Emotional abuse penetrates a victim to their marrow, but unlike physical abuse, there are no marks to prove any damage.
I met him almost immediately after I arrived at college as a freshman. He was a self-proclaimed “nice guy” who did in fact seem to have every characteristic off the nice guy checklist. He was friendly, kind, and funny. We instantly clicked. After about a week of hanging out, we started hooking up. He completely respected my boundaries because he knew I was a virgin at the time. With every progression, he made sure I was completely on board. The duplicitous façade suited him well, because I fell for him instantly. About one month later, we sealed the deal. I was on cloud nine, never expecting to have met someone so perfect for me. Freshman year, I do believe we were both happy.
Sophomore year, things started to get shaky and I first started to identify warning signs.
I willingly spent all of my free time with him, neglecting friends who would reach out and make plans with me. I also noticed that he seemed to get mad at me more frequently than what seemed to be “normal” for a college relationship despite my kind nature. On the rare occasion when I would get dinner with another friend or stay the night with my roommate instead of with him, I started to develop a fear that he would punish me for it because of his expectation for me to run back him. Whenever he would ask me a school related question that I did not know the answer to, I could see the anger in his eyes as he’d condescendingly tell me how unhelpful I was.
I also have a clear memory of a time in which he had a dream that I hooked up with one of his friends whom I had never met before. When he told me about it the next morning, he followed up his synopsis with “I’m not sure I can trust you after having that dream.” My fear of losing him prevented me from questioning anything he ever said, no matter how farfetched it was. My default response eventually became “I’m sorry.” It did not matter what I did, but I owed him that apology so he would stay with me. I needed him. Without him, I was nothing.
As questionable as some of these instances were, everything exploded the following fall. The next warning sign was when I identified a sense of entitlement within him that he could say whatever he wanted in front of me without any concern. He’d often talk about how he would love to “fuck that girl,” or that “she is definitely a 9 out of 10” without consideration for my feelings. The freedom to say and act however he pleased was not a two way street. For me, studying with other friends was not an option unless I reported to him first.
Talking to other guys that we were not mutual friends with meant I was interested. The final warning sign within this semester was when he started to show signs of violence. On occasion he would grab my throat and squeeze to the point of extreme discomfort. He would shut me in his room when I would try to leave. When I finally found an ounce of courage to bring these things to his attention, I was made to believe I was dramatic and did not know how to take a joke. I was a punching bag: I took all of his blows without any ability to defend myself.
All of these identifications were brewing up inside me. I was a pot of water at medium heat that suddenly was raised to high. I had the final straw with his out of line behavior when he made a bet with his roommate in front of me about who could be the first one between them to find another girl to hook up with that weekend. It finally dawned on me that I deserved better than how he was treating me. The next day, I calmly expressed my desire to end things. As bad as anything was before our break up, it worsened tenfold in the aftermath. He never respected my “no” or my desire to liberated from the situation. He started showing up at my door in emotional states that were dangerous to both of us. He called me a “dirty slut.” He told me I ruined his life. He carved up his arm, and blamed it on everything I did to him. He told me how he wanted to end his life.
All in all, he made himself very clear that his desire to pull me in overpowered my desire to be free from him.
His blame game shook me to the core, and because of it I finally knew what if felt like to be completely alone. I am several months removed from the worst of it, but my daily routine is symptomatic of how the whole situation affected me. Whenever I get to my room, I automatically lock myself in. I don’t hang out in his dorm anymore, even though I have friends there. I avoid places where I am likely to see him on campus, especially at night.
See, the thing about my abuser is that to this day he does not think he mistreated me. If you ask him, he would tell you that he could never hurt anyone. He truly believes that I was out of line for ever speaking up and choosing to run. I’m the bitch. The thing about me, as a victim, is that I stayed locked in cage for so long that when I finally broke out, he could not handle it.
I cannot begin to understand the twisted machinations within an abuser’s mind, but I do know that he (or she) will be relentless with the blame and manipulation. He will go to any measure to reel you back in despite your greatest efforts to keep running. My mistake is that I noticed the warning signs early on, but chose to disregard them. I wish I acknowledged them. I wish I talked to someone. If you ever question whether you are being verbally punished, unfairly blamed, or silenced by your partner, you might just be in an emotionally abusive relationship. I urge you not to hide this. Talking to someone, anyone, can make a world of a difference.
If you sense that a friend is experiencing emotional abuse on some level, then I urge you to talk to him or her. Even more importantly, I urge you not to pass judgment. It is easy enough to say “you should just get out of it” or “you are being stupid about this.” But the thing is that being in a situation like this is often beyond the control of the victim, and any type of judgment on your part will only make your friend feel more isolated. The more we can openly discuss this topic bereft of judgment and negativity, the more people are likely to break out of their cages. And the self-autonomy that comes with breaking out is a beautiful thing.