Cuts heal, even deep ones. Bruises fade, skin is restored. The human body is an amazing thing, and so is the human mind. But when one human tangles another’s mind to the point of agonizing pain and confusion, chaos ensues until the abused becomes unrecognizable to herself. Think I’m being dramatic? Just consider yourself very lucky that you can’t relate.
Before I go any further, I want to point out that physical and emotional abuse can be equally horrific. This is in no way meant to downplay the severity of physical abuse. It is only to shed light on an even less talked-about topic.
Emotional abuse can only be committed by a certain type of person, one who doesn’t process empathy, guilt, or selflessness. It doesn’t matter what you do, sacrifices or changes that you make, what you say or how you say it, write it, scream it, cry it… Nothing will make the abuser understand how to process the things they lack. That will always be the irreversible root of the abuse. I won’t go into detail about what causes some humans to lack emotions that are so primal and come so naturally to most. I’m not a psychiatrist, but if you’re curious, a simple “narcissistic personality disorder” or “sociopath” Google search should do the trick.
But this isn’t about the abuser or even the abuse, it’s about the aftermath. Emotional abuse is subjective and isn’t as easily identifiable as physical abuse. Both can be inflicted in so many different ways, but unlike psychical abuse, emotional abuse can’t be seen. It’s completely invisible to the world, but to the one being abused, it’s their entire world.
Let’s think about a cut. It’s a moment in time, it hurts, you bleed, clean it up, patch it up, care for it as it starts to heal. A week goes by, it scabs, it’s probably itchy, and now you don’t even need a Band-Aid. Another few days, it’s a memory and a fading scar. (Obviously physical pain varies in severity, but you get the idea.) Emotional pain via abuse isn’t usually just a moment in time (again, not a psychiatrist, but I’m pretty confident in this statement). It’s a series of strategic and manipulative “cuts” to the mind of the one being abused. Not to mention her confidence, self-worth, self-esteem, dignity, and identity. A doctor doesn’t need to confirm that there’s no simple or universal remedy to heal from that.
I was emotionally abused for more than two years. It felt like I was on an excruciating roller coaster ride that wouldn’t stop. In large part because I kept getting back in line for the ride, over and over again. Exhilarating highs, crippling lows, relentless jerks side to side. And every time I felt like I might fall out, the constraints got tighter, ensuring I couldn’t budge. I was overwhelmed with humiliation and insecurity and thus kept it as private as possible.
Paralyzed, secretly suffering while the world was happening all around me. My experience was a slow and manipulative mind game coupled with a passionate and controlling physical relationship—it was the perfect poison. Time and time again, I tried to bow out gracefully in hopes that one day we’d see eye to eye.
Immediately and relentlessly I was lured right back in through emails, songs, gestures, “heartfelt” words, hateful words, whatever it took for him to regain control. I’d be swept off to New York City for a birthday dinner and concert, then—silence for two weeks, later to find out that my affection was being “tested.”
This cycle went on for years. A haunting series of private meetings and circular conversations, all of which ended with sex and more questions and confusion. I was convincingly led to believe that I was the reason the relationship I longed for wasn’t working. I couldn’t be trusted, I mistreated him too severely because I wasn’t trying hard enough to fight for him. Imagine being told repeatedly that you’re the reason you can’t be with the person you love, by the person you love, and yet they won’t leave you alone, no matter how much you beg them to. I was going crazy.
I finally found strength in gut-wrenching defeat, and the truth that I wasn’t “special.” In fact, I was one among a long-standing and growing collection of pretty girls with brown hair, nice smiles, and kind eyes. Utterly embarrassed and hopeless, I stopped “getting back in line for the ride,” and eventually he stopped trying so hard to force me back. I had served my purpose, he didn’t need me anymore. Just like that, he was done using me, and another unassuming brunette was on deck. Riddled with my newly discovered anxiety disorder, and not a shred of dignity, I was an unrecognizable, paranoid version of my once confident and carefree self.
In the time since, although relieved and enlightened, I have felt a great deal of pain, confusion, and lack of self-identity that was unexpected. I understand the relationship that I was an equal part of, and I recognize exactly how it has changed me. But now what? How do I feel like my “old self” again? Does she even exist anymore? How do I not question every person that I meet—more so, how do I not question myself? The level of twisted manipulation that I allowed myself to experience and believe has cut me so deep that I sometimes see myself through his lens. He, who I wasn’t good enough for, who didn’t respect me, made me feel completely worthless, and who took advantage of my genuine feelings, kind spirit, and trusting nature. Is there a Band-Aid for that?
When it comes to healing from emotional abuse, I assume everyone is different, and there’s no worse time to feel so alone, without a clear path to recovery. What I’ve done in an effort to heal isn’t science or proven, or even groundbreaking. It hasn’t been nearly as easy as it may sound, but I can assure you, it’s slowly working.
I have surrounded myself with only people who love me and respect me. I’m quieter and more introverted than I used to be. It’s because I’m watching and listening to how the people who love me see and perceive me. I want to see myself through their lens, not his, until I’m strong and confident enough to see myself through my own lens. I spend substantially less time wasted on social media. Instead, I read books or listen to podcasts, often on topics about my hobbies and positive self-help. I’ve respectfully distanced myself from people who create negativity and self-doubt. I’ve capitalized on the things I love to do, big and small, and challenge myself to do them to their absolute fullest potential. Traveling, running, gardening, philanthropy, work, music, etc. If you’re rolling your eyes, whatever, I’m serious! I turned a casual running hobby, into five half marathons, two full marathons, and just recently, a triathlon. One basil plant in the kitchen is now a full-blown herb and flower garden where I spend time alone to relax and reflect. I volunteered, and with help from family and friends, raised almost $4,000 for a cause that’s important to me. After months of meetings and research, I’m transitioning to a completely new and different type of job that’s more aligned with my skills and values. Metaphors aside, I found ways to positively exploit the things that make me happy, things I had already been doing to some degree, but now I do them better. When I’m doing the things I love, with the people I love, I don’t have time or space in my mind for someone who didn’t have time or space for me. With love, support, and patience from the good people around me, I’m slowly finding myself again and embracing the things that are different about me.
I am the person behind this article, but to the person behind my pain, I want to say two things. First, thank you. Thank you for hurting me, blaming me, lying to me, using me, and stalking me. Thank you for showing me your true self. Had you not, I would have undoubtedly given you more than just a few years. Second, I forgive you. I hope that you find the help you need because there’s no Band-Aid for what you’re suffering from either.