Diary of emotional abuse – and how to help a friend in need

140717 emotional abuse hero

There was no such thing as an emotionally abusive relationship 20 years ago. Well, there was – I know because I was in one. But society pretended they didn’t exist. If you didn’t have a black eye or a broken arm, you had nothing to complain about. Now, the media is abuzz with the conviction of the man who killed Allison Baden-Clay. Some of her friends have appeared in the media saying they had no idea things were that bad. She kept those things to herself. They just didn’t know.

And domestic violence advocates are hoping that this will be a watershed moment for society to learn to talk about domestic violence in a new way. Especially about that insidious type that nobody can see, that leaves no bruises – emotional abuse. (Anecdotal evidence suggests there was also physical violence going on in the Baden Clay marriage well before that terrible night as well, just for the record.)

People who know me now wouldn’t have recognised the shit-scared, insecure and needy person I was when I was 17. And I was like that for a whole host of reasons that don’t matter now: I’d just had my heart broken for the first time, I had huge daddy issues, I craved affection and approval from the world, I was adrift after finishing school without any direction… but the point is that person isn’t me now. In my mind, I divide my life up into those five dark years between the ages of 17 and 22, and the rest of my very normal life.

But this man came along at a time I was vulnerable. I wasn’t really interested in him but he was persistent in his pursuit of me, which I found incredibly flattering. He sent flowers to my work and wrote soppy cards, he remembered little things I told him I liked and went out and bought them for me. He wasn’t afraid to make a fool of himself just to impress me. Eventually, he wore me down. We started dating and he was charming, witty, attentive – all the things a nice guy is supposed to be.

Then came the isolation. He was a master manipulator and when I look back now, it was all so text-book. He slept with my closest friend at the time, which I didn’t find out about until much later, but it was enough to drive a wedge between her and I. He compared me to all the other women we knew, so I was always aware there was some form of competition going on. But of course it was me he loved. Lucky me! He set us up as a great love against the rest of the world. And then, slowly but surely, he started attacking me too, when I had nobody left to turn to.

He was jealous of every man I spoke to – I had to explain every conversation. I could never go out without him because he was so sure I couldn’t go out without being hit on. And it wasn’t me he didn’t trust; it was other guys. Naturally.

My clothes were either frumpy or too slutty – until he started choosing them all. He picked me up from work every day so I had no opportunity to go anywhere or see anyone else. My confidence eroded at lightning speed, and I relied on him more than ever. I even had a falling out with my mother over this relationship, and although I know now I could have called her any time, back then my ego wouldn’t allow me to admit I was in too deep. That, and I thought I loved him.

140717 Emotional-abuse

I remember one conversation we had when we had broken up and got back together (we did that a lot) where he went through a list of all the women we knew and told me why it was more logical for him to want to be with them. “A is beautiful . B is smart and has a great career…” And when he got to me, he said, “You’ve got nothing going for you, but it’s still you I want.” Then he shrugged. “I guess I must really love you.”

And I was thrilled. Wow, even though I’m nothing, he must really love me!

We then travelled overseas together for a few years, which was even more isolating. You would think travelling the world would be liberating but it just deepened my dependence and fear of him leaving me. Between arguments and break ups and the myriad affairs he had during that time, we returned to Australia and got married. Our wedding was tiny because we didn’t have many friends.

About a year after we married, his grip on me loosened when I ran into my best friend from high school. I could see in her face she didn’t ‘get’ this relationship – and she hardly recognised me. Years later she told me I seemed a shell of myself – defeated and sad. And it’s true. I had no dreams for my future. I had no plans. No goals. All I had was the fear of losing this douche that had somehow ended up being the centre of my life.

140717 dignity

Lucky for me, I found the strength to leave him. It was ugly. He threatened suicide and became homeless for a time. His efforts to manipulate me were exhausting and terrifying. I thought he might die. But I knew I couldn’t hold myself responsible for that.

Soon after, I dated a really nice normal guy who showed me what a relationship should be like. Of course, that nice guy had no chance of staying around for the long haul because I was still seriously fucked up, but I will be forever grateful to him because he helped me build the confidence I needed to move forward on my own. I don’t even have any friends around from that time, I think partly because I wasn’t that nice a person when I was trying to get my shit back together, and partly because I found seeing those people was a painful reminder of a time when I hated myself.

But get my shit together, I did, and the feeling of relief was immense. It was like I woke up. Or that bit in the Wizard of Oz where all of a sudden everything is in colour.

So what I want to say is this: if you know someone who is in a relationship like this, please don’t disappear from their lives. They need you to be around. They need to not feel alone. You don’t have to hang out every week, and you don’t have to love the partner. Just be there. Be available. Be on their side. But don’t say the guy is a dick, or tell them what to do because you’re just feeding that ‘us against the world’ mentality.

