I didn’t know it was abuse.
Sometimes, I wish he would have hit me. I would have known then. I would have understood. Instead, it felt like I was his emotional punching bag, a dumping ground for anger, fear and panic. Everything was always my fault. No matter what it was, I was to blame. I turned it into a joke; I used to brush it off, laugh and say, “I know, everything is my fault.” It wasn’t funny. It wasn’t true.
I called the behavior angry explosions. Little things, like running out of dish soap, or not hanging a curtain rod to his exact specification, triggered an angry explosion and a meltdown. There was yelling, name calling, and belittling; I thought we were just arguing, and I was too sensitive. Being too sensitive was my excuse for why it hurt so much. He usually apologized afterwards. He said he was sorry and told me to forgive him. I believed he was sorry, and I did forgive him. Things were good for a while, then it happened again. Again, he said he was sorry, and said I should forgive him. He told me it wasn’t as bad as I remembered. He said it didn’t happen that way, I was just sensitive and had to get over it. He manipulated me and I didn’t see it, I believed him and followed along.
He always felt better after being nasty, but I felt awful. I didn’t understand why. He always had a good explanation for the behavior; he was stressed out at work, he was stressed out at home, he was under too much pressure, or he was tired. I tried to convince myself this behavior was normal since he always had a reason for it. The angry explosions happened less often if our whole lives were tightly controlled and he didn’t feel fear or panic as often. We controlled, I forgave him, and it happened again.
I threatened to leave. He asked me to stay. He said he would change, and we started seeing a therapist. The therapist was the only person who knew what was really going on. I didn’t talk much about it with my friends because his behavior was very different when we were around other people. It was like he was the best version of himself when we were with someone else. That’s the person I fell in love with, that’s the person I wanted to be with, but it wasn’t that way when we were alone.
I remember thinking, “Okay, one more explosion and I’ll leave.” I stayed. Then I thought, “Definitely the next time he explodes, I’ll leave then.” I stayed. “Let him do it one more time, I’m leaving this time.” I stayed. I made excuses. He told me, “Everyone gets angry.” That’s true, everyone does get angry, so I tried to let it go. I wanted to save our marriage. I wanted to stay together. I ignored and tolerated the behavior. I walked on eggshells. My life was not my own.
When I finally talked about it with friends or family, they didn’t see what I experienced, so they gave me the typical advice “stay together,” “work it out,” and “marriage is hard.” Marriage is hard, but it should not include intense angry explosions, being treated as less than equal, having to walk on eggshells as not to trigger a certain behavior, being told it’s all in your head, being blamed for everything or being controlled.
Eventually, I started to receive signs from the universe/God. The songs “Better Man” and “Break Up with Him” played all the time. I heard them so frequently, they played on the radio, on Alexa, and on my phone. Then I started hearing the song “Speak Up” more and more frequently. The funny thing is, they only played with great frequency during the time that I needed the message. I have pretty much stopped hearing them now, even though those songs are still on my playlists.
Then, as I became open to change, I realized the behavior may not be normal. I read an enormous amount of self-help articles. I learned the words “narcissist,” “emotional abuse,” and “gas-lighting.” That was a huge life-changing moment. I went to him and told him what I had learned. We even discussed it with our therapist. I told her (in front of him), that he was a narcissist and had been emotionally abusing me for the past ten years. I looked to her for help. I wondered if she didn’t know or didn’t see his behavior for what it was.
I asked the therapist if she knew. Her exact response was “I thought you were handling it better.” She knew? She knew this whole time that he was emotionally abusing me and she didn’t even try to protect me? Not once did she suggest that I leave, or suggest that this behavior was never going to improve to where it should be. As far as I was concerned, she didn’t help me at all, she only tried to keep me in this abusive relationship.
I didn’t know what to say. My whole body clammed up, my brain wanted to explode, and my eyeballs got so big I thought they were going to fall out of my eye sockets. She thought I was handling it better?! All I could do was stare at her. We went to her office on and off for four years, I cried and told her how awful the angry explosions, belittling, and controlling behaviors made me feel. How was it possible that she thought I was handling it better? The only person who had the potential to smack me into reality was completely oblivious. So, I stayed and tried to work it out.
At that point, I was “aware,” and his continued behavior didn’t sit right with me at all. I knew it was wrong, and I knew it needed to stop. Eventually, I talked more and more about the behaviors with friends and family. I knew I needed to “Speak Up.” I complained so much about it to a friend, she finally said in exasperation, “Why are you still with him?” I was taken back. I didn’t know. I was trying so hard to normalize his behavior, forgive him and let it go. I didn’t know why I stayed and tolerated. That was exactly the reality check I needed. I needed someone to give me permission to leave.
I made the decision. I said no more. I said no. I stopped tolerating the behavior and stopped making excuses. I decided to break the cycle and to leave. So I did. It was hard. It was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. It was worth it. I am much happier now.
Why am I sharing all of this with you? I want you to know you are not alone and this behavior is not okay. Speak up. Complain to your friends about the really bad stuff. I know it’s easy to complain about the normal, mundane relationship woes. I know you can feel ashamed about the much deeper, not so normal, terrifying stuff. Speak up. The only person who can stand up for you is you. You do not deserve to be treated poorly, ever. You deserve to be treated with care and respect.
What helped me? Learning these words helped, and I would like to share them with you.
What is emotional abuse?
Emotional abuse involves a person (or group) controlling another person (or group) with words and actions that negate, criticize, shame, blame, deny, frighten, embarrass, trivialize, or humiliate. The abuser uses bullying behaviors like name calling, accusing and threatening to manipulate and wear down the other person’s self-esteem and mental health.
