“How did this happen to me?” Looking back on my previous emotionally abusive relationship

Image by Verne Ho

Image by Verne Ho

TRIGGER WARNING: This article, or pages it links to, contains information about emotional abuse and trauma which may be triggering to victims. Please read with care.

I was twenty. I was young and more vulnerable then I realised. Then he came along, and he was perfect. We met on tinder, which, against all judgements is how a lot of people I know are meeting their partners. The funny thing is, at first, I didn’t like him so much, he seemed annoying for many different reasons, but he was tenacious and next thing you know he had my number and was calling me daily for hours at a time. He messaged me throughout the day and seemed protective and keen. We hadn’t even met yet but maybe he just knew I was the one? That’s what it’s like in all the movies you see, so I took his obsessiveness and mistook it for enthusiasm.

I should make clear, he wasn’t a complete monster to me all the time. There were good moments. That’s how people like him work, they must show you some love occasionally to keep you where they want you, to make you feel as if you’re the problem. Gaslighting really is horrible and it’ll leave you doubting yourself even after the relationship ends. That’s the thing about emotional abuse, it messes you up psychologically. The thing is, with emotional abuse there’s no physical marks, no physical acts of violence, that you can look back on to help allow your mind to realise that they were the problem, not you.

It was only with time, my friends, and professionals constantly confirming it to me, that I could finally see my emotionally abusive ex-boyfriend as who he truly was: an insecure narcissist. It should have been obvious, but he was manipulative, and so whenever I stood up for myself, he soon had me ‘back in my place’. At one point he told me that I wasn’t allowed to hug any male I knew, even if they were gay, because they might have been lying to get to me. It’s crazy to think I dealt with this for a year. I’m a strong minded, academic young female. I was left questioning: ‘how did this happen to me?’

After some thought, I think maybe we grow up accepting this behaviour subconsciously. We are surrounded by movies and books where toxic behaviour is seen as romantic. Noah and Ally are constantly arguing in The Notebook but, ‘They’re made for each other’. So, we see it as acceptable. We subconsciously are fed the belief that you must stick by your partners side no matter what, because that’s what love is. There are so many red flags we ignore.

I also don’t believe for a moment that there is enough help there to prevent these emotionally abusive relationships from happening. Research shows that 30% of undergraduates are likely to have been in an emotionally abusive relationship or still currently are. Yet I’ve never seen any university face this. Not that therapy isn’t helpful, but we need prevention techniques to be put in place, so therapy isn’t need in the first place. If someone had made clear to me from the start all the red flags I should have been avoiding, maybe I wouldn’t have ended up with who I did.

I hope this changes. I hope educational institutions start using their academic platforms effectively. Until then, I hope whoever reads this finds solace in knowing I escaped and that if you’re dealing with abuse yourself, you can too. We are stronger than we realise and can bring great change if we want to.

If you are worried about yourself or someone else, the government backed website www.disrespectnobody.co.uk contains advice information on abuse within relationships and sexual assault.

Here are some of their signs for spotting emotional abuse within a relationship:

  • Your partner getting angry when you want to spend time with your friends

  • Monitoring your calls, social media, messages, and threatening you if you don’t respond instantly

  • Isolating you from your friends

  • Threatening to spread rumours about you

  • Saying things like “If you loved me you would…”

  • Putting you down all the time, using names like ‘frigid’ or ‘slut’ to control what you do, humiliate you and destroy your self-esteem

  • Trying to control your life (telling you how to dress, who you hang out with and what you say)

  • Threatening to harm you or self-harm if you leave them

  • Demanding to know where you are all the time

  • Getting really angry, really quickly

  • Using force during an argument

  • Blaming others for their problems or feelings

  • Being verbally abusive

  • Using threatening behaviour towards others

  • Pressuring you to send them nude pictures

  • Pressuring you into sexual acts

  • If someone is LGBTQIA+ and not ‘out’, their partner threatening to ‘out’ them if they don’t do what they want

For help and someone to talk to at university, the student wellbeing centre at Kent has professionals who will listen to your concerns. For more information visit the site on: https://www.kent.ac.uk/studentsupport/wellbeing/