Hey! I'm Caroline, and once upon a time, a long time ago (in a past life?), I was young, I was dumb, and when I should've been worried about normal teenage issues, like next month's term paper or the fact that Jesus himself decided I needed acne on my chin, I was in an emotionally abusive relationship, and it was the only thing I could focus on.
Every part of my life suffered. I lost many friends, who viewed my relationship from the outside, and thought I just didn't want to spend time with them anymore, when really, my boyfriend was strategically isolating me from my friends. I stopped spending time with my family, because my boyfriend had convinced me I couldn't trust them anyway. I lost weight, I failed a class, I almost didn't graduate, and I'm a different person today because of it.
Here's the thing - I can't bring myself to regret any of the things that have happened to me, because in spite of the pain, I'm in a really good place in my life now, and things wouldn't have worked out this way if I hadn't lived through a lot of tough stuff. Do I wish I could have learned these lessons a different way? Of course. After my breakup, I suffered from flashbacks for months, battled crippling insecurity, and - even today - am certifiably terrified of commitment, all of which I could probably do without. But, again, I love who I am now, and while I should have loved her all along, it took a lot of trials and tribulations to get here.
So, what am I getting at here?
The problem (well, one of them, anyway) with emotionally abusive relationships, especially ones you get into when you're young, is that it can be really hard to recognize warning signs until it's too late. You see your partner do little, worrying things, and in the early stages of the relationship when you're so focused on the newness and the joy of a new relationship, you ignore them, or you assume they'll get better, or that really, they're not that big of a deal. The first time they tell you you might think about losing weight, you may laugh it off, or think, Yeah, maybe I could stand to lose a few pounds. But what about the second time? The third time? The first time they demand to know where you've been and what you've been doing, throwing unfounded accusations of cheating and lying at you, you might think, They've probably been cheated on before, they're just insecure. But trust me, it'll happen again, and again, until you're so worn down you don't even know what a good relationship is supposed to feel like.
That's why I'm writing this - I want to put together some of the signs I shouldn't have laughed off or ignored. If only one person reads this and realizes they or someone they know is in a situation that's going south, I'll consider it a success.
Please also keep in mind - I go about this with levity because I'm removed from this situation now, and I've coped with it by finding humor in it, but emotional abuse is very much a serious subject, and shouldn't be taken lightly.
1. Your complaints to them are dismissed as trivial, annoying, overdramatic, or exaggerated, while their complaints are valid, real, and what you need to be listening to.
Am I a dramatic person? Yes! But are all my complaints trivial? God, no! If I had a bad day, I don't want to hear, "Yeah? Well, that's no reason to complain because my day was worse." Congrats! You are terrible.
2. They believe they are entitled to go through your phone, your Facebook, your emails, your computer, anything personal because if you want privacy, you're probably hiding something.
Maybe I just don't want anyone to know just how many memes I have saved to my phone. Or maybe I'd just rather you didn't go through it because, you know, it's my phone!
3. You feel as though your very existence is an annoyance or an inconvenience to them.
4. They criticize or belittle you for your physical discomfort (being too hot, too cold, or otherwise uncomfortable), but they expect you to take their physical complaints seriously.
Yeah, because it's so weird that I'm a human being with physical perceptions of heat and cold! God forbid I need to borrow your jacket, dude.
5. They have convinced you that no one else will love you, so you might as well stay.
6. You preface every complaint about them with an, "I'm sorry," as though it's invalid for you to be upset about anything.
7. They criticize your body in any way whatsoever (sometimes under the guise of "I just want you to be healthy!").
I think back to all the times my ex-boyfriend make remarks about my body; he knew, of course, that I had a lot of dysphoria about my body, and that I'd had trouble with eating. Despite this, he still felt the need to point out my "chubby belly" or my "love handles." I was eighteen years old, 110 pounds, anemic, with a low BMI and a bad habit of skipping meals. These remarks were crushing; the body I already hated was hated by someone else, too.
Guess what! Even if I had had love handles or a chubby belly - literally, who cares? It's my body, dude, not yours, and I get to decide if I want to cram three orders of chicken nuggets into it. Bye!
8. They belittle you for getting emotional, for crying, for being angry, or for being anything but positive at all times.
Because of this, it's difficult for me to feel as though any of the emotions I share with my partner are valid. Watch out for this especially, because once your partner begins to police your emotions, you'll start to police them too.
9. You find yourself worrying about how they will react if you are unhappy about something.
Yep, it's definitely my job to be positive at all times! If I'm not, I must be a sad, miserable, depressed person, and, man, do I bring everyone down. I should stop being a bummer!
10. They believe they are entitled to your money, your bank statements, and the things you purchase for yourself.
"I stole $50 out of your account, but it's okay, because I spent most of it on a Christmas present for you!" - my ex, after buying me a scented candle for Christmas
11. They accuse you of being "too sensitive" if you call them out on abusive behavior.
12. They make you feel like your dreams and accomplishments are insignificant.
Fun fact: it's your life, it's your career, and, yes, your accomplishments matter. You want to live in Italy and study wine and cheese pairings for the rest of your life? Go for it. You got a good grade on that paper you were really worried about? God, good for you!! You're better than your abuser makes you think you are.
13. They threaten to hurt or kill themselves if you leave.
Ummm...sorry, but it's not that serious. Like, I know I'm pretty great, but this tactic is trite, and I am in no way responsible for what someone else decides to do to themselves because of me. I'm not trivializing suicide - but I've had this tactic employed on me so many times, and I'm tired of it. This is never okay.
14. They make you feel as though your life MUST revolve around them, and if it doesn't, you're a bad partner.
15. They are emotionally distant or unavailable most of the time, and make you feel as though it's because of something you did.
16. You regularly inconvenience yourself or put yourself at risk for the sake of their happiness, and it feels normal."Yeah, I made you pick me up from school when you'd got off a 20 hour flight from Mumbai two hours earlier. But my mom couldn't come!" - my 21-year-old ex
17. They share intensely personal information about you with others.
18. They isolate you from your friends, or otherwise try to turn you on them. This can be obvious, or it can be subtle.
You'll hear stuff like, "I don't like that one friend, she has it out for me, so you can't see her anymore." Maybe there's a reason your friends have it out for them in the first place?
19. They wait for you to pick up on their thoughts and feelings instead of sharing them with you, and get upset when you don't magically know what they're feeling.
Dang...I think I left my crystal ball at home!
20. They make 100% of the decisions about what you're doing.
It could be for a date, what movie you're watching, what you're having for dinner, but it could also be big things, like where you'll go to school, what career you should have, or even personal decisions about your body - and they expect you to comply without question.
You know how guys joke that girls never know where they want to go for dinner? This is, like, the opposite of that, and it's also about twenty times worse. Don't, I repeat, DON'T, let someone else call the shots for you! It's your life!
21. You feel like you need to ask permission to do anything, like go out with friends or spend time with family.
22. You feel as though all of your free time must be spent with them, otherwise you don't love them.
If you've just read this and you recognize several of these signs - it's not too late. Just know that an abusive relationship cannot be salvaged. Abusers do not believe they are abusers, and it's almost impossible to convince them otherwise. Move on. As hard as it will be to move on - especially if they have convinced you that you're not worth loving - your life will change the instant you leave them in the past.