Updated: Jul 28, 2020
I never thought I would be writing about this. I never thought I would get into that kind of situation. I knew all the signs from the PSHE videos I watched years ago in class. The videos all had similar stories; where a controlling man tells his girlfriend that she cannot go out wearing certain clothing because he deemed it too revealing, which threatened his fragile ego. We have all seen this message in some form. If we have not seen the message, we have heard about it. As a generation, we were eased into a safe security of knowing what controlling behaviour was. Abuse in real life is not easy to pin it down to specific phrases and words: abuse can be about anything perpetrated by anyone.
Controlling behaviour was and is talked about, while emotional abuse is the relative we know about, but no one in the family talks about...
Although most of the abuse in media is perpetrated by men, we forgot to mention that women are just as capable of abuse. We are left in a world with no tools, low self esteem and a pool of shame. We are the generation of the mental health crisis-saturated in loneliness.
I did not think it would happen to me. I thought I was an independent woman who could hold her own and would not let someone put me down for something I was not to blame for. I knew who I was, and I knew what my reality was.
Emotional abuse is slow, quiet and ultimately life changing.
Have you ever heard of the parable of the frog in the hot water? Put a frog in boiling water and it will jump out. Put the frog in cold water and slowly turn up the heat and before the frog knows it, its cooked through.
Most of us had have bad experiences in relationships. The term “red flag” is thrown about in the dating world with those on the outside of a relationship more likely to point out red flags than those within. A red flag is a metaphoric term for danger but in a bad relationship they are so normalised that we do not stop to think that they are something worse than that. They are abusive relationships.
Emotional abuse can happen to anyone within any dynamic: parents, friends, co-workers and partners. These abuse dynamics are always the same pattern, one of manipulation and love bombing. Same sex relationships are neglected in terms of research surrounding abuse.
Same-sex education at schools is limited at best with almost no time spent on the dynamics of a same-sex relationships. There is a quiet whisper of the abuse that goes on in the lesbian and bisexual women’s world. As much as there is a need to talk about the abuse between heterosexual couples, at least we talk about it. We do not talk about abuse within queer relationships.
Why is abuse between queer women not discussed about?
Abuse between queer woman is rarely mentioned in domestic abuse campaigns which have hetero-normative undertones. The domestic abuse addressed in these campaigns tend to be associated with toxic masculinity. The attribution to domestic violence is portrayed as being committed by men. It may be true that the most reported domestic violence is committed by cis men, but this does not negate the abuse perpetrated by anyone of any gender, colour or creed. Emotional abuse can occur to anyone, by anyone.
Women being violent to one another is not treated seriously. The people who are abused by woman have grown up in a society where women are stereotyped as kind and caring. Any behaviour that does not conform with this idea is ignored and avoided.
The LGBT+ community can be a closed one where many queer women share the same circles. The fear of being smeared by partners in these circles is no small problem. Emotional abuse often manifests in isolating a partner from their friends and family. In a closed community such as the LGBT + community this can be detrimental.
This community has been historically oppressed giving it a level of solidarity. Queer woman fear criticism and are reluctant to express any negative aspects which could harm the progress made towards equal human rights. The emotional abuse continues, and no educational exposure is given to it.
This hints to a greater level of solidarity which I am guilty of, a solidarity between women. In a world where sexism is rife and perpetrated by all genders, I am always reluctant to criticise a gender which faces so much criticism already. The fact my emotional abuser was a woman put me in doubt, that I was experiencing emotional abuse.
Luckily, I was only in an emotionally abusive relationship for two months. Some people remain trapped in an abusive relationship for years, with a false sense that they can physically leave if they wanted to. Emotionally it is a different matter. Unluckily I am still healing from that relationship and will be for a while longer.
Relationships like these start off as a great and even soul defying. Eventually you begin to try and change to fit a mould of who they want you to become as who you are is no longer enough to satisfy them. Instead, the independent person you once were becomes a shell, empty inside, and incredibly fragile.
The subtle demeaning comments and put downs began slowly starting with comments questioning my sexuality, highlighting my young age or inadequacies. As they grew, they became deeper affronts to my self-identity and feelings. The undertones of my inadequacies always linking back to me being too emotional and sensitive.
I started to think there was something wrong with me.
My abuser would constantly remind me of how desirable they were and how much more mature they were then me without saying it out right. I began to doubt if I was even worthy of this person. I started only getting a couple hours of sleep each night, living in a constant state of anxiety so much so my regular periods stopped altogether.
I understood what it was like to be lonely, to live in fear of being abandoned while still being able to find joy in the world. I thought I could show her the joy that existed and to do that I would start by never emotionally abandoning her.
So, I did. I was constantly available for emotional support, only a text away. The fact she had all the boundaries and I had none did not bother me. She had been through a lot all she needed was some compassion and she could change.
I became filled with guilt for not being enough, for being broken, for being the one with mental problems. I became irritable and started lashing out at my friends. I began drinking more, criticism followed from her and always ended with an apology from me. I cannot describe what its like living everyday in fear of someone who you also care deeply about.
Looking back, I now know I was gaslighted.
“Gaslighting is the process of causing someone to doubt their own thoughts, beliefs and perceptions.”
- Cambridge Dictionary
The gaslighting I experienced from her was constant questioning of my own perception of reality and belittling of any expressions of emotions. The manipulation that hurt the most was when they demeaned my expressions of affection towards them, as if there was something wrong with it.
I was taken mentally back to a time at school where my sexuality was rejected by my peers to the extent that I was shamed for my own feelings. I felt like pervert and it took many years to let go of that shame.
With her I was ashamed with my feelings, I was ashamed to be a pervert.
What did this all add up to? My abuser had control over me. We met when she wanted to. We spoke when she wanted to, meanwhile, I waited at the sides to be beckoned back into her life again. I was holding onto the breadcrumbs she threw me.
“Breadcrumbs - are actions of kindness someone gives you just to keep you around”
Emotionally starved, breadcrumbs were thrown at me by talking about a future together, compliments, declarations of emotional intimacy. I never thought to question that they were words of lies. As a graduate with a full-time job and number of years on me I did not question her authority over me.
Eventually living in fear, I became the monster I dreaded. I began to have no interest in anyone, was perpetually bored whilst also snapping at my friends for whom I had no emotional energy left for. Eventually I snapped, which they used against me and made me feel over emotional and crazy. I’d had enough and ended the relationship. I only knew I had to make this decision when my abuser stated they did not know if they would like me unless they had sex with me. This was the last straw for me and hit one of the few boundaries I had managed to put in place.
We kept in contact for a while longer before I was finally able to let go. I am still healing with feelings of distrust that pop up now and then, but I have reclaimed my truth and reality. After a lot of self-love, an out pour of love from my friends I am starting to feel like myself again.
"You are not crazy; you are not the problem it is emotional abuse."
The trauma left from an event like this leaves much suffering and hurt. Moving away from things that trigger thoughts and feeling while starting to accept yourself again as you are leads to a path of healing. Most people who are subjected to emotional abuse do not see it themselves as a victim of abuse. On the contrary, instead we think our own behaviour is to blame and once someone recognises the abuse for what it was, they can often be filled with shame with the perception that they let it happen.
The only person whose responsible is the abuser.
Emotional abuse is subtle, quiet and far reaching. It can happen to anyone of any background, sexuality, colour and gender. Let us start talking about it, because everyone has the right to feel safe, including queer women.
There are also many YouTube videos which are informative and helpful