Emotional abuse is not limited to romantic relationships. The scars of emotional abuse last long after the hateful words are spewed.
This is her story:
Every couple months, she contacts me again.
My best friend, the closest person in my life for over a decade the hardest breakup I’ve ever been through.
I’m writing this because I can see those attempts for what they are, and I want to solidify it so I don’t forget. Perhaps my words may even help someone else who’s suffering from a verbally abusive relationship.
My best friend and I split up – rather, I cut her off – almost three years ago now. For a solid year before that, we couldn’t interact without her verbally abusing me.
I’m so very grateful to have friends who understand what verbal abuse is and why it’s so damaging, because I didn’t. Without their help, encouragement, and constant resources and strength, I might not have left. Or, I may not have stayed away, which would have been equally difficult – abusers don’t tend to give up easily, as many of you (unfortunately) may know.
There are many wonderful resources about emotional abuse, but what’s helped me most is this statement: A verbal abuser is someone who claims to love you, but who uses their love to consistently make you feel awful. The love of an abuser revolves around what you owe them, how you’re letting them down, and what you need to change in order to be worthy of that love.
Love shouldn’t feel like that.
The first time I realized that something was seriously wrong with our friendship was the day I caught myself thinking, “How is it okay to deliberately, consciously, repeatedly, hurt someone as badly as you can? How is okay for friends to do that to each other?”
Because no matter how much we disagreed, how angry we got, I never, not once, pulled out my worst words and aimed them to hurt her as badly as I could…yet I could clearly see that she did this to me.
That behavior got me looking more closely, and I realized (I believe “dawning horror” is a good phrase for how it felt) that almost every single thing she said to me was manipulative…every word chosen to get me to do what she wanted. And like some sick psy-ops torturer, every time I wasn’t going in the “right” direction, she pulled out the ones that hurt and started swinging.
Having not heard from her in months makes it obvious that’s what’s going on. It doesn’t make it hurt less – someone who knows you well, who you loved a long time can master causing emotional pain.
Seeing it clearly makes it easier to do what I know has to be done – it isn’t easy, even though it’s been so long and so bad. Once you love somebody deeply, it’s hard to choose to not have a relationship with them, but I recognize that to do otherwise would be stupid, self-destructive and gain me nothing. So I’m working on learning my lessons and moving on.
Yesterday we “talked” via text-message – all told, the conversation wouldn’t be half as long as this story. During the conversation, she informed me that I’d betrayed everything about myself, thrown away my ethics; and she’d have a happy future without me.. but I’d get what I deserved” for “abandoning everyone who’d ever voluntarily loved” me (she and my also verbally-abusive ex. They now live together).
She said that the words she’d said hurt me was proof she was right and I felt guilty; she’d be willing to give me a second chance, but only if I would do the work to stop “disappointing her with all my actions and decisions.”
When I stopped replying, she pulled out the really big guns; she’d love my daughter forever, she’d always be her family. She threatened that she’d see my daughter eventually whether I liked it or not; my daughter would rather be with her anyway. She told me that I wasn’t acting in my girl’s best interests – “look at everything you’ve cost her already with your bad decisions” – and that I only cared about myself.
All told, this tiny conversation probably contained twenty hidden knives, and as many less-deadly clever little needles, designed to prod me in the “right” direction. Hints that her life is so awesome now that it’s a “shame we can’t share it,” using her father’s cancer to lay guilt that I’m not being supportive.
Participating in that short conversation brought me to my knees, quite literally at times.
But fortunately, no one I love (or even mildly care about) has made me feel so awful in many months, and the contrast really helped me see this for what it was: ABUSE.
Say it with me now, The Band: People who love you do not deliberately hurt you.
We all hurt each other sometimes, but there’s a difference between “my actions hurt you” or “I was angry and said something awful and I apologize,” and “I will systematically make you feel as awful as I possibly can in order to control you.”
The latter verbal interaction is abuse, it’s a method of control; it beats at you, bends your spine and, over time, it wears away your resolve. Eventually no matter what you’d decided or how good an idea you have, you desperately want to change your mind and do what your abuser wants, just to make the pain stop.
It’s not okay to control people like that – we must have free will, and respect the right to make our own decisions – but it’s especially not okay to exert that kind of forcible control over those you love.
Verbal abuse is an emotional cattle prod. It’s bad enough to use pain-motivation and torture on strangers, but using them on your beloveds is just vile. And I don’t care how much abusers like to throw around the word “love” – that’s not love.
Love is what I have for my daughter.
Love makes me say things like, “Sweetie, I may not always agree with your decisions, I may get angry at you sometimes, but I will always love you.”
Never, EVER would I say to her, overtly or as an insinuation, that my love obligates her to do what I want; never would I make her feel like a terrible person who betrayed me by making a choice I didn’t agree with.
I know what that feels like – it’s torture. Even if it caused her to do what I wanted, it would never be worth it.
Love is something you give. It is not a transaction that leaves the loved person in perpetual debt to you. And it sure as hell doesn’t give you the right to hurt them.
Deliberately hurting someone is betraying them and their love, and I have sworn to never allow myself to stay in a relationship with someone who hurts me deliberately again.
I don’t have friends as close as we were now – I’m working back up to that – but as I said to her before blocking her number, the best part about my life now is that I know that if anyone else I love ever deliberately tortures me the way she does, I have the strength to end that relationship.
For awhile, it was terrifying and terribly lonely. But I wanted to write this so I could say that ending my abusive relationship was the best thing I ever did, and it’s a decision I’m standing by no matter how hard it is.
The less I let her in, the less control she can exert, and the less she can hurt me. I’ve resolved to keep abusive people far away from me and surround myself with people whose love is supportive and strengthening. I’m be better off, happier and healthier, than I would eating the poisoned apples of verbal abusers.
Thanks, The Band.
Glitter for everyone!!—— What have YOU, The Band, learned from an abusive relationship?