Just be a friend and be around. Because one day, hopefully, they’re going to need you.

For more resources, click here for family friends and neighbours information. Or if you need help yourself, google ‘domestic violence resources’ to find someone local that can help.

Thanks to task.fm for the hero image.
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Carolyn is the managing editor of Champagne Cartel. She is a freelance writer, blogger and social media strategist for businesses. In her spare time she is an obsessive runner and amateur wine and dark chocolate taster.

Carolyn is the managing editor of Champagne Cartel. She is a freelance writer, blogger and social media strategist for businesses. In her spare time she is an obsessive runner and amateur wine and dark chocolate taster.

32 Comments

  • Reply July 17, 2014

    Lila

    I usually say that afterwards it was like I’d never been there. Like for ten years someone else played the role of me and then I stepped back in.
    Beautifully written.

    • Reply July 17, 2014

      Veggie Mama

      I feel like that too! Like it happened to someone else. Someone I feel really sorry for. She was really lost and lonely, no wonder she fell into such a shithole.

    • That’s exactly what it’s like, isn’t it, Lila! 10 years is a bloody long time. I hope you’ve got all of you back. xxx

  • Reply July 17, 2014

    mummywifeme

    Beautiful piece, Carolyn. Thanks for sharing x

  • Reply July 17, 2014

    Me

    Thank you so much for sharing. It’s good to know what you would have liked when you were in that situation.
    Have the best day !
    Me

  • Reply July 17, 2014

    deb64Deb

    Very scary how easily this can happen. I’ve experienced it as the friend – watching someone I love being constantly put down, isolated, agreeing with ridiculous ideas (‘the one who earns more money makes the rules’, ‘a house needs a ‘boss’ to run effectively’, ‘it’s my fault we have problems because I grew up in a ‘broken’ home’). You are right, the important thing is to be there no matter what. It is incredibly hard to bite your tongue, especially when socialising with the abusive partner, but unfortunately the worst thing you can do is run down the friend’s spouse (no matter how much you want to punch him in the face).

    • Yeah, it’s true, isn’t it, Deb. I actually made a new friend through work a few years ago and I recognised all those signs (he actually told her he wouldn’t have sex with her until she lost weight – she was too fat to be attractive, apparently). But I didn’t know her well and I also felt too fresh from my own stuff to be able to help. The first time I actually met her partner – ugh, what a creep! – I knew I couldn’t stay friends with her. I just wasn’t able to help and it was torture to look on from the sidelines. I looked her up on Facebook recently and there she was smiling and holding a baby. I so hope it’s someone else’s but I doubt it (assuming he deemed her worthy to have sex with).

  • Reply July 17, 2014

    Kelly Exeter

    Wow Carolyn. I have nothing useful to contribute here but just wanted you to know that I really hope this changes the life of someone out there who needs to hear these words to recognise their situation

  • Reply July 17, 2014

    Champagne Gill

    As always, my lovely, so beautiful expressed. It makes me want to cry that you went through this. I too dated a hideous person when I was in my early 20’s. He pretended to commit suicide whenI tried to leave him. Well he did actually cut himself up, but not in the ‘right’ way to do any major damage. Thanks to him, the cretin, I’ll forever have a horror visual in my mind of that nasty white bathroom covered in blood. But funnily, that incident was the thing that made me realise I had to get out, right there and then. Which I did. And never looked back. Poor Allison, may she rest in peace now.

    • Yeah, it’s funny, isn’t it, how sometimes we need something so terrible to happen that there is just no turning back. That must have been just awful. Doesn’t it make you sad to think of such young people dealing with circumstances like that? Mine certainly took things to a different level in a different way but that’s a whole other blog post! xxx

  • Reply July 17, 2014

    Veggie Mama

    I once said to him I wish he’d hit me, then I knew I’d leave and never come back. I just couldn’t get my head around the emotional abuse and how damaging it really was. But physical abuse? Well, I wasn’t the type to put up with THAT! Poor kid.

    • YES! I was like that too. I remember some fights were I used to try to goad him into doing something that would break the spell and let me escape. But he never did. He was too good at the mind games. Writing this has been amazing in seeing just how widespread this is among young women. Just about every woman has a story of the crap she put up with in her youth. Makes me want to inflate my daughters’ self esteem until they are the most stuck-up kids around – just to be sure this won’t happen to them. And to ensure my son grows up knowing how delicate girls can be. Thanks for sharing your story too. xxx

  • Reply July 17, 2014

    Lilybett

    This reads so much like my mother and ex-stepfather. The charm, the manipulation, the cutting from the herd, the browbeating, etc. It was a scary thing to see my mother do that disappearing act that some of the other ladies have talked about. My mum’s understudy was on the stage through that year and a half. It was confusing and frightening for all of us.

