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Her Story: I Survived an Emotionally Abusive Relationship

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Winthrop chapter.

When I was 14 years old, I was manipulated into an emotionally abusive relationship by someone 4 years older than I was.

As a freshman in high school, I didn’t know much, which made me an easy target for manipulation. Somebody I had considered to be a friend ended up manipulating me into believing his lies. I hurt people I loved because I so wholeheartedly believed every word that came out of this boy’s mouth. He fed me lies until I was so vulnerable he could convince me to stay and be with him. He made me believe that he cared for me, that he’d fight for me, and that he had my best interest at heart. In reality, all he wanted to do was possess me. He wanted someone to boss around. Someone to abuse. But in my eyes, he could do no wrong. I continued to believe him, even after I was warned to stay away from him and was told countless times to leave. I held him on a pedestal so high I wasn’t able to see through his lies. I was in so deep that I couldn’t recognize that I was being used.

I didn’t know what I was getting myself into.

I was too far in to see the red flags.

All the problems started in November. After feeding me sugar coated lies and sweet promises, the person I thought I knew started to disappear. He became angry and ashamed. He would avoid me in public, and ignore my texts and calls.

I didn’t know what I had done wrong. I didn’t know what I could do to fix it.

I didn’t know that what he was doing wasn’t normal. I was confused and concerned, and the first time I asked him what was wrong I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I didn’t know that he would yell for hours, and tell me I didn’t understand him at all. He would become unhinged, screaming at me until I cried. He would blame me for being clingy, saying he never even liked me, and that he never would. He’d accuse me of over-thinking and spilling secrets I didn’t know were secrets, and he wouldn’t stop yelling until he was satisfied. All I knew how to do was cry and swear I would do better next time. I apologized for things I had never done so he would forgive me. I promised to follow his rules and do exactly as he said. Once he started to ignore my texts, I would cry myself to sleep.

The next morning, he would tell me how sorry he was, and how much he loved me. He’d swear up and down he’d never do it again, and that he had made a mistake. He promised he would make it up to me. That he would do anything to make me feel better. That he loved me.

But they were all lies.

Later that night, it would happen again. He would start out distant, turn cold and detached, and then trick me into asking if he was okay. He would trick me into opening the floodgates to insults and curses and horrible names, all so he could shift the blame. When he was satisfied, I’d be left to pick pieces of myself up off the floor. The next morning, like clockwork, he would apologize the same way, and tell me he loved me.

This cycle of verbal abuse continued for four more months.

Every night, I would stand as his verbal punching bag. I would be assaulted with words I didn’t know how to handle for things I hadn’t done. He would yell at me and degrade me until he felt better, and leave me to control the damage by myself. I made excuses for his behavior, and blamed myself for making him mad. He made me believe that I deserved his abuse. I jumped through his hoops and followed his rules to keep him from getting upset. I blamed myself for being so stupid, for doing something to upset him, and told myself I didn’t deserve him. That if only I were a better person, he wouldn’t have to do this. I didn’t know what else to do.

I ran out of ways to cope.

I stopped feeling like a person only a month after he started abusing me. The only thing I ever felt was numb. I walked around school like a zombie, only getting through the day to endure another verbal attack at night. I ran out of ways to cope with the psychological damage he dealt, which led to self-harm.

I had always seen romanticized versions of self-harm, which makes me sick to my stomach now. But when I felt numb, self-harm was the only thing that made me feel again. For a small amount of time, for the first time in months, I had felt something other than the numbness that came with abuse. I wanted to escape the numbness, so I didn’t stop. Papercuts turned into “accidental” shaving cuts, which turned into blades from pencil sharpeners and hidden X-ACTO knives. It went from an escape to an obsession, and I didn’t know I had a problem until I became addicted to self-harm. Looking back on it, my heart breaks for the young girl that didn’t know any better. The version of myself that had nobody to talk to, nobody that knew what she was going through. Nobody to tell her to stop, or to get her professional help.

All I wanted was to be something he wanted.

I was too young to understand what I was doing, but I knew it was something I was supposed to keep to myself. I knew it was something I was supposed to be ashamed of, so I kept everything to myself. Somewhere between sleepless nights and self-harm I decided all I wanted was to be something he wanted, and I thought the only way to get that was to change who I was. I developed an eating disorder because I thought that maybe if I were skinnier, he would want me again. I was convinced my weight was what held me back and, hoping he would notice, hoping he would want me if I were thin, I stopped eating.

He never even gave me a second glance.

He continued to emotionally abuse me, and I continued to blame myself. He would ruin birthdays, holidays and special days in my life, just because he could. He knew he could do anything to me and I would follow him to the end of the Earth to get him back on my side. I was his captive audience, and he took advantage of that. Every night for six months he would yell at me until one day, he just stopped. He got bored with using me, and threw me to the side like I didn’t matter. Like I was nothing. He ignored me completely, and I was devastated. I spiraled into depression and continued to use eating disorders and self-harm to cope.

He continued to pretend I didn’t exist.

I didn’t know that I had been abused.

It wasn’t until I had hit rock bottom that I finally reached out for help. I finally came clean to my friends that April. I told them things that had happened, and that I needed help. I found my support system, and they helped me get back on my feet. My friends helped me overcome my self-harm and eating disorder, and they were there when I needed them most. They saved my life, and I now owe it to them for being so kind.

Nobody, not even me, knew that I had been abused. There just weren’t words for what he had done to me.

I didn’t know that I had been abused until I was 17 years old. I found stories of other people that had gone through what I had gone through, and it was relieving to know that there was a name for what he did to me. Even though it was heartbreaking and confusing to realize I had been abused at such a young age, it was comforting to know that I wasn’t alone. I started to understand what had happened to me, and I began to find closure.

I still feel the effects of my abusive relationship.

I internalize my feelings, and I often feel clingy and bothersome to those I love. It takes a lot for me to trust people now because of the misplaced trust I had in my abuser. I jump at anything louder than a footstep, and I cry when people raise their voices at me. I have a hard time deciphering people’s feelings and emotions, and need constant validation that the people I love don’t hate me. I have lingering depression, anxiety and panic attacks because I was so young and impressionable when I was abused. I’ve found healthy ways to cope, but I will always have physical, emotional and psychological scars that remind me of what I overcame.

Every day I remind myself how strong I am, and what I’ve overcome in such a short amount of time. I constantly tell myself to take it one day at a time, and to have faith that everything will look up from here. I surround myself with people I love, and I let myself be loved.

I am in a good spot in my life now, and after all I’ve been through and all I’ve done, I’m learning how to love myself again.

If there’s anything I’ve learned while discovering what emotional and verbal abuse is, is that it’s never the victim’s fault. Abuse is sneaky, and really hard to detect. It’s even harder to detect when you think you love the person abusing you. Ladies, if you take anything away from my story, please know how to identify when someone you love is being abused, when to step in, and how to help. Nobody deserves to be abused, and it’s never the victim’s fault. 

It gets better. I promise. 

If anything in this article sounds like something you or a loved one may be experiencing, please seek professional help. Abuse doesn’t have to be physical, and it’s never the victim’s fault. Stay safe.

Winthrop University is a small, liberal arts college in Rock Hill, SC.