All too often, on social media, we present the squeaky-clean version of ourselves and edit out the parts that we don’t want the world to see. My own social media edits come from not wanting to garner pity or to bring others down, but I also realize that hiding the difficult parts of my story hinders those in my network from knowing that they are not alone in their struggles. Like everyone else, I’m human, and there’s no way to plan for big turning points in life—and no other part of my graduate school experience has taught me this lesson better than this spring term.
I feel ready to come clean with a confession: I recently transitioned out of an emotionally and verbally abusive relationship.
It was like I was living a double-life.
While I am still grappling with a sense of discomfort in labeling myself a “survivor,” I do feel like I’ve escaped a traumatic life event and am now on the path towards healing. Psychology Today reports that the impact of emotional abuse is an undercutting of a “person’s foundational self-confidence and love of self and replaces them with confusion about self-worth, value, justice, mercy, and love” (Gregory Lantz, Ph.D, Psychology Today, 2015). While I admit that my sources on emotional abuse come largely from the Internet, I identify with common signs of emotional abuse, particularly those surrounding domination and control, accusing and blaming, emotional distancing, and enmeshment (Maria Bogdanos, “Signs of Emotional Abuse,” PsychCentral).
In layman’s terms, I’ve been through hell.
It’s one thing to be in a long-term relationship with your abuser—it’s a whole other experience to live with them, to have co-mingled your life so deeply that the thought of leaving just doesn’t seem possible. In the past 6 years, I have moved living spaces 13 times. I’ve become used to unstable living patterns that don’t allow me to situate myself into a longer-term space to call “home.” And in living with my abuser, I dreaded the thought of having to move yet again on short notice, continuing the cycle of uprooting my life only to wonder when the next move will shake me up again. It’s exhausting.
But, I had to leave. Not only for my sanity, but to put action behind the advice that I would have given any student that came to me for advice in this situation: Get out, get out, get out.
I went through cycles of thinking I was legitimately crazy. Crazy for wanting my voice heard, crazy for considering my options in life, crazy for daring to consider this relationship unhealthy or unwanted. The amount of gaslighting was unbelievable—gaslighting meaning manipulation by psychological means to make another question their own sanity. It was like I was living a double-life. I left home to enter the outside world, my time spent at work, amongst colleagues in class, and on my own digging into my coursework at the library. But coming home was like bracing myself for the next big battle, preparing myself to hear more degrading accusations, to be called names, and to be torn down by any means possible, including jabs at my upbringing, my identities, my family, and my deepest insecurities.
This form of abuse doesn’t always leave the kind of bruises you can see with your eyes.
I started spending long hours away from home, pretending to do homework in cafes and libraries when I was really just biding my time before having to go back to face the reality I lived behind closed doors. I wanted more than anything to live anywhere else and to cry out for help during the day, but the words could only escape my lips when in the company of a few close friends—and thank goodness for those friends, or else I’m not sure how this story would have panned out by now. I’d never felt so alone in crowds of people, wondering if they could see the secret I carried with me every day. But they couldn’t.
My students, my colleagues, my friends, I put my truth to writing for you so that you see that emotional abuse can happen to anyone. This form of abuse doesn’t always leave the kind of bruises you can see with your eyes, so it can be nearly impossible to detect. But it could be your neighbor. Your sibling. Your classmate. Your coworker. Your supervisor. Your teacher. The stranger passing by. This happens every day.
It’s okay to need help, and it’s okay to not be okay all of the time.
I also bring my truth to the public eye because you need to know that there’s a way out. It’s difficult, but with the right support, there can be changes that take you out of this abusive situation. I was able to use my network to find a safe temporary space to live as I searched for more permanent housing. In those first few moments of freedom, I felt peace for the first time in months. Now, I have the responsibility to take care of my spirit in the process of healing, which will mean reaching out for professional help, another lesson I hope to model for my students. When you need help and you have access to the support, use it. It’s okay to need help, and it’s okay to not be okay all of the time.
While this life event occurred at a time where other major changes in my life priorities have come about, I will save that story for a separate post. For now, though, I leave readers with what I think is the greatest takeaway from this story: a reminder of your self-worth. You’re worth a peaceful home, a sense of safety, and of feeling loved. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, and if they do, then get out.
You’ll thank yourself later when you do.