Emotional abuse is a stealthy shape-shifter. At first, a new partner might make grand romantic gestures and say they want to be with you all the time. But underlying their behavior is an attempt to manipulate you. Maybe they slowly start criticizing your style, urge you not to hang with your friends, or try to make you doubt the way you feel. When you call them on it, they tell you you’re wrong, or crazy…constantly keeping you second-guessing things.
According to The National Domestic Violence Hotline, emotional abuse “doesn’t look the same in every relationship because every relationship is different. But one thing most abusive relationships have in common is that the abusive partner does many different kinds of things to have more power and control over their partner.” These six women know that from experience. Here, they share the a-ha moment that woke them up to the emotional abuse they were living with—and got them to break up with their abusive partner.
'He attempted to distort my reality'
“I was dating a guy who was also my boss. I had been trying to break up with him for months, but each time I did, he made work horrible for me by yelling at me in front of clients. One night he threatened me by saying, “let me sleep with you in this bed or I’ll have your job.” My body went numb. When I told him to get out, he asked why I was so upset. I repeated exactly what he just said and he responded with ‘I never said that, you’re crazy.’ His attempt to distort my reality made me realize the extent of how emotionally abusive that relationship was, and led me to quitting. I chose losing my job over losing my sanity and self.”
'He was crafting me into his vision of the perfect woman'
“From the start, he refused to let me call him my boyfriend in public, didn’t want me to talk to my friends about us, and refused to meet my family. He slowly convinced me to get rid of the clothes I loved, try different hobbies, ignore my family, and drop my friends. It sounds extreme, but it was so subtle that I didn’t realize he’d been crafting me into his version of the perfect woman. The breaking point happened when I went to my hometown for my birthday and met my oldest friends for drinks. Even though I was hundreds of miles away from him, I refused to drink because I was so afraid—literally paranoid and close to tears—that he would leave me or hurt me if he found out, because he didn’t like me drinking any alcohol. After eight unhealthy months, I blocked him on everything, cut him from my life, and finally feel free of him.”
'She called me delusional multiple times a week'
“Looking back now, I see so many moments that were definite red flags. She didn’t allow me to talk about my job because she was paid a lot less at her own job. She withheld sex when she didn’t think I was being ‘masculine’ enough. She called me delusional multiple times a week. She even spit on me. Yet, I still found it impossible to leave. When I reached out to friends and family for support, they let me know something was wrong. I was finally able to leave with the help of my loved ones, and I’m so much better now.”
'I felt trapped and terrified that this was going to be my forever'
After a year together, he joined the military, and it wasn’t until he was in a different country that I realized how emotionally abusive he was. When our relationship became long distance, we fought because I was very busy and couldn’t talk to him as much as he wanted me to. One night ended it all: I had gone out with friends and had forgotten to call him when I got home. When we talked the next day, he screamed at me. I felt trapped and terrified that this was going to become my forever. During that conversation I told him I was done, blocked him, and that was the last time we ever spoke.”
'He attempted to isolate me from everyone but him'
“I never thought things were really right and I think in my gut I always knew something was off. But one moment really woke me up. I had been fighting with my best friend and instead of listening to me vent and offering constructive advice, my boyfriend tried to convince me that my friend didn’t want me around. The blatant attempt to isolate me from everyone but him and distort my reality shook me. I hadn’t been strong enough to cut cords with him previously because he kept promising to treat me better. This time I was ready. I did it over the phone. I didn’t care about conventions or politeness. When you’re in a situation like this, and you fear the person will say something manipulative to make you cave, you have to do it how you need to. I haven’t regretted ending it for one minute.”
'He constantly accused me of seeing another guy'
“Within the first week we started dating, he told me he loved me; he asked me to be his girlfriend and stop talking to other guys. He then constantly accused me of seeing another man and lying to him when I said I wasn’t. He had such a hold on me mentally and emotionally. Part of me knew he was manipulating me and was playing games, but I couldn’t muster the strength to leave him. It finally blew up when I found out he had been sleeping with other women. The anger and fear I felt was enough for me to cut all ties. I am a much stronger person now and I haven’t looked back.”
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