Thank you all for posting here about your experiences. To see that there are others out there, who have also struggled with questioning the validity of their feelings and with self-blame, has really helped me feel less alone.
This month marks a year since I left a three year long, physically and emotionally abusive relationship. Throughout the year I have continued to struggle, as hindsight has made me come to terms with the reality of what was happening, and it has hit hard. Even though leaving felt like the biggest relief, and I now feel a sense of safety and freedom, I get awful mental health dips because of the memories of abuse. I get flashbacks and I ruminate over everything that happened, feeling the emotions almost as strongly as I did at the time, and I imagine other situations where it could happen again. I’ve had nightmares where my ex girlfriend finds me and tries to harm me again. I have noticed that always blaming myself, doubting my perspective, and being overly apologetic has leaked into other areas of my life, because it had become normal to me.
When I met my current girlfriend, I was shocked to see what a happy and healthy relationship looks like. It was so alien to me. Every instance of healthy behaviour and good communication made me reflect on situations I’d been through with my ex, and see the stark contrast. Seeing them in a new light revealed just how wrong her treatment of me was.
I think being a queer woman played a part in me struggling to define my relationship as abusive at the time. Domestic abuse is usually gendered as having a male perpetrator and female victim (for reasons I understand). Mine being a lesbian relationship wrongly made the abuse seem less serious. It clouded the view of the relationship, making it appear balanced and equal, with no one being more in control, obscuring the truth even to myself. I had even said to ex directly, after several instances of her being abusive, “if a man did this to a woman, it would be obvious to everyone that its abuse.” However, her manipulation and gaslighting made me stay, and blame myself.
[TW: physical abuse mentioned from here on in] I completely understand when people say that emotional abuse can be confusing and difficult to term as abuse. It was the part I always struggled to accept was abusive. With the physical abuse, I somehow felt aware of it and in denial at the same time? On numerous occasions, my ex would have angry outbursts, which would result in very obvious physical abuse, which I will not describe here for the sake of those reading. Even this she managed to manipulate so cleverly, it would happen so quickly, with a long enough gap until the next time that it would give me time to decide to trust her again. Each time it happened, she would always blame it on me. Me confronting her, and telling her it was abusive, would always end with me comforting her while she cried and said she was a bad person, wanting me to say “no of course not” etc… My feelings were never addressed. As an example, one time we were hanging laundry together and I suggested that she hang an item differently so that I could get to the hanger more easily, which resulted in one of her angry outbursts, becoming physical with me. Over time, she referred to this situation as me “always being weird about the laundry.” I could almost laugh now at how twisted and wrong all of it was. I really spent three years thinking I had issues with the laundry.
One time, around halfway through the relationship, I hit a really low point and decided to tell a friend about the physical abuse. It had felt impossible until then, as me and my ex lived together with our shared friends, somehow keeping all of our problems secret from them. But on this night I had a really bad panic attack and wanted to explain to my best friend why it happened, and to get everything off my chest. My ex gave me hell for it, saying it was “the worst night of her life” as she “knew that I was talking about her.” From then on, she referred to that night as a bad thing I had done. On that night, I told her I could only stay with her if she went to therapy and talked about her abusive behaviour. She did go to therapy, and after she finished all her sessions she admitted that she never brought up her abusive behaviour, because “it’s not all about you.”
I think the hardest part to work through has been how much the abuse changed me as a person at the time. In the beginning of the relationship I would state clearly when I felt my ex did or said something hurtful, and express that I was upset. Her reaction was always to flip the situation around, and say that I was the one doing the harm by saying this, or that I was just too sensitive. She wouldn’t listen to what I was saying, make the conversation go round and round in circles until I felt confused, like I was the one who did something wrong, and I would end up being the one apologising. I lost all sense of what healthy communication should look like. Whenever I did something she didn’t like, I would take full accountability, and apologise profusely. She would then bring up the situation over and over for months/years, changing the narrative a bit each time until it resembled nothing close to the original event (like the laundry story), making me think I was a really bad person.
As the relationship went on, my mental health was so worn down that I had anxious breakdowns/panic attacks. During these I would not want her around me, and I would tell her that I felt like she was going to do something to me and that I didn’t trust her. One night, when she would get close to me or grab me, I pushed her away from me twice because I was terrified. I immediately broke down and was telling her how much I hate her because she just grabbed me. After this event, she would bring it up over and over, telling me that I was the one being abusive, and making me believe it. Meanwhile, all the times she’d actually been physically abusive seemed completely forgotten. She would tell me that my fear of her and everything I was saying was “obviously not real,” and I really felt like I was losing my grip on reality. I started to think this was a mutually abusive relationship, which I have since then learned is a myth. I left the relationship three months later. I am now working hard to remember each situation as it really was, and to let go of always blaming myself for everything, which I had become so accustomed to.
Me leaving was a very difficult situation. Me and my ex had lived together at uni, together after, and then apart for some time. I think while we were apart I subconsciously noticed the shift in how I felt. But consciously I only felt an anxiety/obligation to live together again. So we committed to moving in with one of her best friends. The whole time, I couldn’t pretend I wanted to be around her convincingly enough. She was the one person in the world who made me the most anxious. After three days, I still couldn’t admit to myself why this was. But I knew I had to leave. During our break up, I couldn’t bring up any of the real reasons, probably out of self preservation and fear of being manipulated again. I just said that something was wrong, missing, and it had to end. I had to continue living there while I found a new flat. Meanwhile, her friend, knowing nothing of the truth, was completely on her side. They teamed up immediately after the break up to pressure me to continue to pay for the room when I would move out, which was completely impossible for me to afford. I could understand the friend’s frustration, and offered to pay her part of the bill which would go up due to me moving out. Even so, when I found myself with both of them they would both talk at me, blaming me for the break up, for the bad timing, for everything. I stood my ground and didn’t give my ex any of the money she asked for, after everything she’d done. And I moved out.
Although leaving felt like a huge relief, there’s still a part of all this that feels unresolved, as if no justice was done. In the eyes of her friends, I was the one to blame, because they didn’t know about the abuse. I never even told her that was the reason I was leaving her, so I feel like she hasn’t been made to face the truth. Out of the shared friends we had, who are closer to her now still don’t know the truth. Only two of my closest friends know, but I never asked them to cut off contact with her, letting it be their choice. I don’t know how I feel about that now, that they still find it okay to talk to my abuser. I feel this urge to get justice somehow, maybe for more people to know the truth, but I don’t know where to direct that urge. So I’m sharing here.