Eventually, the other person feels trapped or caged. They are scared and hurt and possibly afraid to leave because of something the abuser might do or has threatened to do. If you are wondering whether or not you are in an abusive relationship, think about how you interact with this person, think about how they make you feel.
After you are around them for a while, do you feel safe? Do you feel respected? Do you feel like your opinion matters? If you tell this person “no” what happens? Does this person embarrass you, put you down, deny events ever happened, or blame you for everything?
Sometimes it’s hard to talk about it with friends or family. Frequently, abusers are very good at putting on a “front” for the public. They know how to lie and deceive the other person’s friends and family so it’s hard to think of them as an abuser. It can be very helpful to talk to someone outside of the situation, to help gain perspective.
What is the cycle of abuse?
The cycle of abuse is a pattern of behavior the abuser displays to keep the other person held down in the relationship.
It has four phases:
- Tension Building: As stress and tension build, the abuser feels slighted or panicked in some way. They may start to yell, criticize, nit-pick, accuse or name call. The other person may feel like they have to “walk on eggshells” or live in fear as not to provoke the abuser.
- The Incident: The abuser has an outburst or loses control and attempts to dominate or control the other person through physical, verbal, emotional or sexual abuse. The abuser always finds a way or an excuse to abuse.
- Reconciliation: The abuser may say they are sorry. They may actually feel sorry for what they did, or feel afraid that the other person might leave. The abuser might shower the other person with gifts, dinners, flowers, vacations or other niceties to make up for what they did. They may promise not to do it again, they may promise to see a therapist, or promise to change their behavior. The abuser may say they didn’t want to do what they did, but they had no choice. They may say the other person did or said something that made the abuser do it. The abuser wants the other person to stay in the relationship so they can continue to abuse.
- Calm: This can also be called the honeymoon phase. The abuser temporarily changes their behavior. They may see a therapist and they may ask the other person to forgive them. The other person believes the abuser has changed. The other person stays in the relationship because of the good times and the fear of leaving.
Eventually, little behaviors creep up again, and tension starts to build. The cycle begins again. Generally, as the cycle continues on and on, the “Calm” phase gets shorter, and “The Incident” gets larger.
What is a narcissist?
A narcissist is someone who has an inflated sense of self, has a need for constant admiration or attention, and feels entitled. A narcissist is very charming, they will draw you in, they are fun to be around in public and a little mysterious. When you are alone, it’s a completely different story. They turn your words around, manipulate you, lie, deny, accuse, put you down, tell you that your opinion doesn’t matter, and they may make you prove yourself to them.
A narcissist lacks empathy. They don’t actually care about you, they only care about how you look to others and how you make them look. They will make it clear they are better than you and everyone else, and they will exaggerate their importance and achievements. They may fantasize about perfection, success and power. They may take advantage of others and manipulate people and situations to get exactly what they want.
They do not care about the needs or feelings of other people. They may come across as selfish, arrogant, conceited, demanding or pretentious. They are the best and they have to have the best. No one is their equal. They always blame everyone else; nothing is their fault. Contradictorily, they have a very fragile self-esteem, and they view the slightest criticism or disagreement as a personal attack.
What is gas-lighting?
Gas-lighting is a tactic where a person (or group) makes another person (or group) question their own reality. The person using gas-lighting, lies, denies and manipulates the other person into questioning their sanity. It’s another form of emotional abuse.
It’s a very common tactic for abusers, dictators, narcissists and cult leaders. They will wear down the other person (or group), over time, so they don’t realize they are being manipulated. Even if the other person has proof of an incident, they will lie, and deny it ever happened. The abuser may try to manipulate the friends and family of the other person, to further confuse the situation. They will make the other person think they are crazy.
Gas-lighting can happen in any relationship, not just a romantic one, it can be with a friend, family member, parent, co-worker or boss. Gas-lighting can make you feel anxious, too sensitive, and like everything you do is wrong. It can make you believe that everything is your fault. You may feel like the situation is off, but you may not be able to pinpoint what’s wrong. Gas-lighting makes you question your own behavior and reactions, and you may find yourself making excuses for the abuser. Usually the abuser tries to isolate you from friends or family with manipulation and lies.
How do you get out of an abusive situation?
First, you have to understand you are not responsible for someone else’s behavior. You do not have to tolerate it and you do not have to stay. It’s not your fault. Realize that you cannot fix the abuser and you do not have to attempt to fix them.
Reach out for help. Find people who you can trust that will support you.
Practice self-care, whenever possible, do things for you, this will help you gather the strength and courage that you need to leave.
Set boundaries for your abuser and for yourself, physically and emotionally. Start telling the abuser “no.” This may be incredibly difficult, the abuser may have more “incidents,” or make threats. Stay strong. It’s okay to leave.
If you are in an emergency situation, please dial 911.
You are a beautiful light that needs to shine. No one should put out your light. Be brave. Let it shine. Leave. If everyone else in your life is telling you to stay and telling you this is normal behavior, but the little voice inside of you is saying this is wrong, let me be the one to tell you to go. Trust your inner voice and go. Emotional abuse is abuse.
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Alicia McBride is a creative, clairvoyant, empath who loves empowering people to heal themselves, writing books, and being a mom to two energetic boys. She lives in southeastern PA, enjoys dancing, digital painting, and wearing PJs in public. Alicia also has degrees in Psychology and Interior Design, is a Certified Yoga Instructor, a Reiki Master, and has gone through a Spiritual Awakening (does that ever end?). Her eclectic background continues to inspire her to help others through creative outlets such as writing books and energy healing. Find her online at HealingLightEmpath.com.