Tuesday, April 05, 2016

My Experience of An Emotionally Abusive Relationship

cw/tw: abuse

This post has been a long time coming. It is something I have wanted to write about ever since it happened, but I needed time. I needed distance. I finally feel like I can be objective about what happened to me, and I'm sharing my experiences in the hope that they can help and educate people. Although I will try to write this in as matter of fact a way as possible, please be aware that it may be upsetting.

The first warning signs were when we first started seeing each other. We had known each other for a while and had bumped into each other by coincidence, then started hanging out. I had recently got out of a long term relationship and wasn't looking for anything serious, something which I was very open about and explained several times. He kept pushing for more, wanting us to be exclusive, to be committed, to be public. Eventually I gave in.

Initially, he behaved like the stereotypical "perfect" boyfriend. He bought me flowers, cooked me dinner, took me out, insisted on paying for everything, and lavished me with attention. He wanted to know all about my interests, watch my favourite films, and hear all about my life. He wanted to know my secrets. He claimed that we had a lot in common, that he loved my creativity, my interest in languages, and a long list of other personality traits. He made me feel special, different. He told me I was special and different. He complimented me. He took me to an incredibly expensive restaurant and bought me extravagant gifts. Looking back, I can see that I was uncomfortable, even at the time. It was almost as if he was playing from a script, not responding to my actual wants, needs and likes, and in response I ended up playing a role which wasn't really me. But I felt like this was how people dreamed of being treated, and that I should be grateful.

I started spending almost all my time at his house, partly because he wanted me to, and partly because I was deeply unhappy with other aspects of my life at the time, and his house provided me with a temporary escape. He took huge advantage of my unhappiness, and used it to manipulate me into thinking that he was all I had, that being at his house was so much better for me, and that I wouldn't be able to cope without him. But still, I thought the relationship was going well. I thought this was it, that we would always be together. I thought I was happy. Everyone else thought I was happy. I thought I was attracted to him. I have now come to realise that fear can feel very much like attraction.

A few months into the relationship he started pressing for us to live together. I was sceptical of moving in together so early on but eventually agreed, as we were spending almost all our time together anyway. From the moment we moved in together, his behaviour changed dramatically. From pressuring me to spend more and more time with him, being clingy and needy, wanting constant affection and reassurance that I cared for him, and lavishing me with attention, (unasked for) gifts, and dates, he suddenly flipped to the complete opposite. He stopped paying me attention, stopped wanting to go out anywhere, and stopped showing any interest in anything I liked. He barely spoke to me. The week I moved in with him I texted a friend, saying I didn't know if there was any point in unpacking, as I thought he was going to finish with me. I was incredibly confused. I was very upset at the change in his behaviour, but I still wanted the relationship to work out, especially as we were living together now. I put it down to the initial adjustments of moving in together.

As time went on, he quickly became more and more insulting. He started criticising the way I dressed. The way I spoke. The way I looked. My childlike nature. Everything I did was wrong, and his way was better. At one point he even stood over me while I chopped an onion for dinner, told me I was doing it wrong, and then showed me how to cut it "correctly". I was too messy, too emotional, too childish. Everything that he'd initially said he liked about me, he now seemed to hate. He told me that he didn't see the point in creativity, which is my main personality trait and hobby. I stopped feeling comfortable doing anything creative around him. He became mind bogglingly possessive, and would check my texts without permission. If I left my phone anywhere in his reach, I would turn around to find him scrolling through my messages. If I put my phone out of sight, he would ask what I was hiding. There were other things, little niggles which put together created a disturbing picture. There were several household items of mine which he didn't like, and which were "accidentally" broken while I was out. An offhand remark about how he'd wanted to get me away from my friends and family. The time I invited a friend round, and he decided to move all the furniture and re-organise the living room just before she was due to arrive.

Then he stopped telling me that he loved me. Next he stopped kissing me. Then he stopped touching me altogether. When I confronted him about this, he told me I was needy. He said that he had no sex drive and no urge to be affectionate, but I discovered that he had been looking at dozens of porn sites. By this point I felt incredibly unattractive and hated my body. I thought he must just not be attracted to me, or that I had done something wrongI covered myself up and started wearing baggier clothes. I was deeply unhappy, and very anxious. On the rare occasions we would go out, I would have hysterical crying fits which lasted for up to 2 hours before we could leave the house. I felt guilty that he had to deal with this, but I felt like such an awful, hideous person that going out became terrifying. I thought everyone hated me because I was such a failure, a terrible girlfriend, so unattractive and so stupid.
He started telling me that I was crazy, that I needed help. That my problems were making him unhappy and destroying our relationship. I knew that our relationship wasn't healthy and tried talking to him about it, but somehow I would always end up being the one apologising, saying I would change, I would do better, before bursting into tears. I cried almost every day. My overwhelming memory of the relationship is of crying. He used my supposed craziness to gaslight me, telling me that things weren't as I thought they were.

Interspersed with these long, dragging periods of insults and accusations, there would be times when he would revert back to being the "perfect" boyfriend he had been in the beginning. He would return home with huge bunches of flowers. I would take pictures and put them on social media, and everyone would tell me what a wonderful boyfriend he was. He would spontaneously take me out to dinner. He would tell me I was beautiful, when just yesterday he had been making fun of my face shape or my body or my clothing. I was confused. I didn't know what had changed. When it reached the point that I hated my body so much and was so unhappy that I had lost all interest in physical contact, he started wanting to be affectionate and physical again.

Yet even at this point, when I knew that I was terrified of him, when I knew that everything about the relationship was wrong, when I felt like a dried out husk rather than a living person, I still felt like I couldn't leave him. He was all I had. I thought everyone else hated me, and I thought they would hate me even more if I heartlessly left him.

I managed to get out. But even after I broke up with him, I still felt responsible for him. I tried to cultivate a friendship with him, because I felt like I had to glean something from the crushing sadness of our relationship. It took months to realise that what he had done to me was abuse, and it took even longer to come anywhere close to getting over the trauma.

I will never go back to being the person I was before the abuse, but that's not a bad thing. I am strong now. I am happy. I was lucky in that I got out. And I will never doubt my own instincts and feelings again.

If you think your relationship might be abusive, this checklist can help.
If you are dealing with abuse, this website is helpful and has a list of resources.


  1. You're incredibly brave for sharing your experience and I definitely can relate to a couple of things mentioned x