Hello everyone, thank you for sharing your experiences. I have been reading through the posts in this thread over the last few days and it has helped me in trying to make sense of my own experience, as I’ve been feeling pretty confused about whether what I have experienced can be described as abuse. I thought I would share my experience to see what others make of it.
I separated from my ex-partner a few months ago but we have a child together so are still in regular contact. Something that happened recently (which is too specific to share here) made me see very clearly that my ex does not care at all about my wellbeing, and has made me re-examine their behaviour during the relationship. I’ve had some pretty upsetting flashbacks to things that happened during the relationship. My ex was never physically violent, although there were occasions where they screamed at me at the top of their lungs, which I found frightening. What I am trying to understand is whether their behaviour can be described as emotionally abusive. I’ve been reading about emotional abuse online and some of the criteria seem to fit.
I was subjected to a lot of criticism – for doing things the wrong way, for doing something I shouldn’t, for not doing something I should, etc. If I objected, I was accused of being defensive. Actually, there was a lot of discussion of my ‘defensiveness’ from early on in the relationship – my ex thought I had a big problem with defensiveness and needed to work on being able to take criticism. They would never acknowledge that they were being too critical, and instead accused me of being too sensitive. If I raised with them the fact that their criticism was hurting me, they would ask for ‘proof’ in the form of details of specific incidents – if I was unable to provide this, they would dismiss what I was saying. On one occasion, when we were going through a difficult time in the relationship, my ex said that we would not be having problems if I could only learn to not take things so personally.
My ex would frequently blame me for our arguments, i.e. they would accuse me of having started the argument (usually by disagreeing with them). If I objected, or failed to apologise unreservedly, they accused me of not taking responsibility for my behaviour. After some of the occasions when arguments got so bad that my ex screamed at me at the top of their lungs, they said it was my fault for pushing them beyond their limits.
Often, after bad arguments, they would give me the silent treatment for days and be really moody, leading me to tip-toe around them to avoid being snapped at. On some occasions, during bad arguments, they threatened to leave the relationship – in fact, they declared that the relationship was over, but then later changed their mind. The effect of this on me was that I was terrified they would actually leave, and I would do anything to appease them and diffuse the situation (apologise profusely, admit it was all my fault, etc.).
My ex also frequently accused me of being selfish. Maybe not explicitly but through statements such as ‘it’s not all about you, though, is it?’ or saying that I have no regard for other people, if I expressed a need or want. In essence, it was very difficult for me to state a need or express an opinion without having this invalidated in some way, and I felt extremely frustrated throughout much of the relationship about not being listened to.
What I am most confused and unsure about is whether my ex attempted to isolate me from friends and family. It was never explicit, and I doubt conscious on my ex’s part, but there were subtle ways of discouraging interaction with friends such as always asking who I’m on the phone with if I was texting someone, or getting annoyed if I checked my phone or answered a message when we were together. Also asking for full details of my interactions/conversations with others (e.g. if I had gone for a drink with someone) – not in an aggressive way, it came across more as curiosity, but looking back it seems a bit excessive. I never went out much when we were together because we had a young child, but on a couple of occasions when I did go out, my ex made it very clear they were annoyed about me coming back late and disturbing their sleep.
I also wonder if my ex tried to isolate me from my family – again, I doubt this would have been intentional, but there were some things that feel weird looking back. Early in the relationship, my ex made a big deal about how I needed to break emotional ties with my family of origin in order to be able to dedicate myself fully to our relationship and family. They said I was too emotionally attached to my parents and too dependent on their validation and acceptance. Similarly to the way they insisted I was too defensive, this was part of quite an elaborate effort to ‘psychoanalyse’ me and identify issues I needed to work on.
Well, this has ended up being quite a long post. Thank you for reading if you have made it this far. Reading back, I realise it sounds pretty bad, but of course, as others have said, there were a lot of good times too, and the early days of the relationship were amazing, which makes it difficult and confusing. I have been struggling quite a lot in the last few days with bad memories and the realisation that perhaps I have been in an abusive relationship, as well as shame and self-blame for having let my ex treat me in this way, for having excused their behaviour, and for letting them convince me they were right. I am not quite sure how to deal with this and move forward. But what I will say to others who are scared of leaving is that I feel so relieved to be out of the relationship. It’s difficult to be alone but it is much better than feeling lonely and misunderstood within a relationship. I wish you all strength and courage in your journey, wherever it takes you.