Abuse Never Starts As Abuse


He sent me love songs every morning at 5:30 am. I’d wake up to his orchestrated symphony.

I’ve never felt this close to anyone, he said. He was grooming me then.

One of the warning signs of an emotionally violate man is disparaging remarks he makes about ex-wives and girlfriends. While it is normal to have one or two relationships that have soured, beware of the man who claims to have dated only women with mental disorders.

Bipolar, Narcissist, Cheater, Lunatic, these were the adjectives he used to describe women. I foolishly believed I would never be described this way.

At the beginning, I was put on a pedestal. He compared me to his ex-girlfriends, and I was always better, kinder, more forgiving. Those women had not known how to love him. I was making him feel comforted and safe. Later when his mask began to slip and I caught him in lies, he would simply tell me I was acting like an unstable ex-girlfriend. Already conditioned to believe those women were the enemy, I would scramble to apologize instead of defending myself.

Another technique that abusive men use is gas-lighting. This is one of the most insidious types of emotional abuse. It makes a person question their reality. When an abusive man can manipulate a woman into believing his version of things, he has been successful at creating the perfect victim.

There were many instances of gas lighting in our relationship. One night we went into New York City to eat Japanese food and see Burlesque. We reveled in kisses and conversation. The following morning, I woke up cheerful from what I believed to be a good night. I was confronted by his scathing accusation that I had blacked out from drinking and made an abusive scene on the sidewalk of New York.

I stared at him incredulously. I had not blacked out. I had driven us home from the train. I remembered every detail of the evening and every conversation we had.

That never happened, I kept saying.

The more I questioned him in disbelief, the more he became enraged. He was so adamant and angry that I actually started to wonder if I had blacked out. I apologized to him, mortified that I could actually black out without knowing it. As soon as I said sorry, he relented and was sweet again.

How do you put up with his rage? His best female friend asked me in private the very first time I met her. I was uncomfortable and afraid to talk about it with her.

I deserve his anger. I screw up. I remember shamefully telling her in a hushed whisper before he came back from the bathroom.

Later on in private, I tried to talk about this uncomfortable conversation with him, and he got angry. He punished me by not speaking to me for three days.

The most shameful part of this relationship, for me, is how I begun to crave him and the tumult he brought into my life. I was broken down to the point that I took blame for everything.

He would disappear, flirt with other women, forget to call, ignore my birthday, convince me that my friends were all badmouthing me, passively aggressively freeze me out for days without reason, or go into startling rages where he would stand over me and scream, but somehow it was my fault for being the needy, clingy, anxious girlfriend he warned me never to become. I found myself making promises to change. 

I’ll get therapy. I’ll take meds. I’ll do whatever you need, I would beg. It’s shameful to look back and remember this now. It was only through therapy that I was able to see that his grooming and then systematic abuse had caused me to act love addicted and codependent.

This sort of cognitive dissonance is hard for someone who has not been in an abusive relationship to understand. We start out healthy, but get so demoralized and broken down, that we actually become the types of women who check phones, call repeatedly crying, and apologize profusely. These men then use that as evidence to manipulate everyone around them into thinking that they are the actual victims of unstable girlfriends.

I wish I could say that I was the one that walked away. I did not. I did, however, start to fight back. This resulted in him breaking up with me. One of his last parting gifts was to tell me I was the ugliest woman he had ever met. He called me a human parasite, and threatened to punch me in the face if I ever came near him again. Even then, I felt a strange compulsion to apologize. This is not uncommon for women who have been groomed for emotional abuse.

My saving grace came in a note from a woman who would go on to date him after me. After we broke up, he sent me spiteful emails letting me know that she was everything I had not been.

I love her, and I do everything for her, he told me. These emails would gut me for days, until just as suddenly they were broken up and he was sniffing at my door again.

I wanted him back. My mind tried to trick me with ‘what if.’

What if he gave this woman all the stability he had forsaken me? What if he really had changed? Should I let him back into my life again?

I was fortunate that this ex wrote to me after her breakup with him. She told me she experienced the same dysfunction that I had. Although, she left the first time his abusive side showed while I had stayed. I am so grateful for her.

I wish I had been as strong as she has been, but I know that part of healing comes from taking responsibility for my actions now, being gentle, and forgiving myself.

Today, I am positive I would never allow him in my life again.

If you are a victim of this type of abuse, or know someone who might be, reach out and get help. Leave, or encourage the ones you love to leave. Abuse never starts as abuse. But, once it starts it will erode your self-confidence and force you into a prison of shame. This is never okay.