By S. Wild, See the Triumph Guest Blogger
I was in an emotionally abusive relationship several years ago. It still shocks me to think that I had that experience. At the time of the relationship, I did not understand that his behavior was abusive. I made excuses for him, such as he was drunk when he said or did that, I said something that set him off, he grew up experiencing sibling abuse, etc. I got to the point where I had been convinced that I was not good enough and that if I simply gave him what he wanted, I would be a good girlfriend and he could be happy. Eventually, I believed something was fundamentally wrong with me.
I was not aware I was in an abusive situation until the relationship ended. My best friend told me my boyfriend’s behavior was abusive and suddenly everything clicked. It seemed so obvious after she told me and, yet, when the relationship was ongoing I was completely unaware I was experiencing emotional abuse. After all, the relationship had started off so well and only became bad because I was a bad girlfriend. Or so I was told. After my realization I found a quote regarding abusive relationships that helped me make sense of why I stayed with my boyfriend for as long as I had.
“If you put a frog in a pot of boiling water it will immediately jump out. If you put a frog in a pot of cold water and slowly turn up the temperature to boiling the frog will stay in the water until it dies.”
This quote was reassuring to find because I knew others out there experienced something similar to me and I started to believe that it was not my fault for staying in such a terrible relationship. Though I knew many people would empathize with or support me I hesitated to share my newfound knowledge of my relationship with my parents and other family members. I was afraid they would not believe me.
It has been almost four years since my abusive relationship ended, and I have yet to disclose any details to my parents and most members of my family have no idea that anything out of the ordinary took place. Because I am fearful of how my family will react if I tell them about my abuse I decided to interview some of the males in my family to understand their general assumptions and thoughts regarding domestic violence. I was curious if their answers would convince me to disclose my experiences to them or not.
Among my few family members I interviewed there was a general assumption that most victims are individuals with low self-esteem who come from an abusive past and lack a support system from family or friends, though they acknowledge that domestic violence can happen to anyone. All my family members stated believing domestic violence is likely more common than they understand it to be. They believed perpetrators of domestic violence are not specific to a race, background, or socioeconomic status, and they recognized verbal abuse as part of domestic violence.
This information was uplifting to learn. I feel more confident that if I disclose my past to my family, they would believe and support me. What was more concerning to learn was that none of my family members were able to indicate warning signs a victim can use to identify abuse. As I stated before, I was unable to identify my relationship as abusive. So, several highly educated individuals could not indicate red flags. This demonstrates the importance of implementing domestic violence education in a way that can reach many and preferably at younger ages.
If I had been educated on warning signs and types of abuse, I would not have spent two years of my life in a relationship that tore me down, layer by layer. I would have known it was not okay for him to convince me that I’m not good enough and listen to how he wished I were different. I would have known it was not okay for him to call me names in private and in public. It was not okay for him to put me down constantly and insult my intelligence. It was not okay for him to push me, scream in my face, and call me a bitch in front of all our friends. It was not okay for him to unexpectedly show up to places I was, belligerently drunk, demanding to be let in and becoming aggressive when I, or others, refused. It was not okay for him to throw chairs across the room in my direction screaming at the top of his lungs to eventually be escorted from the premises by the police. None of it was okay, and I wish I would have known that.
The positive from my experience is that I now know what abuse is and I will never let myself be in that situation again. However, being in an abusive relationship should not be the only means of education. If we teach the warning signs, unhealthy dating behaviors, and types of abuse earlier in life, we could prevent women and men from ever experiencing an abusive relationship.