At Least He Doesn't Hit Me

Trigger warning: emotional abuse in detail. Sexual boundaries mentioned. Past sexual assault mentions. Past childhood trauma mentioned in detail. Names have been changed. 

 

“At least he doesn’t hit me”

     I was sitting in bed and reading the most recent Snapchat message from “Max”, the guy I was seeing at the time. I don’t even remember what specific instance brought this thought to my mind. What I do remember is reading his message, thinking this thought, and turning to go to sleep. 

     “At least he doesn’t hit me.”

     This was my mindset at the time, one of now, an emotional abuse survivor. It was my mindset for months, with a list of similar thoughts I’ll share later. There were plenty of rationalizations, excuses, and cover-ups for behavior that I couldn’t recognize, that I couldn’t define. Despite the fact, I know that if I had heard this phrase from a friend, I would freak out. But this wasn’t happening to a friend, it was happening to me. 

     Before I tell my story, let’s define emotional abuse. Before this experience, I didn’t know what emotional abuse was exactly. Emotional abuse comes in many forms. I’ve looked over my experiences that are mentioned in this article with my therapist, a licensed professional counselor who is nationally certified, whose specialties include trauma and whose issues include domestic abuse, domestic violence, relationship issues, and sexual abuse, who found the best definition to be from “VeryWell Mind'' written by author Sherri Gordon and reviewed by LCSW and psychotherapist Amy Morin. 

     Emotional abuse is defined as “a way to control another person by using emotions to criticize, embarrass, shame, blame, or otherwise manipulate another person. In general, a relationship is emotionally abusive when there is a consistent pattern of abusive words and bullying behaviors that wear down a person's self-esteem and undermine their mental health”. 

     The content I’ve written as well as the final draft of this article will be looked over by my therapist before publishing. Sources that also helped me during this time period will be linked at the end of the article. 

     Now with all the basic information said, let’s start then with the simple facts of the story. I met Max through a dating app when I was 19, a rising sophomore and when he was 20, a rising senior. I left the situation in October when I was 20 and he was 21. He doesn’t and has never attended my school nor is he associated with any organizations I am or have been a part of. 

     Moving on, it didn’t start off with any glaring red flags, at least to me anyway. In fact, when we first began talking in the spring, it was nice. Max was really nice. He came off sweet and very interested, giving me loads of attention. He made a Minecraft tool with dogs for me, on his own time, just because I expressed interest in one in general. He made memes of his dogs and my dogs for me. He Facetimed and snapped me a bunch, and responded very quickly. He understood that my parents had access to my texts, and it didn’t scare him off. He showed me his guitar and musical work, randomly playing while we Facetimed. He even asked me my opinion on which song he should upload (“What Am I” was the winner). Besides this, he also asked me a bunch of questions about myself, things guys hadn’t asked me before. Whether we were compatible long term according to our zodiacs, Virgo and Leo, if I wanted to get married and when questions about my own childhood and life. He told me about himself in return. His views and beliefs. He spoke about things that made him seem vulnerable, very trustworthy. 

     Max had other superficial factors that made him seem trustworthy too. Mainly, he didn’t look intimidating nor scary. I remember my friends and family looking at me in utter confusion when I told them “he scares me”, and from an outsider's perspective, I can see why. He’s about 5’6, in shape but on the thinner and overall smaller side, with glasses. He has a soft voice, is more books than brawn, for lack of a better term. The man proudly owned a Rubix cube. No hate to Rubix cube owners, this is just to paint a better picture of the guy. Overall, Max did not seem scary. 

     On top of those external factors though, Max had women in his life who trusted him, friends, and family. One very empowered one in fact. An open, proud survivor and women empowerer, who I won’t disclose her name either, but who I’ll call “Lily”. As a survivor of sexual assault at 16, it made me feel safe to be around him due to these trusting women, especially Lily, who he is very close to. Even when he was actively abusing me, I couldn’t comprehend that he meant to because of his beliefs and the people around him. Now I know he did. But my logic at the time was “How could the man who was so openly worried for others women’s rights, in this case after Ruth Bader Ginsburg's passing, be telling me how I wasn’t funny and weird?”

     But we’re not there yet. This is the unfortunate beginning. And in the beginning, there was attention and action, not abuse. But eventually, the mask of an abuser cracks. The red flags began to pop up in front of the rose-colored landscape he had painted for me with his beginning actions and great communication. 

