“Get the f-ck over it. I’m done with you being so crazy.”
That is one of many texts (888 PDF pages worth of them, to be exact) between me and my “best friend,” the first person I ever loved. I wish I could say that was the first and last time he spoke to me that way, but it wasn’t.
It’s easy to tell yourself that you would never allow yourself to be abused, but it’s harder to follow through when you don’t know what to look for. When I thought of abusive relationships, I pictured the scenes I watched in movies like “Enough,” where the spouse was clearly awful and the abuse was physical — that was all I really knew until I experienced otherwise. I used to tell myself, “I’ll never let myself get into an abusive relationship. And if I do, I won’t stay. I’d never let someone hit me.”
According to statistics from the National Domestic Violence Hotline, nearly one in four women and one in seven men in the United States have been a victim of physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime. Of the victims who suffer injuries, only one in five will get medical attention and only half of them will report the violence to the police.
The reasons for not reporting vary for each individual. They may be ashamed, or scared that their abuser will retaliate. Maybe they have children. But oftentimes, it isn’t reported simply because the victims don’t think they’ll be believed, and that nothing will be done. These are victims who have bruises and scars, physical evidence of their abuse that the world can see. But what about the scars we can’t see?
A 2015 survey taken by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence says that 48.4 percent of women and 48.8 percent of men have experienced some form of psychological abuse. Like victims of physical abuse, psychological abuse can continue to affect someone long after the abusive relationship has ended. Emotional abuse isn’t obvious enough for the world to see, and it often can’t be understood unless you are the one enduring the abuse, making it even harder to be believed.
I was 22 when we met. He was 33. I was young, naive, inexperienced, and absolutely thrilled to finally get attention from a guy. After struggling with my weight since day one of puberty and having little to no confidence, I was convinced that no boy would ever like me. But then he came up to me at work one day and proved me wrong. Here was a guy, an older guy, telling me how much he liked me, how beautiful I was, and asking me out. He had a reputation. I’d been warned the first day of work that I was his type, but still, I fell, and I kept falling for more than three years.
He made it clear that I was not the only girl in his life, but he made sure that he was the only man in mine. When I wasn’t being love-bombed, I was being gaslighted so badly that I was convinced I was lucky to have him because “nobody else would want to deal with me.” Or I was being given the silent treatment for so long that all I could think about was making him talk to me again. If I made plans with a male friend, he’d get so jealous I’d feel guilty for days. But when I tried to explain to people why I was an anxious mess and constantly apologizing, they didn’t believe me. He was good at what he did. To everyone else I looked like the crazy one — I mean, he didn’t hit me, I didn’t have proof, why would they believe me?
It’s hard to speak up for yourself when your self-worth and self-respect have been slowly stripped away from you, or when you try to tell mutual friends the way he makes you feel about yourself and they respond with, “You knew what he was like when you met, you asked for it.” It’s even harder to have your feelings validated when the response you usually receive is, “Does he hit you?” Well, no, he didn’t, I’d never even been afraid that he would. This was what I’d remind myself of when I’d cry myself to sleep at night. He doesn’t hit me, it isn’t that bad.
When I hear stories of brave women (and men) who are able to speak up about their abuse but are met with skepticism, I’m taken back to the moments when I tried to tell coworkers what was happening and why I frequently broke down at work, but they brushed it away. I watched strong women speak out against Larry Nassar (the former U.S.A. Gymnastics national team doctor accused of sexually assaulting over 250 girls) and tell the stories of the first time they tried to report him but nobody investigated. I remembered the first time I admitted to myself that what I was going through was abuse, I took a test that scored almost 100 percent that yes, I was being emotionally abused, and when I reached out to a friend mid-anxiety attack she told me to get over it. It wasn’t like he hit me.
On March 12, 2019, thanks to my family, real friends, and therapists, I’ll be one year of No Contact. On September 30, 2018, I met someone, and when I gathered the courage, I told him. I braced myself for the reaction of- “But did he hit you?” Instead, I heard him say, “You know that’s abuse, right?” He believed me.