It’s funny how years of social conditioning and popular definitions of certain terms limit our understanding of our own lived experiences. While I possessed the notional understanding that anyone could be a victim of abuse in a relationship, I realized that I had subconsciously categorized abuse as something very drastically violent and also something which could never happen to me. In a sense, I had essentialised abuse to a very limited definition of physical violence, and since those narrow boxes were not being ticked off despite my discomfort with my relationship, I couldn’t even entertain the idea that I might have been in an abusive relationship.
It is difficult to encapsulate my relationship. It was categorized by periods of extreme love, to times when it felt like I didn’t even exist. Then, I slowly started discovering his anger. It initially started with small things and each outburst would be followed by, “Sorry I didn’t mean that.” But the hurtful words lingered, because they were soon to be repeated and each one of those words pierced me. He knew exactly what my insecurities were, and targeted them with precision. These episodes would drain me of all my energy, and his apologies started becoming more and more curt. Whenever I tried to take it up with him, I would get the same response of, “Let it go, I was angry and didn’t really mean those things” and “why can’t you just let things be”. The recurring theme though, was my inability to ‘prove’ my love and thus, there were small tests which I had to pass to ease his insecurities. I soon started getting terrified of accidentally missing a call or forgetting to reply on time, apprehensive of the next set of hurtful things that would come my way. Soon the fear itself took a form of its own and started controlling me. I had, on several occasions, questioned the relationship but the stigma of being the one who ‘gave up’ haunted me and also led me to justify the unpleasantness of the relationship as ‘a rocky phase’ which would get better. Unfortunately, it only got worse. The aggressive verbal abuse later hinted towards possible physical abuse. Slowly, I started losing my own identity and started seeing my existence only in terms of the relationship. Thus, if the relationship failed, I failed.
It was only after I distanced myself from him, and spoke to friends and loved ones that I slowly realized how much the relationship had sapped me of myself. This realization gave me the power to finally end it. The end was bitter, and I was emotionally manipulated to believe that I was to blame and that I was a horrible person. I started questioning everything about myself.
The relationship has made me question many facets of abuse that I had misinterpreted, like how the abuser needs to be a ‘bad person’. My ex is one of the most charming people I have ever met, can talk at length on issues, is artistic, but that in no manner reduced or diminished the impact of what he had done to me. It doesn’t absolve him of the abuse he inflicted.
It would be naive to state that the relationship is completely behind me, because even now it suddenly sneaks up on me at times. Sometimes I can still hear his voice in my head and while it still affects me, its power is slowly fading. I constantly strive to shed some of the fear and judgment I had internalized, and while the process is slow, the small successes are extremely liberating.