When I was a teenager, I thought I fell in love. When we held hands, goose bumps sailed up and down my body. We were going to be together, forever. This much, I declared confidently to anyone who asked, was obvious.
But we didn’t last. We fell apart in April one year. The fact that it was April doesn’t hold any great importance; it’s simply one of those small details that’s etched into my memory. It was a cool night and I had just finished my shift at work (I worked at KFC and my skin smelt like chicken and grease—it radiated off me). I lay in bed, in the dark, and waited for him. He opened the door, slid through quietly, and told me he no longer loved me. I nodded and I cried until my face was numb and snotty and I pulled on his shirt and begged him to change his mind.
A lot of things went wrong in our relationship. Our conversations were clumsy and I think we both liked the idea of being in love, more than we ever really liked one another. He lied about many things and I was quietly furious most of the time. Despite all this, I trusted him. I turned a blind eye to his lies because it was easier than doing anything else. Once, when I questioned a story he’d told me (he said that he had walked in on his best friends acting out a suicide pact, in England), he screamed at me and told me I was crazy. It turned out that these friends didn’t even exist. He had never even been to England.
I was often nervous when I was around my ex-boyfriend. My heart would race and my palms would sweat.
I was told to see a counsellor, to sort out my issues, because I was ‘clearly unhinged’. He’d go for days not replying to my texts or calls and when I asked why, he’d laugh and tell me he loved me. I became increasingly paranoid and when I tried to talk to him about it, he’d simply shake his head and swear that he’d never lie to me. I believed him, because I thought it was the only option I had.
Emotional abuse is defined ‘as abuse that occurs when a person is subjected to behaviours or actions (often repeatedly) aimed at preventing or controlling their behaviour, with the intent to cause them emotional harm or fear through manipulation, isolation or intimidation.’
It is centred around power imbalance. This abuse is more common than people realise, and can have deep, lasting effects. Some of these effects include anxiety, chronic pain, nightmares, depression, low self-esteem, and suicidal thoughts. It also can impact one’s physical health, causing migraines, stomach issues, and insomnia, amongst other things.
I was often nervous when I was around my ex-boyfriend. My heart would race and my palms would sweat. I withdrew from social situations and alienated myself from my friends because he told me it would be better that way. I was confused, and I often felt ashamed, although if you’d asked me why, I wouldn’t have known what to say. In fact, I probably would have reacted with anger. My boyfriend loved me—he said he did—and so anything he suggested was for the best.
I often felt ashamed, although if you’d asked me why, I wouldn’t have known what to say.
Emotional abuse is not always easy to recognise and even when it is, it can still be incredibly difficult to acknowledge it. Certainly, in my case I knew logically that the things he said couldn’t all be true but I didn’t want to believe he would lie to me. The lies became confusing too. I second-guessed everything. I began to believe that I was worthless, that I was a bad person for questioning what he said, that I did need to get my head sorted.
It has taken me a long time to trust again. When we broke up, I still believed I loved him. How could I not love him, when I’d said he was my soulmate, the man I was destined to marry? It took months for me to come terms with the fact that we weren’t meant to be together, let alone acknowledge that he had emotionally abused my trust, over and over.
Many years have now passed and I am in a healthy and loving relationship.
Still, his lies still seep into the cracks, I still replay his words (you need help, how dare you suggest I’m not telling the truth, don’t be such a scrag) on a loop in my head. Sometimes, I still feel scorched by his lies. They press into me. Did I, somehow, do something to deserve it? In moments of vulnerability, in moments when I am tired and doubting myself, his words find a way back. They nestle inside me, stick to my skin.
He never apologised for his lies. Not even once. I don’t need him to apologise but from time to time I do wonder if he ever thinks about what happened. If he feels guilt or sadness or sorrow. Anything.
Building trust up again, after it has been so severely broken, is not an easy thing to do. It should never be taken for granted. Emotional abuse is multifaceted, and the impacts of it can last a lifetime. Just because it’s not always overt doesn’t mean it’s not real or that it’s not there.
We need to talk about emotional abuse, the different ways it can manifest and present itself, and we need to listen when people share their experiences. Because it matters. It really does.
Katelin Farnsworth is a freelance writer. You can follow Katelin on Twitter @ktnworth.
If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800737732 or visit www.1800RESPECT.org.au.