     Max was conscious of his slow timing, of his manipulation, making me like a frog in a pot of boiling water, unknowing but nevertheless, boiling. For context, while I didn’t have the best track record with men in college, Max knew enough information that I would distance myself from men when I was outright insulted previously. He also knew I was forgiving in general, at least to those I care for. So, he didn’t start with direct insults like “My friends and family would make fun of you.”, he was so subtle. Max was smart enough to know I wouldn’t sit around if some random guy outright insulted me at first, I had told him a bit about my experiences and some of my standards now because of them. He was smart enough to get me trusting before he started any of the outright consistent insults and criticisms, or control. 

     To get to the brunt of the story, the red flags, approved by my therapist, will be summarized quickly. They were so minuscule at the moment. In fact, the red flags to the eventual emotional abuse were truly just rudeness and bluntness, but in such odd ways and tone shifts I didn’t even take too much notice of them at the time, that’s how small and insignificant they were on their own. I had just never heard it like that before, not rudeness or bluntness per se, just the way it was said. I didn’t tell anyone at the time because they were hard to explain out loud. To start, the “ok” comments, the subtle judgments. At first, they were about things like music, my music I showed him was “ok”. To be fair, I didn’t really think much of it due to his passion for music. Even when those comments persisted and escalated. Then it became about my writing being “ok”, specifically when I introduced my writing to him as he had been persistent about seeing it once learning I was a writer. His response to reading it? “It was ok.” his tone and pitch shifting so, oddly. Again, my content focused on subjects he wasn’t interested in, and as a writer, you get used to criticism, so I didn’t think much of it. Of course, it hurt my feelings a little,  I looked up to his opinion as a pre-med student with a 4.0 GPA, who was also talented in music as well, he was capable. But then again, he said it was “ok”. It was just a little rude. 

     There were more red flags blooming throughout our time knowing each other. After our first ever conflict was settled in a healthy manner and after the first date, I sent him some cute selfies based on a challenge I saw online. He made the straight-up comment of wanting to see how far he could push my boundaries. Not asking for nudes, just types of photos in general, seeing what he could push me to do. That was alarming, even to the naive me, but again, Max came off a bit awkward in general. He was so shy on our first date, so I didn’t take it as ill-intentioned or predatorial, just odd. Max wasn’t looking for control. He was good, he just didn’t know it came off a bit alarming when he said that. There were more red flags, he made judgmental tone shifts and phrases on such small things, like butterfly clips or fishnets, but there's too many to count that I won’t here. The point is the red flags were rude, persistent, but nothing more. 

     Most importantly, even later he made a comment on how I could be like his therapist, which I shut down immediately. I thought it was an odd, one-off joke by an awkward fellow. But eventually, through the chipping of self-esteem, it would be that way. I would become his therapist and his verbal demeaning bag. His girl, the girl who knew who she was and her place. 

     One of the earliest recollections of outright emotional abuse, was when we spoke about our high school experiences. I remember telling him I had gone to a smaller private high school, and he responded quite quickly and smiley,

     “So that’s why you have no social skills.”

     “What?” my voice became small, my eyes widened. I looked at him in shock.

     He looked back at me smiling, chuckling even a little bit, despite my obvious hurt and dead silence. He wasn’t going to take it back, trying to pass it off as something funny, a joke, but so true. So I mumbled something about going to a public school previously. We then moved on to his high school experience, specifically about him being in choir and going to an advanced public high school. Cruel comments like this slowly but surely built up, him making sure I knew my place and who I was through them. The comments came from coming out of nowhere seemingly, with compliments and attention and flirting sprinkled in between until it became the absolute norm to just say. 

     Of course to note, during talking and even when we began “dating”, according to him at least, not all was bad. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have stayed. There were really nice dates, and Facetime calls, and still plenty of attention in between all this. He called me gorgeous. He didn’t try to hop into bed right away. Most men hadn’t done that for me before or wanted to commit so fast as Max had. 

     This next instance also happened early on. We were discussing different life philosophies, specifically happiness. We were discussing true happiness and contentment, but we weren’t arguing. We were just talking about our points of view to each other and our thoughts on the other persons, on when we would be truly happy with our lives. His response to me saying that happiness can be found before achieving our true life's ambitions or dreams? 

     “Your positivity is exhausting”, he sighed frustratedly. I still remember the frustrated face he made with a definite tone shift from his previous, normal one. He was very obviously annoyed with my differing opinion on the situation than his own, and my smile quickly vanished as I began to worry. He didn’t back down on his comment, he insisted on it. But I didn't want to budge him, maybe he just coped with life differently. Then there was the shaming. 

