When someone escapes an abusive relationship, the most common assumption people make is that the victim is now "safe." However, the physical absence of the abuser does not mean the victim does not continue to suffer. I know this from experience.
As the victim of an emotionally abusive relationship that lasted nearly four years, crying myself to sleep became a habit. I constantly doubted my ideas and capabilities, and always thought twice before I would speak.
Fortunately, I broke free. Although I was never physically injured, the manipulation made me think I was never good enough and that he "was the only thing I had going for me." It still irks me to this day.
Even now - three years later - I sometimes catch myself falling into the habits he forced on me. The thought of something as trivial as wearing shorts still fills me with fear when I decide I might wear them. Social anxiety has been especially hard to shake. Meeting new people makes anyone anxious, but the compulsion to apologize for any comment I think people don't approve of, can't be normal – can it?
These feelings are not uncommon when someone constantly yells at you for wearing shorts. His go-to threat was to break up with me if I decided to do something as innocent as talk to a classmate without his permission. I was not addressed as Karla, but as "stupid" if I decided I would voice my opinion.
Leaving a physically or emotionally abusive relationship is never easy. Like many things, it's a process. Three years later, my process continues.
No one warned me that a person you love, or think you love, could be so toxic. And, as irrational as it may sound, no one told me how leaving would be the hardest part.
Perhaps one of the biggest mistakes I made was not talking to my friends and family about what was happening in my relationship. Maybe my victimhood was culturally systemic. My upbringing taught me to stick it out. Naturally I just assumed that this is how it is supposed to be.
It was not until my relationship was over, which resulted because he broke up with me, that I even realized I was in an abusive relationship. WTF?!
I can't explain to you exactly how I ended up in such a hostile situation. I don't think any victim could. This is not something one asks for. In my case, it just happened. I loved someone who belittled me. As they say in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, "We accept the love we think we deserve."
As crazy as it may sound, I do not regret what happened to me. It made me the person I am today. It brought me to understand that the only way I can be happy is to first understand who I am, without this "victim" label floating over my head.
Please don’t be quick to dismiss my situation because I wasn't hurt on the exterior. Internally, wounds sometimes take longer to heal. Although I may still be damaged, I am not broken.
If you are experiencing similar feelings, do not be discouraged. It takes time to heal the pieces of yourself. If you are a loved one of someone who has experienced abuse, be understanding that the change is not instant.
If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse, contact: