How do you recognise verbal/emotional abuse?
According to LoveRespect it can be characterized as the following:
- Calling you names and putting you down.
- Yelling and screaming at you.
- Intentionally embarrassing you in public.
- Preventing you from seeing or talking with friends and family.
- Telling you what to do and wear.
- Using online communities or cell phones to control, intimidate or humiliate you.
- Blaming your actions for their abusive or unhealthy behavior.
- Stalking you.
- Threatening to commit suicide to keep you from breaking up with them.
- Threatening to harm you, your pet or people you care about.
- Making you feel guilty or immature when you don’t consent to sexual activity.
- Threatening to expose your secrets such as your sexual orientation or immigration status.
- Starting rumors about you.
- Threatening to have your children taken away.
In other words, it's never EVER okay for your partner to put you down, berate you, or try to control you. When you've decided to commit to someone you should feel safe, both physically and emotionally. You shouldn't feel as though you're living in constant fear of "making a mistake" that may cause your partner to fly off the handle. Those are all signs of an unhealthy relationship and should not be ignored.
Per Safe Voices, women 16-24 experience the highest per capita rates of intimate violence; be it verbal or physical. Though undeniably disturbing, it comes as little surprise to me. I think just how impressionable we all are in our adolescence. During that stage of life, we're struggling to find ourselves, and it's easy for that road to self-discovery to be muddied by a partner who may purport to be "know better". That, along with a mixture of naivete and a devotion to pleasing others can put us on a path more destructive than we can fathom. Sometimes it can blindly lead us into emotionally abusive relationships.
Brittany, now in her late twenties, spoke with us and recalled when she first met her abuser. She was 20 to his 27 at the time, and as to be imagined, was caught up in the whirlwind of dating an older man.
"We met through a mutual friend at a party, he was very charismatic and charming, cracking jokes and paying plenty of attention [to me]," she shared. "He was a bit older than me and seemed to ooze glamour and excitement - it didn't take long for me to get swept up in his spell." From there they went on to date for a total of 18 months.
Below Brittany details how their relationship quickly made the descent into unhealthy and controlling territory.
SoFeminine: How long did the honeymoon period last?
Brittany: The first two or three months were just a blur of glam meals, big declarations and lots of attention. I remember feeling uncomfortable very early on when he told me he was in love with me when I felt he barely even had gotten to know me. I think that was the first warning sign. I didn't feel convinced he loved me, just a concept of me. And then I felt under pressure to reciprocate his feelings, as if I didn't sense there would be some emotional blackmail.
I wish I'd just listened to my gut then, but I was young and naive. Looking back, I think I really wanted to be in a relationship with a cool older guy - I was in love with the idea of being in love.
SoFeminine: What were the first signs that your boyfriend was emotionally abusive?
Brittany: As I said, the first warning sign was when he said he loved me within a few weeks. This escalated into him calling me many times a day and texting me obsessively. Every time I went out he would ask me to call him immediately after, then he would ask question after question about who I saw, what I wore, who I spoke to, if anyone flirted with me, if I flirted with anyone, did I look at anyone.
I remember being out in a shopping center with him and looking at a short dress - after that he asked me why I wanted to look like a slut. Soon he put pressure on me to dress differently, to delete all of my male friends on Facebook, to stop hanging out with my male friends, gradually peeling away my social network and frightening me with huge temper tantrums and vile insults.
The abuse was so shocking I didn't know how to respond. But I'd always sensed that if I didn't give him what he wanted or do things his way, that he would make things difficult. As things escalated, he would explode at the slightest thing; assuming I had made eye contact with other men in front of him and using that as a trigger to argue and tell me I was a slut.
He would send me alternating texts telling me I was the best, followed by texts saying I was pathetic or weak or disgusting, followed by how wonderful, beautiful, incredible I was. I was constantly disorientated.
SoFeminine: Did you immediately recognize it as unhealthy, or did you assume it was normal relationship behavior?
Brittany: I'd been in a loving normal relationship before so I knew it was wrong, but as soon as I was in the dynamic I felt trapped and unable to leave without getting hurt. I was in denial for a long time and the extent of the psychological abuse was so strong that I even used to write in my diary as though he was reading it - saying how happy I was or how amazing he was, when really I was terrified and deeply unhappy.
He came with me on a family vacation and when my dad and stepmom were out, he locked me in the bedroom and made me tell him about all my previous sexual experiences making me swear 'on his life' or my 'mom's life' to tell him the truth. I felt so manipulated I revealed certain experiences under pressure and felt completely powerless. He raged at me for hours and I felt so alone and scared. Especially [because] when my parents returned, he cooked and was charming to everyone. He had two faces and fooled other people that he was a wonderful, articulate, caring boyfriend, but when we were alone he was a bully.
This happened often at parties or events when he would take me away to abuse me then we'd return to the rest of the party and everyone would tell me what a great boyfriend I had. That made it feel even more difficult.