     When it came to my traumatic past, Max didn’t and still doesn’t know about my survivor trauma. But, because he didn’t know that important fact, I made it clear what I was comfortable and uncomfortable with, due to said past. Also because of this past, certain shameful comments really get to me. I make that clear as well. So once when we were kissing he made a comment speaking about how we were kissing so early on this specific date, and I stopped kissing him, literally backing his face away from mine. He saw my hurt and took it back. So I then felt comfortable again, knowing he knew it had hurt me, but it was an accident and he wouldn’t make comments or implying that about me any further. Later, we were Facetiming and talking about said date, and he made a few odd, rude comments, but then he began speaking about how he hadn’t expected us to kiss since his previous ex had kissed him way later than I had. I physically cringed in front of the camera, saying “oh yikes”. He agreed with me, his tone changing into one of embarrassment almost. He knew it had hurt me.  

     Something else happened that night. An unusual instance of control. We had gone to the drive-in movies for context, and while taking off his shoes to relax, he had lost his sock somehow? We had finished our boba and were hanging out after the movie, and he asked me if I could pick up his sock that had somehow fallen off.  I went “Uh no, you can get it later, you have your shoes to drive.” But he insisted he NEEDED it to drive. Odd, but he seemed insistent on it. So, I began to look, fumbling through blankets. A little later, Max jumped to the front and soon began driving. As we drove through the downtown night, I was confused but looking. “What? He said he needed it to drive?” Eventually, I tumbled to the front, confused. I brushed it off, I never had experienced anything like it. Why?

     I know now, he was seeing what he could push me to do. 

     Awful disclaimer, even though his identity is hidden, no this has nothing to do with a foot fetish or foot fetish jokes. Max doesn't have a foot fetish. Nor do I. Nor did it have to do with him joking about feet, or me joking about feet. This is an extremely separate instance, it's just a very funny coincidence. 

     Anyway, moving on. The comments continued and escalated, his favorite form of putting me in my place was saying cruel things, privately or in spaces no one else heard. Somewhere along the way, a joke and humor difference between us became telling me how I wasn’t funny, despite that being an integral part of my personality. Like, 9 times out of 10, I’m telling a joke. This became constant, eventually, I stood up to him saying “C'mon! I’m funny.” he went, “Mmm are you sure?” Another example, when a friend disagreed with a certain joke I made, they were “cool” and if another laughed at it they were “weird”. 

     Another consistent one was the fact I reminded him of a twelve-year-old, especially with my humor. Of course, I know I look young, so comments on my younger appearance weren’t really a problem. The problem was when it became a mental comment. Once he sent me a message saying how he felt creepy talking to me sometimes due to me reminding him of a 12-year-old or preteen. I remember waking up to see that message and falling back asleep, almost diving further into my bed, physically hiding from it. 

     Standing up to him eventually felt impossible, he knew how to turn things around about himself really well. He started with confusion. I remember once early on he made a comment along the lines of me reminding him of a 12-year-old somehow, and jokingly I said “Well what does that say about you?”, considering he was attracted to me. He looked at me saying “Well I can’t help the way I look.” and the conversation shifted from his previous comment to me somehow saying he looked young, which I hadn’t. 

     Another time, while he talked about his family situation at home he made a comment that implied they had had it harder or tougher than mine. I brought up my own family situation, not to play victim Olympics, but to clarify I understood where he was coming from. While I had no worth in myself at the time, my family worked too hard to be talked about like that. In fact, they had very similar origins to his, an immigrant situation, people coming from nothing working their butts off for something, their kids being everything. So they did know what it was like. He tried backing down and twisting and moving on from it at first, but I doubled down. He responded by saying how his parents hit him over a B grade, saving the message so I would know he wanted me to read it, remember it, and that he meant it. Of course, his trauma had come up before, but this was a way of making sure I knew my place. He had it worse, now shut up. 

     Once he turned things around when I spoke about a sexual boundary being broken. I repeat, a sexual boundary was broken at 19. (I say this because I previously and later talk about a separate sexual assault at 16 by a separate individual.) I found the courage to talk to him about the boundary incident eventually. He had sent a joke about it, so I told him how it had scared me when he did that. No accusatory tone at all, just a conversation about my feelings on it. As a survivor of sexual assault at 16, I know how important it is to set boundaries and stand up for oneself. (note: it’s never your fault.) Anyway to the present, I tell him it scared me when he did that. He replied I had made sounds like I enjoyed it. I went “no” but let go of the subject- what did it matter? Maybe I was just overreacting. It was a mistake, a bad judgment call. He didn’t make any mistakes before that. I remember even later thinking I had triggered his childhood trauma when pushing him away- HARD, so I made a mistake too. Besides, it could be dealt with. Eventually, during long-distance, it felt like sexual things were the only thing that could truly get his positive attention and affections if that. Not me. 

