranoid and that I was crazy to not trust him when he couldn’t account for his whereabouts or explain last minute cancellations.

Turning into profuse apologies and begging for my forgiveness when my suspicions proved correct. All of this encased me in a bubble where I didn’t know how to exist beyond what he said. I believed he loved me and that relationships were hard and this was just all part of it.

But the truth of it was that a relationship-any relationship-should not involve one partner feeling decimated by the other. Whether it’s emotionally, mentally or physically. To this day I don’t know how I allowed myself to get entangled the way that I did. But sometimes when you fall in love with someone, your common sense disintegrates to a point where you’re not thinking straight.

And when the person you’ve fallen in love with intermixes these behaviors with what seems like heartfelt proclamations that they love you, it’s confusing and difficult to extract yourself from the situation. I think a big part of it was that I personally wouldn’t ever tell someone that I loved them if I didn’t mean it, so I felt that him saying it to me in a way forgave anything that he said that belittled me or made me feel awful. When he laughed about my aspirations, mocked my writing and brushed off my promotions at work.

What I wish I knew back when this was all happening was that it’s okay to trust your gut instinct over the words someone says. Actions almost always speak louder than words. And if you’re feeling embarrassed or afraid to tell friends or family what you’re experiencing, then you’re probably dealing with an unhealthy situation. Which makes it okay to ask for help and advice. From a family member, from a therapist, or a friend. Someone you trust who you can explain what’s happening and how you’re feeling and figure out how to best leave the person you’re dating.

I learned that abuse isn’t always blatant. It’s not always going to be loud or in your face letting you know something is definitely wrong. It sometimes sneaks in over time when you believe you have a foundation of love and trust and defies that belief with what seems like unexpected or new behavior.

But what I do know now is that I’m confident enough to take a moment when something feels wrong about how I’m being treated. Someone who loved me wouldn’t repeatedly lie to me. Wouldn’t dismiss my accomplishments or career goals while expecting unending support and devotion for theirs.

Most importantly they wouldn’t manipulate my emotions to constantly insinuate I was falling short of being a good partner in the relationship. I lived in a constant state of being afraid he would leave me, that I didn’t deserve anything better than what he was offering, a construct he created. And in rare moments of strength when I would try to leave him, he instantly morphed into an apologetic, loving, sensitive guy making me acquiesce to give him another chance to make things right with us.

It was a vicious cycle. But the one driving force that removed me from that situation is realizing that people who truly love you will want to protect you from feeling hurt, not cause it. And that I did deserve better, because everyone deserves better than to feel like they’re trapped in a situation full of emotional highs and lows dictated by their romantic partner. Love is give and take, support and caring, differences of opinion solved by rational discussion. And those are the traits that define my relationships now, after choosing to forgive myself for not understanding my worth and standing up for it in the past.

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