I had no idea abuse could be verbal and should not be dismissed as such until I met him.
I spent my entire childhood surrounded by boys and men: friends, family and everything in between. I’ve seen men be respectful and loyal and loving. My father has always been there for me, through thick and thin. My best friend, a man, has always supported me when I was down and helped me strive and fuel my passions.
I will never advocate for ideologies that pit women against men and spark outrage.
But I have never felt more useless, more degraded and more used than I have throughout my last romantic relationship, one that I would now qualify as emotionally abusive, and one that has exposed me to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and furthermore changed my everyday interactions in a way I did not think possible.
It is one thing for a romantic partner to voice their opinion on your actions, and to work with you to grow as an individual and offer support when that becomes difficult. It is a completely different situation for a partner to cause insecurities through backhanded compliments, consistent jabs at the stability expected from a relationship and an inflated ego bursting yours slowly but surely. That is not healthy, and it does not promote mutual growth and self-love.
One of the main consequences of my experience with an individual so undeserving of the feelings I harbored for him was a near-complete loss of self-confidence, which unfortunately transferred to all of my other interactions: affecting professional opportunities, friendships, generating jealousy and overall distancing me from the confidence I had spent the last few years working so hard towards. And while I have spent a long while telling myself that this wasn’t his intention, that it was a series of unfortunate events that caused this slow personal downfall, I cannot pretend any longer that this wasn’t abuse.
I spent almost everyday questioning myself and my beliefs within the relationship, as well as the beliefs that I have had about life in general for a long time. I questioned my value, specifically the value that he believed I had. Was it simply sexual? Was it all a means to portray a falsified version of himself? Did he mean anything he had ever said to me about enjoying my company, valuing our time together, and being genuinely interested in my thoughts and ideas?
No one should have so many questions, and no one should ever feel that it is okay to let yourself be degraded in such a way.
I always believed that PTSD was something that only people who witnessed murders, went to war or survived a violent attack went through, but I am affected everyday by feelings of uneasiness, by anxiety attacks over simple insecurities and by the mere sight of his name.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder doesn’t always stem from physical violence, and it doesn’t always lead to specific ticks. For me, it’s a combination of triggers like teasing, which make me revert to the state of questioning in which I consistently was during the course of the relationship. Sometimes that translates to panic attacks, and other times it simply prevents me from acting as usual. I have lost my sense of self, making it difficult to muster up the courage to engage in any activity that I would be truly proud of, afraid of not being good enough, afraid of feeling useless in the process.
This isn’t a problem with men, it’s a problem with awareness, and consequently the lack of resources for non-physically inflicted PTSD. While many of the friends that surrounded me during the relationship, and that I unfortunately put aside, consistently voiced their negative opinion of my romantic partner, no one ever told me this was abuse; a series of therapists had to make me notice the patterns. Furthermore, a part of me remains terrified of the potential backlash from me coming out and speaking up about these issues. People do not always take mental illness seriously, and such a serious issue stemming from a seemingly alright relationship has put an immensely difficult weight on my shoulders to try to explain why I’m feeling the way I am.
So here is what I propose: instead of questioning others’ issues, why don’t we accept that individuality and relativity are intrinsic concepts in mental health issues, and work on giving a voice to those that are willing to share their stories without generalizing their comments to entire illnesses and suppressed groups. I hope my statements in this piece are seen as a relevant individual account. There are multiple aspects of my experience that may resonate with others, and I hope they make those people feel like they don’t, in fact, need to question themselves and give their abusers that power over them. However, as mentioned, lots of other people’s experiences differ: this is where acceptance is important.
Mental health is not universal. It varies between individuals’ experiences, biology, context, community, relationships, and much more. The consequences of mental health issues are also sometimes devastating. We need to, as a society, try to be allies in the healing process that results from these issues.
I myself do not know how long it will take. I do, however, understand that it won’t go away in just a few months. I have also found shelter in speaking up about my experience, through talking with friends, through trying to stick to my belief on a more general scale in my life, and through this piece. I encourage all of those that felt my experience resonate with theirs to do the same, no matter how challenging it may prove to be.
Written by an anonymous guest writer, reviewed by MWR reviewer Keyvan Mohammad-Ali