This piece contains themes of a sensitive nature. Reader discretion is advised.
I was in an abusive relationship for three years, starting when I was 17.
It may sound odd, but talking about abusive relationships can only do good. Because it does not matter how smart, strong, and independent we are. We can all meet the wrong person at the wrong time.
Funny enough, I didn’t realise I had been in an abusive relationship until I talked to a therapist one year after the breakup. I told her about how problems started one day at a McDonald’s, when after checking my Whatsapp he got angry at me for replying to some random guy’s texts.
First question my therapist asked was: “Why was he looking into your phone?”.
It is that simple. When personal spaces are overstepped – with no consent from the other side – a relationship can already be called abusive, unhealthy.
But people aren’t always aware of the red flags. Maybe they’re young, maybe they’re facing vulnerable times, and such behaviours will just make them doubt about themselves, not about their partner: I started feeling guilty about texting other people, about not telling him in details who I was seeing, where I was going, what I was wearing. Because those were the things that mattered to him, and I just thought they must have been important if they were getting him so angry all the time.
I just wanted to feel a good and reliable person, but as in textbook abusive relationship, the abuser just kept making my self-esteem lower and convinced me that the way he acted was just a consequence of my actions. My reality started to blur, psychologists call it “gaslighting”: a manipulative person trying to root in your head their idea of reality.
“Why didn’t you talk about it?” people would point out.
Because abusers take you away from all your friends and, in the worst case, even your family. Things at home weren’t great at the time already, whereas for friends we had mutual ones, from town. Fight after fight we had in front of them, they started ignoring us. I understood them, we were annoying. But they couldn’t understand us: they weren’t able to see that I was the victim, that I had no intentions of being part of those weird, humiliating public fights, but he wouldn’t give much of a choice.
He would give me “the silence treatment” too after every useless argue. In healthy relationships you discuss, you express different points of view, but you always aim at solving the problem, not at discrediting or punishing your partner.
Runaways are not the solution in normal times, but they might be in emergency: spending some time abroad helped. I felt good again, smart, strong, and independent again. I realised I was missing out so many things, and I had priorities to reconsider. When I came back, the co-dependency that originates from any abusive relationship brought me back to him.
But it didn’t take long before my new self-awareness finally led me to the right decision. Just as I was sitting in a Mc Donald’s that day when he started destroying my life, I was sitting in a bar in the city center with an old friend three years later. She was cheerful, dressed up, joking around with people. I was tired, wearing sloppy clothes, wasn’t even able to talk to the bartender and I was only 20 years old. I definitely needed to get my life back.