Abuse doesn’t end when the relationship does
Breaking up is only half of the battle
I was invited to a party at a friend’s house. I was looking forward to going, and even went to the effort of bringing clothes to change into after work before heading over.
Before I start driving, a little voice in the back of my mind tells me to just ask the question that had been flitting through my head for the past few hours – “Will he be there?”
I don’t think there’s any reason to ask, though – the friend whose house I’m going to knows what had happened between the two of us, surely there’s no way he would have invited him. So I don’t ask, and I drive the familiar 25-minute route I used to take every day to get to school.
Walking in, I am immediately struck by the sheer number of people there, most of whom I haven’t seen since graduation. I have brief interactions with a few of them before the host (my friend) finds me and drags me inside to “socialize with everyone else,” as he puts it.
I have just stumbled my way through a brief conversation when I see them – two people who were my best friends in high school, and are still good friends with my ex. Luckily their backs are to me and they haven’t seen me yet, so with panic rising inside my chest, I turn to my friend and ask the question I suddenly wish I’d asked 30 minutes ago.
“Is he here?” My voice trembles, and I see comprehension dawn on his face. He’s always so easy to read, and before he can even say anything I already know two things:
1. That yes, he’s here, and 2. That I can’t be here anymore.
We’ve been broken up for over a year. Over a year. And, despite my best efforts, he still has a hold over me, a hold that infuriates me to no end, and continues to isolate me from the rest of the world.
He isn’t the one who no longer feels safe on campus (he transferred to my college this past semester). He doesn’t feel a bolt of fear shoot through him whenever he sees me, no matter how far ahead or behind me he may be.
I know I made the right decision in leaving, but that doesn’t make it any easier to see the Snapchats and photos of everyone who is there. If only things were different, I know I could be having fun, too.
When you’ve been in a physically abusive relationship, people understand.
They understand you can’t be in the same room as your abuser because you fear for your physical safety. They understand you sometimes still flash back to the moments when you were hit or beaten, no matter how long it’s been since the two of you have been together.
When the evidence of everything you went through is on display for the world to see, how can anyone deny it happened to you? How can they tell you that you were “overreacting,” or just “misinterpreting his intentions,” when the pattern of scars across your body is as obvious a constellation splashed across the night sky, and just as cold?
They can’t, and because of this, you’re offered endless compassion and support.
But what happens when the bruises can’t be seen with the naked eye? When the wounds are there, hidden but very much real and traumatic?
What happens is that people don’t understand as much. They’re sympathetic to your plight, of course, but that sympathy has an expiration date. They don’t understand what you went through because the evidence of it isn’t staring them in the face, daring them to contradict that it happened.
They hear mention of how he texts you repeatedly to hang out and say, “Well, he’s probably just being friendly, maybe you should give him a chance?” not understanding how much seeing his name pop up on your phone screen makes you feel like the world is closing around you.
They don’t understand why, no matter how much time has passed, it’s still hard to be in the same room as the person who made you doubt yourself, tore you down, and left you feeling worthless and stupid at every turn for over a year and a half.
They don’t understand that no matter how long it’s been, seeing him still makes you flash back to the room where it ended, in the house you still can’t drive by without reliving the words he hurled at you, as though they were stones and you had been sentenced to execution.
They don’t understand how he blamed you for how it ended, how he made you doubt your conviction and your ability to survive without him, how he made you believe you’d never find someone else, that you were unlovable, and worthless.
Mental abuse doesn’t end when the relationship ends. You may no longer be around the person anymore, but that doesn’t mean the things they said to you don’t stay inside your mind.
They still hurt because they were said by somebody who was supposed to care about you.
But this time, the abuse is almost worse, because it’s no longer actually happening. You’re stuck in a world of your own creation, locked in your mind and the prison of memories it’s created for you.
Sometimes it seems there’s no way out.
Though, subconsciously, you know not everyone in the world will hurt you, that doesn’t make it any easier to move beyond the fact you opened yourself up to somebody who cut you to the core more deeply than anyone ever has before. That they did this intentionally, all while shielding their intentions in affection and assurances they are helping you, that they love you and want what’s best for you.
According to SafeVoices.org, one in four women will experience some type of domestic abuse in their lifetime, either physical or otherwise.
In high school, our teachers focused on teaching us about physical abuse, and it’s easy to understand why. Physical abuse is what’s usually focused on in the media and is more externally obvious.
But to act like physical abuse is more harmful than mental abuse is wrong.
Mental abuse can be just as, if not more, insidious. It manifests itself inside the psyche of the person who is being abused, sewing the seeds of self-doubt, making them believe they don’t matter, that they deserve the abuse they suffer, that it’s somehow their fault.
Due to the high number of young individuals committing or attempting suicide nowadays, it is now more important than ever to ensure students understand the warning signs to look for in mentally abusive relationships. It was only a few weeks ago that a girl was sentenced after talking her boyfriend into taking his own life.
By teaching students the warning signs, someone can intervene faster, the less emotional damage that person is likely to suffer, and the quicker they will recover.
I never thought this would happen to me.
I thought I was strong enough to withstand anything, smart enough to know the warning signs to look out for. I wish I had known what to look for. I wish, more than anything, that I had let someone intervene in the beginning, because it’s been almost a year and a half, I’m still not over it, and I still feel the repercussions of it every day.
I never thought I would be victimized, but I was. And am. I am a victim, and as much as I hate writing those words and admitting it to myself, I know this is a vital part of moving on.
It is part of reclaiming my life and moving on to bigger and better things.