I knew what love should be like and I thought that was enough to protect me from being a victim of an abusive relationship. I even have a message of myself telling my ex that if I ever felt like I was in an abusive relationship, I would run away from it right away, because I know I don’t deserve that.
Except, I didn’t know what an abusive relationship felt like, let alone an emotionally abusive relationship. The best description of “emotional abuse” that I came across after my relationship with my ex ended was that abusive relationships aren’t 100% bad or hurtful. There are good moments in them, too.
Society talks about relationships being either healthy or unhealthy. In a healthy relationship, things are good. Sure the couple might argue, but overall you think of two strong individuals who are bound by this omnipresent bond of strong love. However, unhealthy relationships are seen as the complete opposite with a pervasive hatred for the other.
I dated my ex for five years. The first instance of “emotional abuse” in our relationship happened almost three years into the relationship. That was the first time I wondered if I was in an abusive relationship or not. I was a sophomore in college and, to be honest, I wasn’t very well educated in what unhealthy relationships were like.
I began looking up what emotionally abusive relationships felt like and as I looked at the lists I found, I disagreed with the majority of the items. He never flat out called me any names. He never humiliated me in front of my friends or family. He never refused to communicate with me. And he would never threaten me or make any negative remarks. How could I be emotionally abused if he didn’t do these things?
What I didn’t acknowledge until after I got out of the relationship was that I didn’t need to agree with everything on those lists. If I agreed with just one thing and that one thing was causing me psychological trauma, that would have been enough to be considered emotional abuse.
I look at those same lists now, and I realize how much I was lying to myself while looking at them the first time. Did he regularly disregard my suggestions or needs? Yes. Did he isolate me from talking and hanging out with friends? Yes. Did he view me as an extension of himself rather than as an individual? Definitely.
Though I convinced myself that I felt happy with him, I was discrediting the intensity of the pain he brought me. Whenever I would feel comfortable and show my true self to him, he would criticize me. He would make fun of the TV shows and books that I enjoyed while explaining why his interests were more accredited and, therefore, better.
After him discrediting what I liked, even after trying to convince him they were worthy enough, I soon discredited what I liked too. He would imply that I was a boring person to the point where I believed him and had no idea what I was interested in anymore. He would make remarks about my spending habits to the point where I didn’t want to buy anything in front of him anymore.
These actions and thought patterns weren’t conscious, and I think that is the most important thing to realize. They happened after him repeatedly doing the same thing and putting me down to the point that I put myself down, as well. It became a game: Who could put me down first? Could I predict what his insults were going to be before he said them, so I didn’t have to hear them from him?
It feels crazy to say, but I didn’t realize it. You don’t wake up one day and realize, “Hey, I’m being so harsh on myself so I could prevent myself from hearing my boyfriend say these awful things to me.” It’s just a pattern of thinking that begins, and since I felt isolated from friends and family, I didn’t have anyone to talk to in order to realize that the relationship was unhealthy.
Like I said earlier, abusive relationships aren’t 100% bad all the time. I had some really great times with my ex. He would spend time thinking of thoughtful gifts to give me and I would spend hours making him homemade gifts. We would laugh and eat ice cream while watching Disney movies.
Those good moments were what convinced me that I wasn’t in an emotionally abusive relationship. Unfortunately, I was wrong.