    And then he broke her nose. A Liverpool kiss to her face while my brother and I were out walking the dogs on a Sunday afternoon, apropos of nothing. And then it was over, as if the physical violence suddenly made it okay to call the police, to kick him out, to get help. It was a relief in many ways but we were all damaged by the relationship way before the blood and broken bones.

    • Wow, Lilybett, thanks for sharing your mum’s story. I’m so glad she got out of that awful situation – when there are children involved, it is so much worse. And isn’t it funny (not funny ha-ha, obviously) that so many of us wouldn’t stand for physical violence but allow ourselves to be treated like anything less than what we deserve. Having said that, many women who have lived with physical violence say they never thought they were the ‘type’ to put up with it either, until it happened to them. So glad your mum got out – for her sake and for yours. xx

  • Oh my sweet, such an ordeal. Emotional abuse is such a horrible thing to cop. Sadly having experienced it in my early 20s, my confidence took a huge battering at time when I should have been flourishing. Some of the things that were said to me still haunt me and make my heart feel heavy. Strength to you, thanks for sharing these precious private feelings. And such a wonderful message for us all to remember… xxxx

    • Cheers Em, being a young woman is a tough experience for many it would seem. We were all so vulnerable to the first bloke that came along and paid us a compliment. Makes me want to fortify my daughters with a very health self esteem while they’re still young.

  • Reply July 17, 2014

    Attie

    Wow. Thanks for sharing. Actually sort of like reading about myself. Scary that so many have been in and still are in relationships like this, I feel so lucky to have escaped. X

    • I have been amazed since this story came out, just how common it is among women. Glad most of us manage to get out of it at some point and use it as a learning experience. But my heart breaks for those that never feel like they can.

    • Me too, Attie! I can’t imagine living like that now. And my husband swears he can’t imagine me ever being so compliant. :)

  • Reply July 17, 2014

    Rebecca Sheraton

    A powerful story Carolyn. I never would have known and thank you for sharing so others will know to help someone in this situation

  • Oh my gorgeous friend – you have been through so much and yet here you now laughing at life in a way that makes others find joy in life too. I cannot begin to imagine how you must have felt being in that relationship or coming out of it but I can say you are proof that you can come back from such an awful situation. You are strong, you are resilient and you are an inspiration. Telling your story will help many hun and it is a very brave thing you have done. So proud of you chick and I am going to give you the biggest hug ever in QLD next month xx

  • Going through this post I found myself ticking all your points off my own list. I swear all these men must go to some school where they learn to be emotionally abusive and controlling because they always follow the same pattern. I met mine when I was 19 and got with him for the same reasons you did and our relationship pretty much travelled the same path yours did. I’m not sure if he cheated on me as much, but I’m pretty sure he would’ve because as soon as we separated he couldn’t wait to jump into bed with someone else then lie to my face about it (even though I already knew it had happened). He was also registered on heaps of those online sites to meet people for discrete sex (some even saying he was interested in men – I nearly vomited in my mouth when I read that!).

    I have stayed with the next “normal” relationship I got into, but I can understand the being too fucked up to make it work. I am constantly letting my fears and scars from the past put walls up between us and make excuses for why we should break up because deep down I think I still have an inner belief that I’m not worthy. I’m working on it but its a hard road. I wrote a bit about my abusive relationship here http://www.findingmyselfyoung.com/2014/06/leaving-my-narcissistic-husband-changed.html

    Glad you got out of your relationship too Carolyn.

    • Wow Toni – I just read your great post. How similar our experiences were! And it really does take a long time to recover, doesn’t it. Hope you can continue to let those walls down even further. Thanks for sharing your story. xx

  • Far out, Carolyn. What a super strong woman you are for leaving that relationship and to see what he was doing. It is so good of you to share your experience because there are likely people out there that don’t consider this a form of abuse. I’ve only met you a few times but you are so positive and inspiring to me, you deserve all the positive things life can throw at you now. x

    • Thanks Eva, that’s beautiful! It really does seem to be sadly widespread and yet underrated in the damage it can do. I hope that is changing. xx

  • Reply December 22, 2014

    Jenny

    Hi Carolyn, thanks so much for sharing your experience.I to was in a similar situation for many years and like you wished that I has some physical scares that may have been seen by others who may have taken action when I could not. The final straw for me was when the emotional abuse began to impact the well being of our new born son. Only then did I take action and get the support to leave the marriage. it has been a long journey to get back to the real me.Hopefully by sharing our stories on your blog it will reach others stuck in these destructive relationships, or better still make the community more aware so that they can support these women to escape.

    • Reply December 29, 2014

      Carolyn @ Champagne Cartel

      Thanks for sharing your story Jenny – I so agree that by talking about this stuff, hopefully it will make this sort of abuse easier to recognise for what it is. And I’m so glad you managed to removed your son from that toxic environment while he was still young. xx

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