     Back to the present in the story, before long-distance- while “dating”- Then there were his comments on my makeup and appearance. For context, makeup is a public, very beloved part of my life. When wearing rhinestone crystals on a Facetime call, he asked what I had on my face. I told him, rhinestone crystals, and he went “Oh, they look like moles.” in a judgemental tone. I remember taking them off on Facetime, worried he was right. This was such a dramatic change from the girl who proudly rocked them months ago previously despite comments on them. The girl, confident in her inner self was being chipped away.  

     When speaking with my therapist, she made a comment on how Max was so persistent with these comments and it just didn’t stop, he kept going and finding things to berate. This one date is a good example. I remember feeling really pretty that day. We were going to the zoo, and while there he made a comment on how I was sweaty. A little rude, but eh, whatever. But it kept going. At the mall, we sat in a corner as he, oddly, criticized my sock color. “Why was I wearing green socks?... They didn't go with my outfit.” When we had finished eating lunch, I wasn’t sure what to do next. He sighed, overreacting, telling me “I had no opinions.” An overgeneralization because I wasn’t sure what to do in my small town. Even later with the sweat, this time my highlighter looked like sweat but he framed it as him learning about makeup. It just didn’t stop. He made up for all this by calling me a bunch of nice things while we kissed. During that compliment period, that was also when he asked me to be exclusive to him. For context, days earlier on a Facetime call, he had said we were “dating” while taking a Buzzfeed quiz since we were going on “dates”. I mean the logic was there and I didn’t mind dating him- most guys didn’t want to announce that, let alone commit.

     Back to the present, in a manipulative way, he told me he loved me mid kissing. We’d been talking for a few months, barely going on dates, so I freaked out saying “What.” He freaked out saying he had said: “he loved this.” (He hadn’t. He just thought I would respond well to I love you). A bit later in that period, he asked me to be exclusive, I agreed. He had called me beautiful when kissing me. I hadn’t been called that by a guy I was seeing since I was a kid. 

     I remember around this time, not during the date but after, I showed him a silly Tik Tok while we Facetimed. It was of a clown dancing. I giggled, clowns were an inside joke. He didn't understand why I referenced myself as one, but he respected it. But the carefree tone of the call changed suddenly. He started raising his voice, taking a tone I had never heard coming out of his mouth, even while playing video games. He had such a soft voice that changed so quickly becoming so dry and different as he raised it. “What the #### is that? Why would you send me that?”. I was taken aback, he had never cursed around me, especially knowing at the time I wouldn’t even say the word “hate” out loud. Let alone AT me. He never had raised his voice at me or gotten that type of tone, ever, even during our one disagreement where he might've had the right to act like that. I first thought it was a joke. I promptly freaked out, saying multiple times I was sorry. I remember trying to lighten the situation. His attitude was different the rest of the call, his voice drier and colder, and he annoyedly went to bed soon after the incident. I worried that night, wondering what I had done badly to make him react like that and how I could fix it. The next day he acted as if everything were normal, so did I. I didn’t want to rock the boat. 

     The after-effects of this incident lasted, even in normal moments implying possible annoyance. We were Snapchatting and I said something wrong about a type of boba drink. He snapped a message back, saying  “What are you even talking about?”. My stomach dropped and my fear instantly set in, worried I had made him angry like with the Tik Tok again. Luckily he wasn’t upset and he acted normal, But if any amount of aggression, coldness, or odd tone shifts set in after the Tik Tok incident, even about something as stupid as boba through a snap message, even if he wasn’t angry in the end, I instantly worried I had angered him again.

     On one date, I remember it so easily. I was poking his shoulder in the car, making a funny noise. We were relaxing, we were exclusive by this point. As I poked his shoulder, he turned to me with a straight face and said. 

     “My friends and family would make fun of you.”

     I remember looking up at him in obvious hurt and shock, shrinking from the comment a bit, and his smile widened at the sight of my shock and pain. It wasn’t a goofy, jokey smile, the one he had when he laughed, this was different. I don’t know what else to call it but one of satisfaction. I said in a meek voice, “I wouldn’t act this way in front of your family.” At this point, I knew my place and felt bad I was like this. I wished I was normal enough for him, for his life. But he insisted, “My friends then.” He tried turning it around, ending it with how “I was lucky I was cute”  I remember being happy he gave me a compliment. I said thank you and we moved on. Weeks later, when sending him a private video of me being goofy with friends, he told me how his friends had heard it through a call he was on, and now they thought I was weird. At this point, I just said “Well you said they'd make fun of me anyway.” And he told me “Well we make fun of everyone.” He knew this hurt me, he just liked doing so.

