About toxic relationships

This is not an easy topic to talk about for sure but the brave and beautiful Natalie (@thewellbeinggirl) opened up about her experience. Hopefully her story and advice on this topic will help raise awareness or aid someone who is walking in similar shoes right now. #expertadvice #yourstory

What is emotional abuse? And how do you spot the signs?

We hear the term emotional abuse tossed about quite a bit these days. Physical abuse is easy to recognize, but emotional abuse in a relationship can be more insidious, often going undetected by  your closest family members, friends and even victims themselves. Why am I passionate about this? Because it happened to me..

Let me set the scene, I entered into an emotionally abusive relationship about three years ago, what led me here? I had grown up experiencing a deep-rooted conditioning in co-dependency. Codependency refers to people who feel extreme amounts of dependence on certain loved ones in their lives, for me it was the pressure of finding my ‘partner’ in order to complete me. In my late twenties, I was at my lowest point.. I craved love and external validation from the world and everyone around me, I had experienced a rough ride with dating and experienced some real losses in confidence and in my eyes time was ticking, in short I just wanted to be loved.

So..one Saturday on a normal night out in Oxford with my closest girlfriends there came my ‘night in shining armour’. He was charismatic, sweet, sensitive, interested.. boom. I was onto a winner, or so I thought. The first few months was dreamy, I was purely smitten. My needs were prioritised like never before, I was treated like a princess whisked away to Paris for the weekend as well as impromptu gifts and spa weekends. Looking back what I was experiencing throughout this process was a red flag and is called ‘love-bombing’ and it is quite commonly known as a common experience for someone in situations like me. In the coming weeks and months I went on to ignore a series of other really important red flags like controlling behaviour and gas lighting.

The initial signs started off really small, things like him not being supportive of me spending time with the people I loved. I thought it was a bit odd, but gently brushed these feelings away. Slowly, the signs started to get bigger and bigger and in time the unrealistic expectations on me and our relationship became unmanageable. I was constantly stressed, If I didn’t text him first thing in the morning saying ‘I love you’ or tell him how lucky I was to be with him it would be a problem. The unrealistic expectations element was a big thing looking back I had to look ‘perfect’, dress and hold myself a certain way as well as have the house we shared in pristine condition at all times. It was all about showing the world that what we had was perfect, our love, our home, our extensive travel plans but it was all a mask for what was truly going on. The more I focused on the external, meaningless, superficial things, the more I felt empty inside.

At this point you may be thinking, well why didn’t you leave? That is a very fair comment from the outside looking in but by this point I had become addicted to the ‘love’ I was receiving. Like any cycle with addition, it had a hold on me! The gas lighting had started to affect me and I doubted by sanity, I truly believed him when he told me that no one in the world could ever love me as much as he could. Looking back he often would make offensive jokes poking fun at my insecurities and my anxiety which unfortunately led me into a downward spiral.

The next step for me was experiencing isolation, I have always been such a sociable person with my friends and family being so important to me. Don’t get me wrong, I could go to work, go to the gym but wherever I went I had to have a reason and had to be clear how long I was going to be and who I would be with. He would constantly check up on me, whether that was checking my phone or asking friends whether I was with them. I know that my friends and family struggled through this time, they saw me withdrawing but couldn’t understand why. Every time I wanted to go and spend time with others, it was made extremely hard for me to go. I was blamed for not putting his needs first, for expending all my energy on others and not enough energy on him. It was utterly exhausting and over time I started to cancel these plans more and more as honestly I couldn’t face the argument that would ensue.

Physically, my body was showing me all the signs that I needed to be shown. But, honestly I have never been great at listening to my body or my intuition. I was constantly run down with mouth ulcers, tired and run down ALL the time! I now understand that emotional abuse is an attempt to control, in just the same way that physical abuse is an attempt to control another person. The only difference is that the emotional abuser does not use physical hitting, kicking or other physical forms of harm. Commonly, the perpetrator of emotional abuse does not know that they are being abusive. I think looking back this made it harder for me to understand what was going on as he wasn’t consciously aware of what he was doing, he blamed everything that was wrong on everyone else around him (another common sign).

Towards the end, I couldn’t no longer hide from the voice in my head that said to me everyday ‘you need to leave’ – I slowly became stronger and started to find a lot of support from the wellness world, I was able to see that the toxic behaviour in our relationship wasn’t normal starting ‘stumbling’ across articles about emotional abuse and narcissistic behaviour. I started to resonate with so much of what other people were saying. I think this information came at such a critical time as I was able to validate my feelings for myself for the first time in years. It was at that time that I created my platform @thewellbeinggirl.. in the last few months this became an outlet for me to grow and free myself from that situation that I was stuck in. It literally saved me!

It has taken me a long time to speak out about what I went through (as it was only a year and a half ago). So when Kate asked me to share my story to help others I thought long and hard about it. In short I couldn’t say no.

This isn’t about blame I have no hard feelings for what I experienced as looking back it all helped bring me to where I am today. I hope I can be a small part of creating positive change and shifting the perception of emotional abuse as if it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone. I felt obliged to share yet another part of my story as all of the darkness creates the light and it’s all part of who I am today. I am sure there are people out there in similar situations that need to hear my story, if this is you then I hope that this will help you in starting your journey towards breaking free.

A few signs you may be experiencing emotional abuse:

1. You walk on eggshells to avoid disappointing your partner.

2. Your partner uses gaslighting to maintain the upper hand in the relationship.

3. Your partner requires constant check-ins and wants to know where you are and who you are with at all times.

4. Your partner says hurtful things about you disguised as “jokes.”

5. You find yourself apologizing even when you know you’ve done nothing wrong.

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