Emotional abuse is not always within a relationship. Stats tell us that emotional abuse most commonly happens between a man and a woman, in a relationship, and that it is typically more likely to be the woman who is the victim of abuse.
Now I’m not necessarily saying that this is not true, but I do believe that there are far more cases of emotional abuse between people who are not in a relationship than we are aware of. I think that these cases are a lot less apparent or obvious because the abuse is coming from a friend, family member, or work colleague. And so, this type of emotional abuse often goes unreported or even unrecognised as abuse at all. Everything you see online is aimed towards domestic abuse within a relationship, or a child being abused by an adult, so it can seem like abuse outside of that isn’t a thing; plus it also makes it difficult to know where to turn to for help.
I have been the victim of what I believe to have been emotional abuse in a couple of past relationships; or at least been subject to some abusive traits in relationships. However, I didn’t realise it was abuse as such at the time. In fact, it’s taken me to finally be in a non-abusive relationship to recognise that previous behaviours were abusive.
I’ve also been the victim of emotional abuse from someone outside of a relationship and, let me tell you, that was far worse and has had a longer-lasting effect for me than the abuse within my past relationships. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying this is the case for everyone and I’m certainly not invalidating anyone’s experience of abuse but, for me personally, this was worse.
In my relationships, although I’d been made to feel like I “needed” them and that I’d be nothing without them, I still ultimately had the control over being able to leave. And once I left, these people were simply no longer in my life. However, in my experience with this person, I’m not the one in control of whether they stick around or not, and it’s not quite as simple as just being able to walk away or cut them from my life.
Abusers don’t just one day decide to be abusive, it happens gradually so you don’t even realise it until you’re too far gone.
Abusers are also not abusive to everyone around them, and that’s what makes it so difficult. No one else sees it. So you start to question whether it’s you. It must be, right?! If no one else can see it, it must be in your head. You must be the bad one.
It’s never obvious or isolated incidents either. It’s always small things. You’re not going to go and report someone or even tell anyone else about someone making a comment about an outfit, or the way you look, or asking why you’re spending money, or where you’re going, or for making you look stupid. No one would take that seriously. And no one else would piece together all of these small things and equate it to abuse.
I suffered years of comments about what I wore…
“That dress was fucking grim”
“It’s a shame you wore those shoes”
Of notes being left on piles of my clothes in my bedroom, telling me…
“I don’t want to see you wearing these again, get rid of them!”
Of comments about my makeup…
“Why have you done that? It looks fucking stupid”
Of this person going through my stuff when I wasn’t there, almost daily, including the rubbish bin in my bedroom.
Of never being allowed anything personal of mine out in my bedroom (or should I say, the room in her house I was allowed to sleep in). No photos of family or friends, nothing; just a shell of a room.
Of being continually told that I was a “guest” in her house.
Of being told my job was never good enough…
“You need to look for a new job”
“You need to be on more money”
“You should be doing something better”
“You should be doing something more creative”
“You need to work closer to home”
Me: “I got a new job, closer to home, on more money, and a step up from what I am now”
“Well you need to look for something else because you’re obviously not happy there and it’s making you ill… you look ill”
Of being questioned every time I bought something new…
“What are you buying now?”
“Why are you buying things?”
“You shouldn’t be spending your money”
“You should be saving to move out!”
Of being screamed at for the slightest thing, or snapped at every time I tried to have a normal conversation.
Of being mocked for the smallest things.
Of being criticised for everything I did, from my job or who I was seeing, to my friends or even how I’d baked a fucking cake. Everything was (is) wrong. Everything I did (do) could be done better. Everything was (is) criticised.
When someone spends years putting you down, speaking to you like dirt, controlling things, and basically telling you you’re not good enough… that shit has an effect!
It wears you down until you’re a different person. It strips you of any shreds of confidence you may have had. It makes you question every tiny thing you do. You tell yourself you’re not good enough, you’re ugly, you make terrible choices, you always make the wrong decision, you’re a failure.
It can also make you think that everyone else also thinks the same of you. It can make you self-conscious, socially awkward and anxious. It can make you feel withdrawn and like an outsider. It can distance you from your family. It can make you lose friends.
Yet people don’t associate this with abuse.
I already dealt with mental health before this. I’d struggled with depression and anxiety for a long time. And now, because I have recognised this behaviour as emotional abuse, and tried to put a stop to it, it’s being put down to the way that I deal with things due to my mental health – of course it has.
It’s my fault because of how I deal with people, due to my mental health.
I obviously read and take things wrongly, because of my mental health.
I’m too sensitive, because of my mental health.
I deal with people in certain ways because I was treated like shit. Because I was rejected and made to feel like I wasn’t good enough.
I take things wrongly because they’re wrong (and abusive).
I’m sensitive because I’ve been told my whole life that I’m wrong and that I’m not enough.
I’m sensitive because I’m a victim of emotional abuse.
They say that when a person can no longer control you, they start to try and control how others perceive you instead. And in my experience that is absolutely true. Since being out of direct control of this person, people seem to think that it shouldn’t be an issue anymore; at least I can just ignore them now, right?! You can have no contact with someone and block them from social media, but the effect of what’s already happened doesn’t just go away. And, in my case, sometimes it has been worse because of the perception that is now being created of me instead, to others. It feels like there’s no escape.
Now, I feel as if I’m in constant defence of who I am as a person, and why I do things the way I do, or deal with situations in certain ways. I feel as if I’m constantly fighting a battle, and I’m losing because I’m not manipulative. The comments still come. The manipulation still happens. Sometimes it comes in the form of gifts. Tiny things are still remembered and used against me. It never ends.
Even if I had wanted to do something about this, there is nowhere obvious for me to go. There’s no outlet for me. I’m not a child being abused or a victim of domestic abuse. It’s not taken seriously. It’s just a family disagreement.
How many more people are in the same position? How many more people have slipped under the radar of abuse, because it doesn’t seem to be classed as abuse?