SoFeminine: Describe the abuse at its worst. Did it ever get physical, or did you ever feel physically threatened?
Brittany: He used to get very angry, trashing things or even going as far as hitting himself. A few times I woke up in the middle of the night to find him sexually abusing me or penetrating me, but I was too afraid to ever do anything other than let him have his way. Looking back, he was definitely unbalanced and some kind of narcissist and used to control me to make himself feel more powerful.
A few times he threatened to slit my throat or kill me and used to push me against the wall, shouting and spitting in my face. As he started to say he would do more and more violent things, I got more afraid but also more determined to find a way to leave him. I don't think I've ever cried so much in my life.
The problem was that throughout all the manipulation it was difficult to identify the relationship as an abusive one. I knew it was controlling and wrong, but because I had no bruises or injuries I felt I didn't know how to classify what was going on. I guess I didn't know emotionally abusive relationships could be so extreme, but when I started to Google, I found forums with other scared women out there, but not so much advice on how to leave and what to do.
SoFeminine: Did your family and friends notice you were in an unhealthy relationship or did you hide it from them?
Brittany: For a long while I hid it, but eventually it came out. My family were appalled by him and my dad stopped talking to me until we were finished - which wasn't that helpful to be honest! But it did make me realize how worried they all were. But leaving someone like this is a lot easier said than done.
SoFeminine: When did you know it was time to leave?
Brittany: I knew early on that I couldn't live my life with this man and that I was desperately unhappy. I knew I had to leave one day, but I think when he started to make physical threats and doing things to me in my sleep I had to accept that I would never wish this kind of misery on anyone else and why did I think I deserved it?
SoFeminine: How many failed attempts did you have at leaving? Describe them.
Brittany: I tried to break up with him around five times but he would either cry and convince me otherwise. When I had stronger resolve, he would just ignore what I'd said and carry on with the evening as normal and go to bed, in my house. He just wouldn't accept it and wouldn't leave, he wouldn't allow it to happen. I was scared of getting too loud or forceful with him because of how I knew he could be when in one of his rages.
SoFeminine: Why did you go back?
Brittany: He refused to let me leave him.
SoFeminine: How did you finally leave once and for all?
Brittany: I met him for dinner and within minutes he was being aggressive and emotionally manipulative with me. I decided to just walk off and keep on walking. Because we were in public, I don't think he wanted to make a scene. He went into a shop and I pretended to follow. Then I just kept walking/running until he was out of sight. [After that] I laid low; ignoring all his calls for a few days and eventually broke up with him via a letter because any contact - phone or physical reduced how strong and resolved I felt. I was more powerful the further away from him I was.
The way I wrote to him [also] appealed to his ego: I didn't think I was making him happy and that he could do better - because that would be the only thing he could relate to - himself.
He came to my house and I refused to let him in. He eventually accepted it was final and sent me some mean messages afterwards, but later apologized.
SoFeminine: Are you guys friendly now? Was he ever aware that he was abusive?
Brittany: I don't know. I don't know if he realized what hell it was to be with him. I am not friendly and would definitely try to avoid him if I saw him. But if I did see him, I would be civil.
When someone is this emotionally manipulative they have some sort of personality disorder and thinking of him in this way made it easier - he was ill mentally, and I had to deal with him from an emotional distance - him insane - me sane - until I got strong enough to leave.
Sadly, friends of mine have noticed him on Tinder saying he is (still!) 27 when really he is now 35. I know he has done this because he likes young girls - he even told me he preferred virgins - I think the younger the girl the easier to manipulate, charm and abuse.
SoFeminine: Since then you've moved on, what did that relationship teach you about love and yourself?
Brittany: So much! I think it taught me to always trust my gut. To never not listen to myself again. A relationship is about give and take, but you should both feel valued, happy and free.
SoFeminine: What message would you give other women who might feel they're in love, but are being emotionally abused? What words of wisdom and strength would you offer?
Brittany: I'd say that to any girl (or guy) in a similar situation, that they are not alone and that they shouldn't underestimate how damaging emotional abuse can be. Having no visible scars doesn't mean your experience and pain is invalidated. Your happiness matters and your sanity matters.
Tell your friends and family. Ask them to support you and treat your breakup as an escape plan. No matter how much you think you love him or how much he says you are nothing or weak or unattractive, his words are empty. You have worth. You have the opportunity for a happier future. You just have to be brave enough to take it.
Also, proceed with caution when leaving. Gather your important things, set some money aside, find a safe place to go to that he won't know about. Inform your colleagues if necessary - this is a time when you need support from all sides. No woman (or man) should have to go through this alone. People will be there for you and leaving him and succeeding is like nothing you can imagine. You'll feel ten feet taller, a million times more powerful. The world is waiting for you. Take your time, be careful and know that you CAN do it.
Have you or anyone you know ever experienced emotional and verbal abuse? Share the story with us @sofeminineUK
**Name changed to protect the privacy and anonymity of our contributor.
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