     In long-distance, he still found ways to make sure I knew my place. Of course, he was also busy, a blessing and a curse to the naive girl's heart. I missed him, but I didn't miss the insults. They were still there, just mostly through messaging rather than in real life. There were other issues of course, but he used those to make sure I was his therapist. 

     He stressed about the MCAT a lot. So, he would come to me a lot with his stresses when he had the time. Of course, I didn’t mind that he came to me, but eventually, he saw me as a notes app. For example, in one of his rants, he told me something along the lines of “do you ever feel like you can’t breathe?” in describing his nervousness, and I instantly worried, sending a long message telling him he was capable and smart. He left it on read for a bit and I worried that he was having an anxiety attack or something. He snapped later like nothing was wrong. Of course, this was rude in general, but the fact he implied he couldn’t breathe and left me hanging was manipulative as I waited. 

     After his MCAT, because I was so worried to speak about my problems before it, I spoke with him about how he had hurt and worried me when doing that. How it was rude. I remember how much courage it took me to build up to tell him. Previously I had been on the phone with a person I’m close to, and she asked me why I didn't just confront him already? MCAT or no MCAT? It was an issue. The answer was simple-

     “He scares me.”

     She instantly questioned, worriedly, asking why he specifically scared me. Days earlier she had made a comment about how it seemed like he was doing certain other cruel things on purpose, but I denied it. He would never.

     “Max always comes through!” I had told another friend who questioned his behavior. I couldn’t answer my friend on the phone about why I was scared. It was so hard and confusing to explain. After the breakup, she told me he had seemed controlling while we were together when I grew enough courage to tell her about a few incidents I’ve listed previously. She didn’t even know the half of it yet. Still, I couldn’t believe her. It was Max, he didn’t know any better. 

     I sounded like a brainwashed victim in those last few months. I was scared to even write down my thoughts on the situation to myself, worried I was ungrateful for the “great guy” in front of me and I should just get over it. “I should be making lists of what I'm grateful for,” I remember telling myself. After the breakup, a few friends and I giggled about how I sounded so stupid. I would tell them of things he did at the time “Yeah he made fun of my birthday gift and said I was weird! That’s why I’m sad. But I'm so happy he's in my life and so grateful to have him!” It’s a bit hilarious looking back. I was trying to convince myself almost all things were good or were going to be good eventually. 

     So what was the breaking point? I remember telling him how he had hurt my feelings when he'd left my message on read. He said he understood how that would come off as rude and would work on it, that he just didn’t respond well to verbal affection. I told him I understood, people work differently and receive affection differently. But since I insisted and explained why it was in fact rude still, he then told me my words didn’t do very much for him.

      I remember looking at that part of the message and knowing it would never get better. The sweet guy from the beginning wasn’t there. This was Max. 

     Days after, as I took my World Oceans Lab midterm, I remember thinking “It’s always going to be this way, if not worse. It will never be like the beginning. It will get worse- he's taking the MCAT again and eventually going to medical school. Do you really want this life?” 

     I thought of cold and walking on eggshells even more than I did now. Of moments of silence or snaps. I thought about what I would tell a friend in the same situation. The answer was simple. “No.” I cared for him, but I hated myself at this point and I couldn’t handle him reminding me of new ways to hate myself. I remember literally comforting myself with the fact I wouldn’t be reminded of new ways to dislike myself. He had made sure I knew what my words did.

     I called him that same night in tears, knowing I wouldn’t have the strength to leave if I didn’t do it now. That I would rationalize and change my mind. Telling him I couldn't do it anymore, things weren’t going to change. Telling him I had tried so hard and trying to comfort him, feeling guilty for not being able to try anymore because, besides the things he said, there were separate issues as well adding up. When I began crying when I opened the call, he said annoyedly “Do you need a minute to calm down?” I could hear the upsetness and see the shock on his face. He asked if I was alone, and I said “No my roommates were outside the room but I told them not to come in.” I thought it was him being sweet at first, but I know now it was because he knew no one was around to really hear him. It’s a reason I hadn't Facetimed him for our previous conflict, my roommate was in the room. As I cried, he laughed, and I told him he seemed fine with this. He said he was just trying to make me feel better.

