Eventually, you have to love yourself more

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
Emotionally abusive relationships are no less traumatic and difficult to leave, writes Lisa Scott.

Lisa Scott
Lisa Scott
Why don’t women in emotionally abusive relationships just leave? It’s not like anyone’s hitting them. 

Because they’re more afraid of being alone. Because they’ve moved to a small town where they don’t know anyone and he monitors their social media, reads their texts, stops them making any friends. Because despite the constant criticism, the public humiliation, being isolated from their family and the fact they have to compartmentalise their life just so they can cope, the person abusing them is the only bit of love they have.

Because you get used to being in a state of hypervigilance, to hiding your phone so he can’t read your messages or check your bank balance. Because you never go to the doctor without him coming too. Because even when he is monstering you in public and you are wrenching yourself away from him, in spite of a thousand ‘‘It’s Not OK’’ posters, people don’t do a damned thing. Because Covid took your job and you have a small child and nowhere else to go.

Because it’s always your fault, and even if it’s not, even if it might have been his fault when he chased you from room to room shouting until you finally surrendered and got back into bed and lay rigid waiting for dawn - did you think about what you might have done to cause it? Because you never would have got that job in the first place without his family connections. Because you are always in his debt and just when you think you’ve paid back enough for things to be even there’s another obligation. Because all he ever does is try to love you and this is what he gets for it.

Because it’s not like he hits you; OK he hurts you sometimes but you know you like it, and while he makes you feel worthless, he also makes you laugh, and is always there for you when nobody else is. Because you’ll never find anyone who will make you feel like this. Because he talks and talks and you just can’t think, can’t unpick the tangle of lies and manipulation - you can see the sunlight above but can’t swim up to the surface, get some air, because it never stops.

Because someone can be cruel to you and you can still love them. It’s bullshit but there it is. You crave their presence, feel that your life has no meaning, no colour, if they aren’t in it. Because you’re ashamed, feel a fool, don’t want to admit you’ve been used. Because it looks like happily ever after on Facebook. Because when he says he’s sorry, he didn’t mean it, he’s trying, he’s getting better, you want to believe it, again.

So apology accepted, forgiveness and after a pause, the bruised feelings fade and it starts all over with a new limit set, a new limit of what you will now tolerate. Because abuse is a pattern of power, control and coercion that becomes the wallpaper of your life. Because you can know someone’s a liar, find it amusing even, that trick they do with the truth, the way they twist it, make it disappear. You hear them lie to others and somehow things keep escalating and out of loyalty you find yourself lying for them and then you are the liar. Lie on top of lie; the lies knotted around each other like the tails of a king rat. The whole relationship a falsehood and your search history now contains ‘‘signs of an abusive relationship’’ when it used to contain ‘‘how to make almond milk’’.

Friends come for a visit and worrying about what he might do in front of them makes you near hysterical. He’s Stanley Kowalski they say and you don’t want to be Blanche or Stella but you’re both and they see what’s happened to once fabulous you and the worst thing is their look of pity. You have to get away, they say, but instead of doing that you lie and tell them you’re not seeing him. Until one day the final straw, after years of having your bright personality worn away, somehow the realisation you deserve better reaches you through the fog and finally, finally, you break your own heart and go.

Life starts over when the daffodils come up. Of course the pain is terrible; love doesn’t just disappear. But eventually, you just have to love yourself more. And that is why.

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