First off, I will be sharing my personal experiences – this happened six-ish years ago.
So the first step to overcoming an abusive relationship, is realizing you are in one. I bet you it took me the better part of a year to recognize that I was in an abusive relationship.
Here are some tell-tale signs that you are in an abusive relationship:
- He pushes for quick involvement – He comes on strong, claiming, “I’ve never felt loved like this before by anyone.” You get pressured for an exclusive commitment almost immediately.
- There’s constant jealousy – Your partner is excessively possessive, calls constantly, or visits unexpectedly.
- He’s controlling – He interrogates you intensely about who you talked to and where you were, checks mileage on the car, keeps all the money or asks for receipts, and insists you ask for permission to go anywhere or do anything.
- He has very unrealistic expectations – He expects perfection from you and for you to meet his every need.
- There’s isolation – He tries to cut you off from family and friends, deprives you of a phone or car, or tries to prevent you from holding a job.
- He blames others for his own mistakes – The boss, family, you — it’s always someone else’s fault if anything goes wrong.
- He makes everyone else responsible for his feelings – The abuser says, “You make me angry” instead of “I’m angry,” or, “I wouldn’t get so pissed off if you wouldn’t…”
- He’s hypersensitive – He’s easily insulted and will often rant and rave about injustices that are just part of life.
- He’s cruel to animals and children – He kills or punishes animals brutally. He also may expect children to do things beyond their ability or tease them until they cry.
- He uses “playful” force during sex – He enjoys throwing you down or holding you down against your will; he finds the idea of rape exciting. He intimidates, manipulates or forces you to engage in unwanted sex acts.
- There’s verbal abuse – He constantly criticizes you or says cruel things. He degrades, curses and calls you ugly names. He will use vulnerable points about your past or current life against you
- There rigid gender roles in the relationship – He expects you to serve, obey and remain at home.
- He has sudden mood swings – He switches from loving to angry in a matter of minutes.
- He has a past of battering – He admits to hitting women in the past, but states that they or the situation brought it on.
- He threatens violence – He makes statements such as, “I’ll break your neck,” but then dismisses it with, “I really didn’t mean it.”
(List curtesy of Your Tango)
I was guilty of ignoring his past – #14. I shouldn’t have – it should have been a giant red flag.
He was dating my roommate and he was awful to her. I chalked up his behavior to the fact that she was crazy as well. (Whole other story for a different day, but she went psycho and I moved out.)
Fast forward and I’m in a relationship with this crazy. It started out fine, always does right? Head over heels, bend over backwards for this guy.
Over time he got more intense. I absolutely can tick off every single thing on the list of warning signs.
Should I have known better? Yes. Did I care? No. – Remember, head over heels.
So over time, this guy that was “So in love with me”, started to control and get jealous. He constantly had to know where I was at, what I was doing, who I was with. He even went as far as to moving in with my and driving me to work in my car to drop me off because he was convinced that I was sleeping with co-workers in my car on break. I was accused on cheating all the time, and it would only make him more mad when I tried to tell him I wasn’t. But he, in fact, was the one cheating on me.
He put me down a lot (“Why are you wearing those, they make you look fat.”) He made me quit smoking, just because he wanted to, and would get pissed every time he thought I was smoking (when I wasn’t cause I was trying to stay on his good side).
I still remember vividly one time when we got in an argument (although I don’t remember what it was about), things got heated and got physical. He tried to take my phone and I remember laying on it because I knew it was my only lifeline as we were home alone. He pulled my head back by my hair to try to get me off it. I still managed to hang on to it. When this happened, my yorkie started freaking out and nipping at him. He kicked her across the room (She was okay) and I freaked out and started screaming – did now help matters. He started breaking things and was chasing me around the island in the kitchen while I tried to call my mother (who happened to work at the Police Department). That’s when he walked away saying he was going to get a gun from the basement and kill himself. I didn’t hang up or try to stop him. He didn’t do anything except start crying and begging for forgiveness.
This seriously should of been a wake up call for me to end this relationship.
The next incident happened after I had left for a weekend to go to my dad’s and attend my brother’s birthday party at a hotel next to a casino.
After returning home I had picked him up from a friends. He insisted he drive, so I let him. He started accusing me of cheating while I was gone (he was invited but said no). He started getting madder and madder, till he finally pulled over in a parking lot. He got out and I climbed into the driver’s seat and locked my door so he would have to get in the passenger side. This didn’t go well but I told him I was going to drive him back to his friend’s. As I was driving, he started trying to jerk the wheel. He almost ran us into a semi. (He also had done this to my ex roommate.) I pulled out my phone and tried to call my mom (not sure why I didn’t call 911). This infuriated him and he reached over trying to take it but I stuck it in between the seat and the door so he couldn’t reach. When I tried to get it back out he reached over and slammed my hand into the door. Then when I finally got my phone back up to my face, he punched me, closed fisted, in the jaw. That’s when I got my mom on the phone and he stopped everything. I pulled over and dropped him off, along with his duffle bag, in a parking lot and then I drove to the Police Department. I went to get out and my door was because he had slammed my hand into it with such force, so I climbed out the passenger door. Rang the bell (it was after hours), they let me in and documented everything.
I was officially done with him and got a restraining order, but him almost killing me, almost killing me, is what it took for me to leave.
So now, the aftermath.
I had nightmares for months about him being in my room or the bathroom or waiting for me somewhere.