     Max got angry, as he tried to cover up this anger through hurtful words and a nonchalant tone, things like telling me I wasn't a priority to him and I wasn't going to be. How he didn’t want to make any effort. He told me I took the things he did as rude. (Max knew what he did was rude, he admitted somewhat previously, he was just upset that our conflict was the final straw. That I hadn’t put up with it.) Yet when I laughed at the end to try to ease his mood the way he did, he seemed annoyed at it. I tried telling him I didn’t want to lose him as a friend because at this point I still cared for him. I felt super guilty. I was leaving him just like an ex of his had left him. I made notes of nice things to say in order to ease his pain during the breakup. He was the dumpee, yet again. And so, as I told him this- he misunderstood.

     “Well, maybe you could wait for me.”

     I remember wondering “Do you think I would ever take you back now?” You literally said you wanted to make no effort. Max thought he had so much power over me he could say all those things, laugh at my tears, and that I would wait for him. To be fair, his words worked. His chipping at me worked. I was at the point where I didn’t think anyone else would want me. I didn’t think I could be a parent, since I had no social skills. I would be a burden to my child. But why would I stay, even if I was worthless? I told him “No. I deserve better” and I saw the hurt intensify in his face. “Of course,” I thought later. 

     “An inferior was leaving him, the one person he thought would never leave.”  

     The one person he had power over left. 

     I realize now how his first ex stopped loving him. He talked about that a bit and I used to wonder how. Even when he was abusing me I couldn’t see it. I saw proof that day but truly didn’t realize it until later. While I did still care for him at the time, and I didn’t even love him, I realized how others could stop caring. I don't know what he did or didn’t do to that other girl, but what human could ever care for someone so weak, with so little confidence in themselves that they said things like that to another human, just to feel powerful? 

     I don’t regret saying I deserve better to him that day. I used to, but I do deserve better. I don't deserve to be with an abusive person. Emotional abuse is abuse is abuse. He emotionally abused me consistently knowing it hurt me, as much as he can deny it or minimize it. Because he was smart enough to do so privately or in small spaces, where no one else could see, hear nor record. He knew my reputation meant so much to me, and that I would have a hard time speaking up and telling people what he said. 

     On the night of October 6th, I left Max. It hurt, I cared for him. I hated myself. I remember wondering, what future was there now? My words didn’t do much, so work options? Partners weren’t even a question, who would ever want a partner like me, even if they did, would I ever feel comfortable kissing or being intimate again? What if they did what he did? What if I had come off as if I enjoyed it? I remember crying in bed remembering the things he said and did, out of fear. It would come out of nowhere, in waves. I would pray to God to be someone else to not experience this pain. To wake up someone else, somewhere else. I would look in the mirror and couldn’t recognize the girl staring back. I looked dead. 

     But, eventually, we all begin to heal. I think once we’re alone or feel so utterly alone, that self-love comes back. It has no choice. And I felt so, so alone in those months before telling anyone the full story. I just told my HC family recently. All I had was my therapist, who I had gone back to after the breakup. It felt so good to get it off my chest to someone else. The therapist told me as I spoke about my pain, this man exhibited emotionally abusive behaviors. I remember denying it at first because people had HURT him. He didn’t know any better. How could that be? He couldn't be abusive. But as the evidence piled up, I realized the truth. As I began to find the courage to write it down at all, in my own personal writing, I saw that Max was an emotionally abusive man. Who meant to hurt me. And if there was any justice in the world, he would at the very least just admit it was abuse. But he didn’t. 

     I outed Max publicly, to Lily specifically, when I realized he could hurt women the way he hurt me, only thanks to the courage my friends gave me with their support when I finally told them the whole story. I knew I could personally survive without truth or justice again for my emotional abuse like I did when I was 16 with my assault. But could another girl? What if I did nothing and someone got really hurt from his abuse? Someone innocent? What if it escalated more than mine had? I couldn’t live with that guilt. It went awful, I won’t lie. Lily did some really petty things afterward. 

