My fiancé and I hardly argue, but we do have tough conversations. We discuss things requiring compromise, self-awareness and solutions. My fiancé can be the most understanding, compassionate and fair person in the world. He is the first to apologize and the first to offer a cooperative solution. That’s why they’re rarely arguments. However, whenever we get there, I shut down. I become quiet. The thoughts race inside my head, the words come together forming clear, expressive sentences, but I remain silent. I shut down.
Abuse comes in many forms and all are unacceptable. My reaction to my fiancé is the result of abuse I haven’t worked though yet. It’s the results of having my feelings invalidated and disrespected, of being lied to, of being treated like anything but an equal and a partner. To this day, I often tell myself that I was never pushed down stairs, I was never struck, I never had any bruises to show for the mistreatment. I invalidate my own experience and convince myself that because others may have it worse, I don’t deserve to feel that pain and to feel the psychological effects of being treated that way.
Emotional and verbal abuse can be insidious. It starts more mildly and escalates when a certain amount of control is established. Emotional abuse can be any of the following and this is not an exhaustive list.
Constantly putting someone down, constantly using harsh language and name-calling
Constantly publicly humiliating someone
Gaslighting someone into believing they are imagining it all or exaggerating
Controlling someone’s access to their friends, family and other supports
Controlling someone’s whereabouts and daily life
Controlling someone’s financials
Threats of physical violence or threats of leaving
Blaming someone for the abuse
I have deep-rooted fears based on abusive treatment I had to live through. I once cut a very close friend, who had always been there for me, out of my life for over a year. I blamed myself for this, believing I abandoned him and I had failed as a friend. I acknowledge now that I was being controlled by a partner who was threatened by the relationship I had with this friend. I also dealt with violent anger and constant berating that I was bringing it on, I causing the anger. My feelings and experiences were constantly invalidated, and this created a lot of fear with regard to expressing anything at all.
Now, the ramifications of having been treated that way permeate into every new relationship. I’ve found my person and he is nothing close to an abuser, yet I still shut down. I’m afraid to be honest, I’m afraid to share what I’m feeling.
I wish I could say it’s time, I wish I could say I’ll let it go and lose the fear. But it is hard work to undo what someone has done to you. I’m going to have to change the beliefs I’ve internalized about myself. The beliefs that my feelings are invalid, that I’m not worth listening to, that I’m a burden.
This pandemic means many people are quarantined in close quarters with their abuser, with no respite or break. If you are living in an abusive situation, it can be scary, even sometimes dangerous to seek help but there are resources and there is support out there.