Admitting I Was Emotionally Abused


A friend posted a powerful video made by a young Irish woman named Emma Murphy. In the clip, Emma, an attractive woman in her mid-20s, is sporting a pink hoodie from the Gap and a deep purple-black bruise around her left eye. She reveals to the digital universe that she has been her husband's punching bag.

Emma says, "I thought long and hard before posting this video, this is very difficult for me but I have to do what is RIGHT, if you or anyone you know is in a similar situation please share this video to inspire other women around the world, violence is NOT the answer!!!!"

I responded with this:

I spent 4 1/2 years with an emotionally abusive partner. Emotional abuse is as real as physical abuse; the only difference is you can't see the scars.

My abuser diminished my self-esteem to such a point that I believed I was worthless. Attractive to no one. According to him, EVERYTHING I did was wrong. Or suspect. If I dared to disagree or even float the idea that perhaps he was being unnecessarily harsh, I was ridiculed, belittled and given the silent treatment for days on end. He would sit and smoke in my apartment, stony, silent and unrelenting. Punishing me. Once, on my birthday, I came home 15 minutes late because the Tube (subway) had delays. He refused to speak to me and refused to give me my birthday present, saying I was rude, thoughtless and self-centered.

"But the Tube was delayed!" I said.

He dismissed my explanation, raising one eyebrow and snarling, "Then you should have gotten an earlier train. I was kept waiting."

What a prick, right? What an unreasonable, unfair, unfeeling prick. Yet, I stayed silent. That is how abuse works.

When I hit Return and the comment was posted, it felt perfectly normal to me. I was telling the truth, something I do all the time now. Still, it was the first time I'd ever written about the G years and the damage that had been done. I suspected -- correctly, as it turns out -- that I had just shed at least one if not many veils. I had revealed myself.

People were shocked. I received several comments along the lines of, "OMG! I cannot believe that YOU, of all people, have been in an abusive relationship. Wow." I received four private messages from friends. All four made pretty much the same comment: I had no idea. I knew the relationship was unhealthy. And I never liked him, to be honest. But I had no idea what you were dealing with. Shit, I wish I'd known. I wish you'd told me. And I understand and do not judge you for not telling me.

G hated most things about me. He hated the way I loaded the dishwasher (in my apartment), he hated it when the phone rang, he labelled me "intellectually bankrupt" when I wanted to watch the Academy Awards on television. He loathed my mother. He disliked my friends.

And he hated the fact that I did not like his smoking habit. G smoked three packs a day; I don't smoke at all. Ever. I detest the smell of cigarettes. One night, after several hours of chain smoking in my living room (he had long since stopped opening a window because, in his opinion, "the whole idea of second hand smoke is ridiculous"), I asked if we could please open the windows and if he would consider smoking on the porch.

"Well," he said, "this is shocking, really. After all that I have been through, you have the audacity to ask me not to smoke. I would have thought you'd have been more sensitive, frankly." Pause. Inhale. Deep drag on cigarette number 55."This causes me to question this relationship. I fear this really is a waste of my time."

And then he stopped talking.

I flew out the next morning with two friends on a holiday to Thailand. He refused to say goodbye or even wish me a safe flight. And he maintained that silence through the entire 14 days I was away. Not one email. And obviously no apology. (G never apologized because in his mind nothing was ever his fault. Ever. About both of his divorces he said, "It was their fault, not mine.") When I returned from Thailand, G claimed to be thrilled to see me. And he lit up a cigarette within five minutes, as if nothing -- absolutely bloody nothing -- had ever been said. Clearly nothing -- absolutely bloody nothing -- had changed.

Right about now you're probably thinking, WTF? Why did you stay with this loser?

I was afraid. Of him. Four plus years of emotional abuse had turned me into a nervous wreck.

This man had worn me down. He'd chiseled away like a fuckin' Michaelangelo at my confidence and my sense of self-worth. I started lying. I told him I had plans I didn't have, just so I could get away from him. And on those nights when he would stay at my place, I more often than not would stop at a bar on the way home and have a glass or two of wine to numb myself to the experience of him.

The worst part was never knowing what would set him off. It could be anything. Literally anything.

This went on for years. Four and a half, to be precise. G would be "nice" -- his Jekyll personality -- just long enough to lull me into a false sense of security. Then, bam! In would walk Mr. Hyde, snarling, nasty, and vicious.

The cycle of abuse. Around and around and around you go. You lose your bearings. You lose yourself.

Until one January night. G was smoking in my living room, complaining about some injustice done to him. Of course. I looked up and thought to myself, I don't like you. I really, really do not like you. And if I spend one more day  with you, I will become irretrievably lost.

"Look," I said. "I am not happy. In fact, I am deeply unhappy. We're over."

G spent the next 30 minutes spewing abusive comments. How he had wasted his time. How there was something fundamentally wrong with me. How I lacked the ability to be an adult. I don't even remember all of what he said. I just sat there, saying nothing, but looking him straight in the eye. Watching him, as if observing a train wreck.

"Don't you have anything to say?" he snarled.

"No," I said. "I don't."

Then I asked him to leave. I locked the door behind him. I could barely fall asleep because, suddenly, it was clear to me that I had survived. And come out the other side. Safe. Still in one piece.

I'm telling this story for a reason. Because abuse is rampant. And insidious. It doesn't always involve a punch that gets thrown. The violence doesn't show in all cases. Relationships are often not what they appear to be. Cruelty is out there and is tolerated -- maybe because someone is afraid of being alone or afraid of being broke or afraid of admitting defeat, who knows. Afraid. That's the leitmotif.

My hope is that people read this and, if anyone out there is in an unhealthy and unhappy, abusive, bullying relationship, they remember it is not supposed to be like this. That compromise and negotiation are healthy; loss of self and living in fear are not.

Admitting our truths, and putting them out there for others to read and to process, sets us on a different road. The one we call less traveled. A harder road, maybe, but ultimately a more rewarding road. The road that lets us be vulnerable and human and sometimes frightened.

And also vulnerable and human and always real.

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