     To her benefit, she heard me out but refused to see proof I offered that I had seen a professional who defined these situations as emotional abuse, instead of saying he was disrespectful when hearing his side and minimizing what he did. She offered to tell my story as one of a sucky situation on her platform, but not as one of abuse. I declined because it wasn't a story of hurt feelings, it was one of emotional abuse. Here are some of the highlights of what Lily said to me privately as she told me in the same breath she hoped I healed from this. (FYI: She didn't mean it. She later, for lack of a better term, “subtweeted” my abuse as hurt feelings, on a large platform, with her powerful friends agreeing with her). Here are the quotes- 

     “My brothers' behaviors are within the bounds of normal interpersonal behavior.”- I don't take this comment to heart, not only because I triple checked with an actual professional it wasn’t normal behavior, but also because in my opinion, Lily is not exactly an expert in normal behavior herself. She had to teach her boyfriend how to actually respond to her own personal pictures properly at all, as an adult man. Totally normal behavior…

     “I don't know what your friends have told you”- For context, Lily was implying I had just spoken with my friends. I’ve told not one but two professionals my experiences before ever speaking to my friends, both of who said he was emotionally abusive. She refused to look at proof my therapist said he was abusive. Denial runs in the family.

     “I’ve had my boyfriend rip my hair out by putting his weight on his hand on my hair without knowing and that is something that he needs to be aware of could be a thing, but him accidentally hurting me and not knowing doesn't make it abusive.” -Yeah I don’t know exactly what Lily was going for here, she used a lot of odd comparisons to be honest. Some were just to say “Look this person had it worse!” But some were just kind of odd, didn’t really relate to the situation or was anything like it, like this one. 

     “This is how me and my family talk to each other.” -The family in which Lily later made a comment that one parent could have possibly been considered emotionally abusive towards her growing up? Or the sister that victim-blamed her, according to her? Or are we going back to the B grade situation? Or the brother who randomly said on Facetime he would kiss his sister on the lips if he was given good money? Pick your poison. 

     “Framing these experiences as abuse does not help women.” - Neither does being petty and calling verbal violence hurt feelings. People replied telling Lily that, but it's easy for her to play the “best victim”, it helps her cope. To be straight up, It’s not a “frame” if a trained professional approved my story and this article's content multiple times before publishing. And since Lily won’t ever see this, thankfully, let me say- I don’t know who needs to hear this, but playing “best victim” just hurts other survivors and their stories. Please stop and educate yourself if you want to actually be supportive and empowering. 

     If you see your own self in Lily’s behavior, please stop playing victim Olympics, you only hurt survivors when you do so. You come off as an enabler. Only a trained professional defines abuse. A degree and training are more powerful than any insecure, irresponsible adult. 

     Finally, my favorite quote of Lily’s- “(Max) is not intentionally trying to hurt you or tear you down in a malicious manner.” 

     Why did he smile when I cowered at instances of his verbal abuse? Why was my mindset “at least he doesn’t hit me.” Why did he scare me, enough where I told my mom and best friend so? Why did a professional say these were instances of emotional abuse? 

     At the end of the day, I don't need to really punish Max or Lily. If I ever out Max again, which I am very much considering, it's because I feel comfortable telling my whole truth, not as a form of punishment nor fear. I do not need to protect him anymore. He doesn’t scare me anymore. Regardless of my choice, Max has already received the greatest punishment of all, he became just like the people who hurt him. That’s what I’ll say on that. It’s the thing that made me scared to stand up to him out of guilt. He let his hurt consume him. Therefore, Max will never truly have the control nor power that he desires as a doctor, nor as a partner. He will always be powerless. He is and will always be the scared little boy from his childhood, nothing more, nothing less. Calling him a monster would give him too much credit. He doesn't have any power over me anymore. Just like he had no power then. 

     Max doesn’t Win. 

     Lily has received her own punishment too. You see, as a very public empowerer and survivor, Lily spoke about her sister victim-blaming her for something she went through, an awful thing she didn’t and still doesn’t deserve. But the funny thing is, Lily became worse than her sister because she is now a victim shamer. She was petty and subtly said my abuse hurt feelings to the world and people in power, thousands of people. Knowing I had gone to a trained professional who said her brother was an emotionally abusive man towards me. But denial is so delicious to the delusional. 

     Max, just like the others who hurt him. And Lily, a victim shamer, worse than the person who blamed her. They’ve proven themselves, my work is done. 

     But my work for myself is still going. I’m a lot better. I’m healing. Healing for me, even before outing him, was in doing little things. It was wearing my favorite facial rhinestones, and getting the courage to buy new ones at Michaels because I wanted to, not out of fear they looked like moles or revenge. It was wearing butterfly clips and making stupid jokes, especially through Tik Tok. It was in writing down what he did, a feat I felt guilty doing even in my own diary while we were dating. Even after I left him. Look at me now! IT’S PUBLIC. It was making jokes and people laughing. It was working on a stand-up comedy set I want to do one day. It was writing another article for HC, even if it was anonymous. It was hanging with the friends he said he thought were weird for liking a certain joke of mine. It was telling my friends what happened. It was New Year’s Eve when I wore “mole” makeup and I was with my family and happy. I had hope. I have hope. 

