*Trigger warning: This article discusses physical and emotional abuse and may be triggering to some readers.
I’ve always been a sucker for a good love story, growing up they were all I read. I loved the novels with the “bad boy” and the nice girl, the ones where he was kind just to her.
So, when I was a freshman in high school and met my first real boyfriend who fit that description perfectly, I felt as though I was living out my YA novel dream. I wasn’t prepared for the realities of a relationship; I was only prepared for the love story. I didn’t plan to get hurt; it wasn’t anything that my beloved novels had warned me about. None of my books told the story of a boy who loved a girl but couldn’t stop himself from hurting her, again and again. None of my novels told the story of a girl being her own knight in shining armor and leaving the boy who stopped being kind.
Maybe if I had been warned that abuse isn’t just physical, things would’ve turned out completely different.
This is the case for most young girls and guys. We’re taught that love is supposed to be kind and gentle. We are told that abusive relationships only constitute physical abuse.
This played in the back of my own mind often, “But he didn’t hit me, it’s not abuse if he didn’t hit me.” It didn’t seem like it was possible for abuse to be in the form of words and manipulation, after all we’re taught that “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” from the time we can comprehend a sentence.
And it didn’t start out terrible. The emotional abuse started slowly, like a small disease at first. We would fight, he would tell me I was stupid, crazy, that I was making everything up, and then we would go back to normal, and I thought it was cured.
But it kept coming back, each time worse than the last. Stupid turned into “whore,” “annoying piece of sh*t,” and he would tell me it was all my fault that I was upset, even if it was something he had done to upset me. He gaslit me over and over, breaking me down piece by piece until I was no longer sure of who I was; I wasn’t sure of anything.
I couldn’t trust my own thoughts, let alone anyone else.
No one prepared me for this. No one told me how much hurt could come out of loving someone so toxic and abusive, so I thought maybe it was my fault, that maybe he was right and I was just crazy for being upset. Maybe I had ruined his life by telling his dad he was failing school in an effort to help him, maybe I was in the wrong for being scared when he lost control of the car and screamed at me to stop laughing while pounding on the moving car’s wheel.
The big question I always get asked is, “why didn’t you just leave?”. The answer is sometimes you can’t. You become addicted to this emotional rollercoaster, the highs, the lows and the love bombing. But my best answer, the one I shy away from telling people, is that I no longer knew who I was. He had taken everything from me, I no longer trusted a singular thought I had, and when you can no longer trust who you are, you cling to the person who can tell you who you are, even if they’re wrong.
Luckily for me I was forced out of it, now I am living the life I could only ever dreamed of back then.
Sadly, this isn’t the case for all.
Only 33% of teens who were in an abusive relationship ever told anyone about the abuse, and 1 in 3 girls in the US is a victim of physical, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner, a figure that far exceeds rates of other types of youth violence. But yet this isn’t talked about nearly as much as it should, especially because 81% of parents believe teen dating violence is not an issue or admit they don’t know if it’s an issue.
This is a real issue and it’s happening to children right now. We’re sending teens off into the world prepared to say no to drugs and peer pressure, but what about learning how to walk away from a relationship, or even friendship that is toxic and harmful to their mental health? Teens who suffer dating abuse are subject to long-term consequences like alcoholism, eating disorders, promiscuity, thoughts of suicide and violent behavior.
So yeah, maybe they didn’t hit you, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t leave scars that are only seen by you. The kind of scars that are left untreated and not talked about will only fester. If you have ever experienced any kind of emotional abuse, know that you are not alone, and people believe you; I believe you.
If you or anyone you know is experiencing any type of abuse:
Call 1.800.799.SAFE (7233) TTY 1.800.787.3224
Or visit this website