I’m sure you’re thinking, “what in the world? Independence Day isn’t for months.” But I’m not talking about American Independence Day here. I’m talking about my Independence Day. And the struggles and trials that I had to go through in order to gain it. One year ago to the day, I left an emotionally abusive relationship. The hardest part was not walking away (I actually found that quite easy), but for me, the hardest part was convincing myself that I didn’t deserve this treatment, it wasn’t my fault, and I didn’t have to put up with it.
I have been emotionally abusive relationships since I could be in relationships. Friendships, peers, familial relationships, as well as my dating relationships have been emotionally abusive at times. I started to think that this was normal. That I felt unintelligent because I was unintelligent. I was being treated like I didn’t matter because I really didn’t. That I deserved to be mistreated because I wasn’t worthy of proper treatment. And the world was there to assure me, again and again, that all of these things were true.
When I first got into the relationship that consumed four and a half years of my life, I was in a bad place. All I wanted was someone to love me and care about me and be there for me. And instead what I shackled myself to was a person incapable of acting like a decent human being, caring for anyone other than him, or doing anything that he promised he would. I gave everything to this person for years, and all I got back was disappointment, put downs, and more of the emotional abuse that I was raised to endure.
I was unhappy with the relationship from the beginning, but he was always there to assure me that my feelings of being trapped were well-deserved. I was so difficult and irrational, who else would want to be with me? I was so hard to live with. It was such a burden to put up with me. I was lucky to have him because not a lot of other men would do what he did. And why not? I had been told this my entire life, he was just one more person telling me what I had already learned.
The saddest part of our relationship is that I didn’t even recognize it as emotional abuse. I had never heard the term before and I didn’t even know what it was. When I looked it up and saw the actions that constituted emotional abuse, I read it like a checklist of his past behaviors. And not only his, but the actions of my school peers back when I was in middle and high school, the actions of people that had called me their friend, the actions of past boyfriends, the actions of family members. I had been surrounded by emotional abuse for so long that I didn’t even know I was drowning in it.
I read as much as I could about what emotional abuse is and how it impacts the individuals that experience it. In a way, some of my behaviors are too ingrained for me to ever let them go. My first reaction is always going to be the same, no matter how many strides I make. But the other thing that I realized from this is that there is nothing I can do about emotionally abusive people. They are going to exist. They will always be there. I have to pick who is going to be in my life and who is going to have an influence on me. Sometimes the best thing I can do is limit or cut off contact with the people that are emotionally abusive.
For entirely too long I thought that if I could just make someone understand that they were hurting me, then they would stop. But now I know that someone that is emotionally abusive is rarely, if ever, going to listen to me. I hate that sometimes I have to end relationships all because another adult can’t treat me with basic dignity and respect. But that’s the reality of the situation. I’ve been at this rodeo too long to take another ride. Anyone that doesn’t see me as a person is not invited to remain in my life.