Compared to mental scars, physical ones are easier to spot: cuts and bruises, weight loss or gain, or rapid movements or pace. But when someone is beaten down mentally, there’s hardly any way of truly knowing. Emotional abuse leaves internal scars and bruises; butchered self-esteem, trust issues, a lack of self-love, and a shit ton of guilt. From a personal perspective, I can tell you that it sucks just as much, but fear not because there is light at the end of the tunnel, I promise.
10 months. The realization that I had spent 10 months of my teenage years in an abusive relationship shakes me to my core. Thinking about it a year later, its almost like I can’t fathom it. How did I leave myself open to such assail? Was it possible that I wasn’t as strong as I thought I was – I mean, I must not have been if I needed approval from someone who aimed to sacrifice my well-being for their own, right? Embarrassment was the perfect word to describe what I felt after realizing all I had put myself through. I thought I had let myself down, but isn’t that what the abusers want us to think, that it’s our fault? Well, I fought my battle, and I won it, but it didn’t come easy. For my loves going through the same thing, it won’t come overnight, but keep fighting, because the last thing you want to do is give your abuser what they want. Do not let them win. Come out victorious.
“Babe, can I see a screenshot of your messages?”
We started dating in January of 2015, I was over the moon excited. But let’s start where it all began; Winter of 2011 entailed an abundance of hangouts at the park and school events. After a few months of questioning what we were, the answer came on a cool October night when he told me he was leaving the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave for an elite boarding school in England. Heartbroken, our long-distance friendship survived all due in part to modern technology (thanks, Facebook). After helping me through a break up during one of his trips back to the states, I developed a crush…and herein lies the beginning of a very tumultuous 10 months. Get ready, readers, its gonna be a bumpy ride.
“You’re 18, you don’t need to listen to your parents anymore.”
Things started off better than I had expected. We managed a long distance relationship as well as we could: facetimed every night, texted every moment, missed each other every second. Like Dan Humphrey and Serena VanderWoodsen, we were as happy as could be, dodging every bullet coming our way. And then something changed. What seemed like loving gestures at the beginning of the relationship, turned into sadistic games and proof of dominance brought on by an excess of insecurities flashing before my eyes by the end of it all, making me nauseous and angry.
“I’m sorry to ask but, can you take a picture with your aunt so I know you’re not with some guy?”
Victims of psychological abuse are usually completely unaware that what their partner is doing is affecting them. This kind of abuse does not leave physical scars or bruises, but rather, injuries to the soul and spirit, so naturally, it’s harder to point out and terminate early on. In my situation, I believed that my abuser was only asking for screenshots of messages and recent Snapchats, and telling me I couldn’t hang out with guys I’d been friends with for years because he cared and that’s what ALL caring and trusting boyfriends do, right?
“You took too long to send the picture. How do I know you weren’t with a guy and then ran to find your aunt?”
10 months. For 10 months I dealt with my abuser attempting to leave me for his own selfish reasons: He was young and wanted to talk to other girls, he had family problems, his insecurities were too much and he “didn’t want me to have to deal with them,” but then there were days when he had no reason, he just didn’t want me anymore. I put on my suit of armor every week, bracing myself for the next time I would have to leave my family, friends, or job to try to calm him down on the phone and beg him not to leave me. I look back at it now not understanding why I fought so hard for him to stay. I dealt with consistent comments about how I pushed him to move too fast, how he couldn’t trust me, and the never-ending accusations of my supposed infidelity. I got physically and emotionally sick from dealing with the unnecessary guilt I felt for things, I didn’t know at the time, weren’t my fault. I felt that I was constantly trying to please him and ease his pain, not ever receiving the same treatment in return. I was forced to deal with my demons on my own because all my struggles were out shadowed by his. When he wanted to run away and leave his family, I considered what it would be like if I left my own; would we really be able to live without the support of our families? would we struggle? where would we live? I hardly knew how to cook! He made me believe that he and I were the only family that mattered because if he didn’t have a relationship with his parents, neither could I. Spoiler Alert: it’s nearly impossible to survive without the financial and emotional support of your parents at such a young age. There’s nothing like a good hug from mom and dad.
“My mom told me you weren’t intelligent enough for me, and I should have listened to her.”
One’s teenage years are all about self-expression, self-exploration, and self-love. We could be on our way to loving ourselves and becoming sure of who we are, but the issue is, we aren’t completely there yet, and that leaves room for manipulation. We are at our most vulnerable when we are teenagers, and we give in easily to control and domination. So, we send those screenshots of our messages and snapchat recent, we don’t hangout with the people we are told not to hangout with, and we burn relationships with people we care about, all for our significant other. I became so crippled with depression and anxiety that I forgot what it was like to love myself and feel comfortable in my own skin. I second-guessed everything I did before I did it, constantly thinking about what would anger him. Hobbies I once loved became second to him and his needs: my writing dwindled, my participation in Drama Club became scarce.
“If you didn’t want my mom to hate you, you shouldn’t have done what you did, Derrian.”
10 months doesn’t seem like a long time now, but then I think about how I dealt with being abused for that amount of time, and it seems like a lifetime. I constantly think about how many days I spent physically sick from the stress of dating someone so insecure. I think about the time I spent talking to him and not with my friends or family. I remember the last night as a couple, my brother’s birthday, when I was confined in my room face-timing with him the whole night. I think about the fact that I couldn’t hangout with my best friend because he was a guy, and my abuser didn’t trust him for whatever reason. I think about all the times I should have been there when my best friend needed me during the summer, but instead, I was too busy sitting in my significant other’s living room with him, my phone across the room on silent so I wouldn’t be asked who was texting me. I think about the time I got a low grade on a class project because he wasn’t comfortable with the fact that one of the people in my group was a guy. All I remember are the feelings of sorrow and embarrassment when I had to see the guy in class the next day after declining his phone calls and text messages.
“I hope in 10 years you’re lying in bed with your husband, and you’re thinking about me, and thinking about how you badly you fucked up.”
“I don’t think I could stay with you if you were ever raped, because I would think that you would have had done something to initiate it.”
Its been 9 months since our relationship ended, and although I weakened during that time, I have since become stronger; I am more independent, I am aware of how I should be treated, and I don’t change myself or my beliefs for anyone. I’ve realized that I will never need someone so much that I feel I have to change something about myself for them, because nobody is worth that. I could make up excuses like, “if I were older, I would have recognized it sooner” or “if he caused me physical harm, I would have left sooner,” but I can’t keep making up excuses for his actions. So although I feel stupid for staying, I’ve learned that I can’t blame myself, I can’t torment myself anymore, I need to begin to find peace. Victims in these situations are not to blame. We have big hearts and so much love to give, but we give it to the wrong people. And when its all said and done and we’re finally free, we can’t help but look back and ask ourselves what we could have done differently. But don’t fret! I’m here to tell you that you did all you could do, you loved them despite how much it pained you to do so. Young, selfless you decided to put your needs second to theirs to ensure that they were comfortable and happy. But now, you owe it to yourself to be selfish, to build up that self-respect and love. Take some time for yourself, do the things you love to do. Better yourself. Move on, let go. You are worth so much more than horrible words and vindictive attacks. My gosh, you’re so strong, I believe in you.
Fuck our abusers.