Psychological Abuse: The Bruises You Can’t See

melancholia_Daniele Zedda

Problems of a 21st century girl


Psychological abuse is far more common than society believes, and it deserves to be taken far more seriously than it is at present. It causes damage that can last years, even your whole life. Unfortunately I, like many people, have experienced it.

When I was 19 and in my first few months at university, my ex, and first proper boyfriend, who had also been one of my closest friends since i was 16, began harassing me via text message. This harassment was to last three months, with up to thirty texts a day. He didn’t even give up over Christmas and New Year. Had he not received a warning of arrest from the Police, there is no doubt in my mind that he would still be doing it today, as he sometimes attempts to do.

His excuse at the time was that, despite having split up four months previously after he had cheated on me, he didn’t like the fact that I had found someone new. This resulted in texts that included death threats, descriptions of inappropriate sexual scenarios (including him, myself, and my new boyfriend), and extremely personal insults about my body, my personality, everything. Even the way I smiled, which he once apparantly loved to much, was suddenly somehow laughable to him. 

You might wonder whether I had provoked him at all. My answer is: I’d done nothing except trying to move on into an exciting new phase of my life at university. But he didn’t like that. Does that make me deserving of the emotional torture I was put through? I don’t think so. There is no excuse for abuse of any kind. 

For any person, whether male or female, psychological abuse cannot be dismissed as something that you can just ‘get over’, as so many people just thought I would. The whole thing, whether it be for a long or short duration, is humiliating, frightening, confusing, and it shocks you more than you ever thought you could be shocked. How could this person who loved you, suddenly laugh at you for everything that you trusted them with? Your whole self is thrown into question. You are forced to question your past relationship, the person that you thought you knew everything about, and the person that you thought you were.

Like so many, for a long time I blamed myself and worried for him. I terrified myself and second guessed about what he might criticise next – meaning that for a little while, I refused to eat. I couldn’t cope with normal situations because I doubted myself entirely. My whole personality was crumbling and there was nothing I could do. He told me it was my fault, that I deserved to be spoken to this way because i had changed, because I had forgotten who I was and had forgotten him. I racked my brains trying to understand exactly where I had gone wrong. But that is the thing with the people who are capable of doing this; they cleverly get inside your head and tell you that because you strayed from them you deserve their treatment.

Psychological abuse is about control. I never suspected him of being capable of it, but the more I look back the more I realise that he had gotten entirely inside my head. No matter what argument we had had, he reasoned it into my brain that it was somehow my fault and manipulated me into thinking how lovely he was to me, and how he deserved so much better. This is something that even now, after everything he did, I still struggle to rationalise. No, he didn’t give me any physical bruises or scars, but the wounds inflicted upon me are still there today. Psychological abuse does not just last the duration of it happening, but for a long time to come.

It is extremely difficult to express just how life changing such an experience can be. In some ways I was lucky, my ex-boyfriend’s abuse only lasted three months until the Police issued him a warning, causing him to stop altogether. I then had the time, and wonderful support around me, to recover and try to get back to myself again. It is an on-going battle, however there are some people out there who are still living like this. People who are slowly losing everything that they were and becoming shells of their former selves, because they are being forever punished by the person they thought loved them.

The sad truth is that often these people blame themselves. Before I experienced it myself, I always thought ‘why wouldn’t you just leave such a situation?’. Unfortunately it really isn’t that simple. With abuse such as this, for a long time you aren’t even aware it is happening to you, because you are slowly being manipulated. Even the abusers may not quite realise what they’re doing; they are insecure, and feel the need to control you, which they excercise excessively. Once trapped in a situation like this, it is very hard to get out of it.

Victims may suddenly find themselves feeling rather alone, because social activities constitute transgressions that your abuser wants to suppress. Why would you want to go out and get drunk with other people, where someone might try it on with you, when you could be spending time with them instead? Why don’t you want to spend time with them? Does it mean you’re getting bored of the relationship? Why are you getting angry about them wanting to be with you and spend time with you? Do you have something to hide? 

It is so easy to fall in to the trap. In a typical situation like this, your abuser is likely to forgive you for ‘not wanting to spend time with them’ and for ‘wanting to go out and get drunk and flirt with other people’. He or she might suggest that instead you do ‘something nice together’, so that they can forget that you upset them. You’re being taken out, treated, as it were, to their company. In this way you are forced to focus on that one person, and by that time your friends have gotten sick of you never being there. And voilà: isolation.

Victims of this crime do not just ‘overreact’. Obviously, there is a difference between abuse and having an argument. But I refuse to accept, on behalf of all affected, that we are overreacting to argument. I have sadly found that this can be the belief of those who do not understand the topic. Victims are not just ‘weak’, either. Abuse of this sort can happen to anyone, and everyone affected needs support and help in coming to terms with the fact that they are good people and they are not wrong for being who they are or believing what they believe.

If anyone reading this feels that they are going through something similar, or that they have been through it: you are not weak for feeling weak, nor are you stupid for feeling stupid, it is perfectly understandable and normal that you may feel you are. But ultimately, you are neither of those things. Trying to get their words out of your head and regaining who you are, and your sense of self worth, is more difficult than can be explained. It doesn’t matter how long it may take you to get there, you should praise yourselves for the emotional strength it takes just to begin to move on.

Recovering from this experience is the hardest, most emotional thing I have ever gone through. Though I struggle to remember what the texts said now, which I’m told is a result of trauma, I know that I had every right to feel as devastated as I did. I refuse to allow anyone to be told that they shouldn’t be as upset as they need to be, when confronted with such an emotional upheaval. It is impossible to overreact to psychological abuse, or to any other form of abuse, and society needs to realise this and take it seriously.

The police were a tremendous help to me during this time and will never turn anyone away who claims that they are being bullied, which is precisely what abuse is. If you are in this situation, or think you know someone who is, please seek help, because it will only continue to get worse. 

Photograph by Daniel Zedda, via Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons Licence.

Cate Triner

Cate is an English student at Loughborough University and takes creative writing classes in her free time. Her social comment column, Problems of a 21st Century Girl, appears on The Re|view since December 2013.

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