     Healing was when I watched “Jane the Virgin” again, as silly as that sounds. You see, I didn't believe I would ever be loveable after Max, so watching my favorite show with all its beautiful romances hurt then, it felt impossible. But now it is possible. I remember feeling so free when I first watched it again. One day, someone won't think I don’t have any social skills. Won’t make me sit in bed and think “At least he doesn’t hit me.”. So I watched Jane and Rafael get married, and I cried because months ago, it felt an impossible feat. Healing was making good grades, I literally broke down during said Oceans midterm and passed, and got a great grade in the lab. A science lab of all things. I remember being shocked when a girl gave me a compliment in class. I get less shocked at compliments now. It feels good. 

     The effects of Max’s words still stay, as much as I don’t like admitting it. I worry people will look down on me because of my personality. I worry 10 times more when I disagree with someone than before. My biggest worry is that with a new partner, that he’ll tell me his friends and family would make fun of me and that I am someone to make fun of in his eyes. I worry if I have too many or too few opinions due to what he said, which is the right amount? Was it ok before? Was it not? Was it my fault? I snap easier when people say things similar to what he said, but I’m working on it so I don’t use my pain to hurt others. Because they aren’t like him.  I worry I am damaged goods. I don’t think my words do much. 

      As I finish writing this, someone reposted the words I personally created to support our Black and LGBTQIA+ community here at Baylor. And while it may seem silly, I almost started crying and texted my mom. I don’t think my words do much still, but I’m glad they did for someone. 

     I’m happy I outed him, even if it wasn’t perfectly done, and I could’ve been kinder to him and Lily. Still, I’ll keep going in my personal work. I’m currently writing a research paper on recovering from domestic violence and abuse and finding happiness. I am a bright light with plenty of social skills, a grown woman. I am funny. I am someone to have fun with, not make fun of. I am an emotional abuse survivor and I’m going to work to make sure people never sit in bed thinking “at least he doesn’t hit me.” And that they never get shamed the way I was when I spoke up.

     If you think you won’t survive emotional abuse, or your abuse story being shamed, here is living proof you will. Me. I'm an average 20-year-old woman, and a few months ago I sat in bed thinking the title of this article, “at least he doesn’t hit me”, as a normal thought. Around that same time period, I read an Instagram post about a woman in a couple who claimed she'd never been insulted nor shamed by her partner, and before even finishing for context, I thought to myself “I wish Max wouldn’t insult me”. That’s not normal. Over a month ago, I threw up in the toilet all night praying for God’s protection, that no one would figure out my story due to the cowardly shaming I received in front of thousands. I cried to my best friend on the phone, saying “no one is going to believe me now”. Yet here I am. I’m writing this article right now. It's being published. I did my makeup with my roommates tonight, plenty of crystals worn, and Tik Toks were made. I can laugh now thinking of how I ever thought I was worthless or powerless. It wasn’t always this way. 

     I would give anything to tell the girl crying in bed that she’s going to be happy. She’s got this. She’s a survivor and so much more. She’s a light that will burn PROUDLY, and continue burning not only for herself but for others, and nothing is going to stop her. 

     What I can say today is that you, reader- You got this. Yes, you. You are a survivor, and so much more. You burn so brightly even in your darkest moments, as cheesy as it sounds. I used to hate when people told me things like that because I was brought to a point where I didn’t believe a single word of it. Maybe you are at that point as well. It’s ok, one day you’ll escape the shame and self-hatred. With work, I did. You’re going to be happy one day. Maybe even tomorrow. Keep going. I believe you. I believe in you. You got this.

Genesis 9:16

"When I see the rainbow in the clouds, I will remember the eternal covenant between God and every living creature on earth."

     Authors Note: I sincerely doubt Max or his supporters will ever see this. It’s anonymous, his identity is hidden. But just to be safe, my HC family has nothing to do with said article nor do my friends or family. It is all on me. But to note- I’ve had a therapist review the content, and this article overall before posting. I’ve seen her since October about this incident. 

     Sources I found helpful when identifying what happened to me and moving forward:

https://www.verywellmind.com/identify-and-cope-with-emotional-abuse-4156673

https://www.healthline.com/health/signs-of-mental-abuse

One Love Wheel

https://www.verywellmind.com/how-to-recognize-verbal-abuse-bullying-4154087