I didn’t intend to write a follow-up post to my last one, “A Million Reasons.” After receiving feedback about the relationship, I realized there were far darker issues. Terms such as “trauma” and “emotional abuse” came up. These conversations prompted me to do some research which ultimately led me to the National Domestic Hotline. When I typed in “emotional abuse” in Google, it’s the very first result on the list, followed by a litany of articles and resources.
For the first time in my life, I called the National Domestic Hotline solely for myself and not for someone else. In the past, I had called the police on my father for physically abusing my mom, my brother, and me. Growing up witnessing domestic violence and also having suffered various forms of emotional and physical abuse at the hands of my own parents, I had vowed to never allow myself to end up in these situations again. In my teenage years and throughout my 20’s, as soon as a boyfriend exhibited uncontrollable rage or said something to put me down, I ended the relationship. Yet, in my 30’s, I had ended up in a marriage that was emotionally abusive and then followed it up with a relationship that was far worse.
Here I am, a women’s rights advocate and researcher, someone who has written extensively on gender-based violence, turns out to be a victim herself. Irony aside, I was in a lot of denial throughout the relationship. I’m still recovering from the shock and I’m still reeling from the entire experience. How did I allow it to get this far? I was unable to even identify the relationship as an abusive one until two weeks after it ended when I caught him in yet another lie.
I had made so many excuses for him. He went through a lot of trauma in his formative years. He fought in a war without formal military training. He suffers from PTSD. Upon closer retrospection, I realize I have many friends from his country with similar stories. Yet, they don’t take out their rage on others.
As the fog is clearing up, so many conversations and experiences are now emerging in my memory. Now I’m remembering the way he disrespected my feelings repeatedly, dismissed my ideas, made me lie for him, how easily he lied to others and to me, how his actions rarely matched up to his words… I spoke very candidly to the counselor on the National Domestic Violence Hotline, more candidly and comprehensively than I did with my therapist. I didn’t mean to be dishonest with my therapist; it was that I had pushed some of these memories to the deep recesses of my mind because of denial.
The counselor explained that the abuser had created a sense of co-dependency. He dangled the promise of a relationship in front of me while avoiding commitment. He spoke about us in the future–meeting his parents, taking more photos together, showing off those photos on social media, hinting at travel plans, etc. He kept asking me to give him more time, he said he “can’t change overnight,” leading me to believe that he was intent on changing for the better and that we were going to be in a real, public, committed relationship when enough time had passed. He kept reassuring me that his “intentions are good” and that he would never lie to me or hurt me.
He appears charming, reliable, and trustworthy to his friends, colleagues, and acquaintances because he wanted to make himself look good to others; it feeds his ego. When he spoke about himself, he was “a nice guy,” “a gentleman,” “an open book,” “a feminist,” and he had a strong “moral compass.” Now I realize this is exactly how he sees himself and how he wants others to view him, but in reality he’s the complete opposite.
He made comments about flirting with other women and recounted stories about his ex-girlfriends as a way to cut down on my self-esteem and confidence. He was never the bad guy in these stories; instead, the exes were the manipulative, crazy ones–never him. He never took responsibility for the endings of his previous relationships. He wanted me to believe that being with him was a highly coveted privilege.
His intermittent communications was another way he toyed with me. He created a power and control dynamic that put him in charge. It was psychological torment.
Even when things seemed to be on track with the relationship, I was in a perpetual state of uncertainty, fear, and anxiety. Whenever we shared meals together, I could barely eat because my stomach was always in knots. I had chalked it up to other stress factors. Starting in February, I had recurring dreams about getting kidnapped, forced to do things against my will, and also very violent dreams about wars breaking out, witnessing a battle, shootouts, and getting chased. My instincts were telling me to run. I continue to have these dreams even though the relationship has ended. In fact, I had a dream last night about running from RPGs.
The counselor validated my experiences and her explanations were enlightening. She encouraged me to seek out a local domestic violence support group in addition to continuing my therapy; perhaps I needed to switch to a therapist who specializes in domestic violence. She reminded me that someone who truly cares about me and loves me would never, in any way, disregard my feelings and make me feel unsafe.
When I think of this man now, I feel nauseous. I’m angry and disappointed, but more so at myself than at him. Self-doubt creeps in. No matter how much effort I put in and how much I opened up to him, he rarely reciprocated. How did I allow this to happen? How could I have been so blind and naive?
Outside of my close friends, I find myself questioning everything everyone tells me. I question everyone’s motives. What do they want from me? How are they going to use me? My trust is completely broken. I feel like my spirit is completely shattered. The only thing I want right now is to move past this ordeal and to heal. I keep having to remind myself that drawing boundaries and standing up for myself finally drove him away. The next step is learning how to keep such monsters out of my life.