Took me a long time to trust anyone.
My next relationship was years later and he is now my husband.
But let’s take a look at:
7 Unspoken Secrets About Life After Abuse
1. You have to stop living in denial. After you’re out and the past abuse is out in the open, you are forced to acknowledge it instead of pretending, at least on some level, that it wasn’t happening. This requires you to integrate the awful things that happened to you into who you are, without letting them define you. It’s way beyond reinventing yourself by changing careers or going through a massive paradigm shift. It requires completely rewriting your self-concept to include your victimization without allowing yourself to become a victim. There is a kind of sleight of hand involved in this similar to when the magician runs the knives through the lady in the box but doesn’t actually cut her, because letting go of one self-concept (in which you’ve invested months or years of your life) before the new one is fully formed requires an act of faith.
2. You have to walk away—and stay away—from something you believed was love. No matter how you look at it, this means heartbreak. Loss of innocence. Shattered hopes and dreams. And unbearable loneliness. How can you pine for someone who hurt you? How can you long to return even though you know it’s the worst possible thing you can do? Because you didn’t want to let go of love, or what you convinced yourself was love, or what some part of you still sees as a chance for love. And because your feelings don’t change the second you decide you can’t live with a person. You may flip from love to hate, but the intensity is no different, and in many cases, you (or a part of you that you hate) may still love that person, even though you know he or she is unhealthy and unsafe. You wanted it to be better, not over. You had no choice, and yet, your choice was terrifyingly difficult.
3. You have to unlearn your unhealthy coping strategies. You learned every trick to try to keep your abuser happy, or at least to avoid triggering his or her rage. You learned to be submissive and silent, to second- or even third-guess yourself, to start every sentence with “I’m sorry.” You learned to walk around minefields and stay out of the line of fire. To tiptoe around insecurities, walk delicately on eggshells, and act as if parts of you—needs, desires, dreams—didn’t exist. You learned to diminish your own value,and to accept utterly unacceptable treatment. The mind-bends you went through to achieve a modicum of harmony and keep yourself—and perhaps your children—safe from harm—are staggering. And they’re all not only useless but counterproductive and unhealthy in a healthy supportive relationship. So you become a relationship novice again.
4. You have to repair broken bonds with family and friends. This is one of the hardest tasks a survivor faces, particularly if you denied the abuse and defended your abuser while it was happening. These critical relationships are damaged, and even though your family and friends may be tremendously supportive, you may not be aware of the extent of their pain—and they may not want to burden you with it during the early part of your recovery. Some relationships may never regain the closeness and intimacy they once had, especially if you—or your abuser through you—pushed someone away. Your old life doesn’t just snap back into place immediately. You changed, and others changed along with you. Restoring broken relationships is hard work, and focusing on finding a new way to enjoy family and old friends will be more productive than trying to go back to the way things were before.
5. You have to forgive yourself. This sounds easy, because you forgive yourself for stuff all the time. We all do. You forgive yourself for being late or screwing up at work. You rationalize the time you waste on unproductive activities (e.g., Facebook). You find ways to let yourself off the hook, because … because it feels good. But forgiving yourself for abandoning yourself, and for the pain that abandonment caused for you and other people you love is different. You obsessively try to understand why you got into an abusive relationship—what was it about you that made you vulnerable, what was it about your abuser that seemed so incredibly appealing. You blame yourself, your childhood, your abuser’s childhood … and yourself again, until you come to a place of true forgiveness and acceptance. “I could have made a healthier choice. But I didn’t. And that’s OK. I lost a lot. But I’m going to be OK. I’m going to be OK, and I’m going to move on.”
6. You have to start loving yourself again. When you hate yourself for what you feel you allowed to happen to you, it’s hard to find much self-love. And self-love wasn’t exactly encouraged by your abuser either. You were likely told repeatedly you weren’t lovable—not by anyone except your abuser. So now, who will love you? The answer has to be—you first. Restoring your healthy esteem for yourself must follow self-forgiveness and will allow you to start drawing boundaries that protect you from further harm. A self-care regimen, maintained consistently, can create the feeling of self-love even if you’re not generating it inside. Also, if you are a person of faith, remembering that God loves you can help you through the darkest spaces. The hardest thing is squaring the hatred you were subjected to with the idea that you are worthy of love. The trick? It’s both/and.
7. You have to deal with a host of naive, insensitive, self-righteous, but mostly well-meaning people. Everyone who hasn’t lived through an abusive relationship has answers—and questions—for you, especially if they read something on the Internet. And anyone who has been through one, or knows someone who has, listens—quietly and patiently. It’s hard enough to share your truth with yourself (see #1), but to share it with people who don’t get it or think they know how to solve your problems is frustrating and painful. When someone says, “Come on. You’re still young. You have your whole life in front of you,” you don’t want to be rude and say, “Yes, but I’m stinging from the loss of the 15 years I squandered.” But bad advice from good people is still bad advice. This is why it’s so important to find communities of survivors, to talk to people who have experienced the same things you have. It is also crucial to choose carefully the people with whom you share your truth and only do so with those you can trust fully and you know will not use it to hurt you.
(List is curtesy of The Good Men Project)
This was probably one of the hardest and most traumatizing experiences of my life and I will never forget it, but I have moved on.
I hope, if nothing else, this post will help one person.
Notice the signs. Take action. Leave.