Even strong people can be victims of invisible abuse
Posted on November 08 2018
Once upon a time, I was in an abusive relationship. I didn't know I was at first. In fact, I thought I was happy, safe and well cared for. It took a long time before I started to notice things that were unusual. I found myself apologizing to people for their behavior, justifying and making excuses for their choices and always feeling anxious about being called out for not looking or acting a certain way.
My self esteem sunk lower and lower, my entire identity became consumed by someone elses judgement. I was dressing in a uniform, from the inside out, and changing the way I spoke and behaved, all to avoid punishment and shaming.
It was as if one night I went to sleep a strong, confident woman, and woke insecure, ashamed and scared of everything. I didn't even realize that slowly, everything I valued about myself had been suppressed, replaced by someone else thoughts and someone else ideals.
That moment is hard, when you look at the face of someone you love, only to realize their version of love is control. It's a love that wants to remake you in their vision.
When people think of abuse they usually think of physical abuse. But make no mistake, emotional abuse can be just as damaging to a person, even though there are no physical scars.
I consider myself a smart person and emotionally mature, but smarts and maturity are irrelevant when it comes to being emotionally abused by someone. People who abuse are very very good at doing it.They don't walk around wearing a sign that says, "I AM GOING TO ABUSE YOU". They are manipulative, and often exceedingly charming.
How do you know if you are being abused? Well, for me it was feeling bad all the time, feeling like i was never good enough, and it was directly linked to me doing or saying things, and then worrying about how it would be judged and responded to. I doubted myself, and overanalyzed every conversation, every decision. Every word. And the more I tried to stand up for myself, the harder the hand pushed me down and reminded me to submit. It is worth mentioning that this kind of abuse isn't limited to romantic relationship; it can be between parents and children, employers, teachers or even friends.
Emotional abusers try to exercise and maintain control by isolating people, attempting to discredit their experiences and by telling victims to be quiet. All these things lead to victims feeling alone, trapped and scared.
According to Healthline and other sources, some of the common signs of emotional abuse are:
Unilateral decisions: They know better, and make choices that have direct material impact on your life without any input from you.
Lectures: Someone spending a lot of time making it evident you are not equals.
Denying something you know is true: This is called gaslighting. It is designed to make you question your recollection of events, and is very very effective in making a person doubt themselves and defer to someone else version of the truth, thus making them more submissive.
Diminishing and trivializing: You bring something up that is of meaning to you, but the response is an accusation of you being overly emotional or hyper sensitive and unreasonable.
Withholding attention: This is a big one, when you are in the "good graces" of your abuser, you will be showered with affection, but cross them and it is like a switch.
Making demands: You often feel like your needs are second to theirs, or you are expected to drop what you are doing for them.
I would add to this, if you find yourself constantly feeling down on yourself, constantly defending their decisions, basing decisions and actions on gaining approval, and undercutting others to try and gain favor, and if you find yourself withdrawing from friendships prior to the relationship making you feel badly, these are ALL signs that you might indeed be the victim of abuse.
Important to note, an abuser doesn't always have a mean face, or demeanor. Many can deliver the most toxic abuse while smiling and patting you on the back.
Once you know you are being abused, what do you do next? How do you get out?
For me, it was surrounding myself with positive influences, people who didn't judge me, people who supported me not expecting anything in return. It was reminding myself of what I was before I let someone else try to tell me otherwise. It was leaving, and trusting that I could survive. It was remembering my personal power that no one has the right to take, only I have the right to give it up.
Being abused is not your fault. It can be easy to feel like you asked for it, but no one asks to be abused. No one deserves it either. And in many cases, an abuser may not even KNOW they are hurting you. But trying to convince or educate an abuser of how they have hurt you generally doesn't work. Narcissists don't need to be educated you see, they already know everything.
I wrote this because most people I know who have suffered from something similar are so ashamed, they don't even know where to go, or where to begin to heal. I wanted people to know that even strong people who seem to have it together, can fall prey to this. You are not alone. And you are NOT trapped either.
Talk to someone about how you are feeling, someone who cares for you truly, will never trivialize your feelings or tell you this is in your head. They will listen, and ask questions, and try to understand. There is hope, even in the worst of circumstances, there is help and there is a life after being a victim of abuse.
Just remember, someone telling you a spade isn't a spade, doesn't make that spade a club. A spade is a spade no matter what name you give it. Don't let someone else determine your worth or your path.