By Michaela Rollings
Everyone always associates abuse with something physical — a punch, a slap, a kick. What people often fail to realize is that abuse has many other faces. Just because someone — a family member, a friend, a significant other — does not raise a hand to you doesn’t mean that they cannot be abusive. Emotional and psychological abuse are harder to identify because they do not produce visible bruises or scars. But the damage is there, buried deep down, beneath the skin and the physical extremities. The damage seeps into the brain and the heart in a way that is almost impossible to expunge.
I understand how hard it is to remove the scars because I have experienced the cuts, slashes, and trauma. The trouble with my situation, as is the case with most emotional and psychological abuse, is that I actually had no idea that I was being abused. My abuser was so good at convincing me that I had brought all of his anger and punishments upon myself.
My abuser convinced me that I deserved to be publicly yelled at, time and time again, for no reason. That I deserved to be isolated from the rest of my family and friends—my abuser was the only person I needed. That I deserved to be physically restrained from going certain places. He even convinced me that I was responsible for his happiness — when he threatened to kill himself “because of me” (which happened several times), it was because I did something terribly, horribly wrong. The arguments were endless and draining. Everything was my fault. He convinced me that I deserved every emotional laceration that he inflicted.
Throughout the course of this relationship, I never told anyone else about all of the things that my ex-boyfriend said or did. What was I supposed to say? “My boyfriend told me he was going to hang himself because of me tonight?” That would just make me, and him, look crazy. He would look suicidal, and I would look insane for putting up with him.
I didn’t want anyone to see that side of our relationship because I was in love with him. Deeply, completely in love. It was a messed up, one-sided, ugly type of love, but it was love nonetheless. I thought that we were meant to be together forever, and I started to view our love as the only thing that mattered. Because our relationship was so important to me, I put up with all of his antics and anger and comments. What I didn’t realize, though, was that this relationship had been chipping away at my soul. It chipped away until all that remained was a hollow shell, vaguely reminiscent of the person who used to inhabit it.
And that’s what emotional abuse does — it turns you into someone that you’re not. Someone that you don’t even recognize. And you let yourself become that person because someone you love wants it that way.
Eventually, I realized that I no longer recognized myself, and after one final, heinous incident, I got myself out. I told him that we were done, and I watched the color drain from his face. I walked away as I watched him unravel. I walked away because I realized that I did not deserve any of the horrible things he put me through.
And since I got out, my world has become an infinitely better place. I realize that I never deserved any of the abuse that I suffered. I realize that all of the threats and pain and anger were not normal. I realize that love does not mean control. Love does not mean co-dependency. Love does not mean pain and suffering and yelling and hurting and scars. Love means selflessness and compassion and unadulterated devotion. And never again will I settle for anything less.