Abuse doesn’t always feel violent


When I share my experiences on this site, I’m usually referring to the morning I was raped. What I don’t talk about is the relationship that came afterwards, where my partner was emotionally abusive. But in honor of Domestic Violence Awareness month (which actually ended yesterday) and the #metoo movement, I want to talk about it.

Before going into it,

I want to say that this time of my life is the part I am least proud of. But despite my own errors, looking back, I can see clearly how abusive this guy’s behavior was. At the time, when I was already in a poor mental state, I didn’t.

Here we go

I met David (name changed) about 6 or 7 months after I was raped. I was 21, turning 22. He was 25, turning 26. Things started when we drunkenly hooked up a few months after meeting. A few months after that, we acknowledged our feelings for each other. Probably around this time 4 years ago, I told him what happened the night I was raped (more on that story here). I remember feeling anxious about telling him, and when I did, I saw why.

His response to me telling him that I was raped? That’s not rape. You put yourself in that situation. He dismissed my anger to his response with “This is just a difference of opinion. Why are you getting so upset?” I walked out.

I wish that was it. I could have just walked out and let it end, but I didn’t. When he wanted to talk it out a few days later, I didn’t have the vocabulary and understanding of abuse then that I do now. I knew he was wrong, but couldn’t find the words to vocalize why. So we got back together.

Over a year, we broke up and got back together at least 5 times. Honestly, it was so volatile, I’m not really sure what the actual number was, but it went pretty much the same way each time:

  • Me, in some sort of messed up power play of my own, would reach out to him
  • Despite initial resistance, we’d start hanging out again.
  • Before long, the criticizing would start. I would get into trouble with him for going out with friends. For grabbing a drink after work with a coworker and not letting him know first. For hooking up with someone in those periods when we weren’t together. For telling my close friends about the negative side of our relationship. For the fact that I took up too much of his time, making his house was a disgusting mess (For the record, I was in my senior year of studying biochemistry and working 30+ hrs a week. He was taking 2 classes and getting high in at home every day)
  • His criticizing lead to panic attacks on my part. Then I’d get “too emotional” (his words) and he’d ignore me until the next day when he became affectionate again.
  • Eventually, I’d have enough of these cycles and stand up for myself, leaving the relationship. . . again.
  • He’d flood me with paragraphs of texts, calling me things like a “lying fucking slut”, “dumb fucking bitch” or my personal favorite a “22 year old psychiatric patient”. When I would stand my ground, the dialogue changed to something more loving. He wanted to change and work things out.
  • Sometimes we’d get immediately back together. Sometimes it would be months apart. I’d sometimes see other people before ultimately going back to feel some power, which restarted the cycle.

Some of these things have become so normalized in our culture, that they might not seem like a problem. They are. I might not have been an angel, but many of my own attempts to gain power over him were in response to the powerlessness I felt around him and other men. Often, I was gaslighted, made to doubt my own sanity by his denial of the manipulative behavior in our relationship, shifting the blame back onto me.

I could probably write a novel on all the shit that went down between him and I, but I’ll spare the details of the worst of it (like the reproductive coercion). David never once hit me, but he damaged me a million ways that could not be seen. Upon moving to California and recounting all this to my best friend’s mom, a lawyer, she said, “It’s only a matter of time before he would’ve hit you.” At the time, I didn’t believe her.

Now though, after learning more about the different forms of intimate partner abuse, I see she’s probably right. The emotional abuse I experienced with David is where it starts. It’s the gateway to physical and sexual abuse, damaging one’s mind so they stay compliant when you damage their bodies. Though I’ve never experienced that physical abuse myself, I read accounts of women who have, claiming that the emotional wounds hurt so much more than the physical ones. This is not said to diminish the experiences of those who experience physical abuse, but to highlight how detrimental emotional abuse, which is much more normalized in media, can be.

While I feel I’ve worked through many of them, I still struggle with shame and the intimacy issues that stemmed from this ex, despite the fact that my current partner is one of the most supportive and loving men I’ve ever met. I’m across the country, and I’m terrified of running back into David, more so than I am of the man that raped me. Giving that thought validation through this writing is also terrifying.

But I learn more about myself and these forms of abuse every day. Right now, I’m taking classes again and gaining a certification to facilitate discussions about healthy relationships and consent through the Project Survive program at CCSF. Despite the lingering fear from David, I know I can rise above it.

Did this sound familiar?

If this story resonated with you in any way, I encourage you to check out Project Survive’s materials to learn more. There are tips in there for getting out of abusive relationships and supporting friends who are, but you can also call the national domestic violence hotline (1-800-799-7233 or TTY 1-800-787-3224) to get support and create a safety plan. Our Support System and Self-care kit are also here for you.


Have questions about Survivor Alliance? Do you work with survivors and are interested in partnership? Have suggestions/tips/recommended partners? Let us know!

2017 Survivor Alliance

Log in with your credentials

Forgot your details?