I consider myself a strong, confident woman with an occasional bout of verbal diarrhea. My confidence, candor, and sense of self-worth stem from my (what I consider very fortunate) upbringing. My family is unconventional by Indian standards and we often stick out like sore thumbs. But what makes it work and so great is that the individual is more important that any tradition, the ability to tap into your potential is always supported (though with some initial resistance), and where candid conversations are a norm.
Despite all this exposure and support, when in my 20s, I found myself stuck in a relationship that was emotionally abusive and one that I just couldn’t get out of. It took me 7 years, lots of lying to my usually supportive parents, unending tears and heartbreak, completely eroded self-worth, and endless hours of counselling to get out of the same. As I look back as a more mature individual, I was able to critically evaluate what made me, this young, seemingly independent girl, succumb, and worse, stay in a relationship that was just not right.
Image source: Pixabay, under Creative Commons License
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First, the reason I got into the relationship is that ‘Mr Small’ (Hell, if Sex and the City has a Mr Big why can’t I have a Mr Small. I am referring to his mind and not any other parts of his body) seemed perfect on paper. Looks – check; success criteria – check; verbal skills – check; charming – check; good looking – check; tall – check; well-dressed – hmmm, maybe a check. My relationship with Mr Small started out like any relationship, incessant talking on the phone, sharing all the intimate details of my life, romance on overdrive. The signs that Mr Small was emotionally abusive were staring me in the face, but basking in the newfound love, I refused to see the writing on the wall. For those of you who have been in an emotionally abusive relationship, you know it is psychological warfare, and Mr Small was winning hands down. His ability to make me feel stupid, humiliate me in front of friends and even family, force his time and choices on me, ask for my opinion only to undermine me, trying to control my behavior, belittling my accomplishments… it is a veritable laundry list.
Reality finally hit me, when we were out one day and I was meeting his childhood friends for the first time. I put my best foot forward and brought my A game. I found myself connecting with them and making great headway to fit in. I also needed to set a little more context as to why this was hard. These guys were traditional Hyderabadis, so their world view was very different from mine, a person born and brought up in the open and less traditional environs of Bangalore.
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Once dinner started, Mr Small started to get more sullen, glowering at me, banging the cutlery on the table. I didn’t understand what the problem was. Once we got into the car with his friends, that’s when all hell broke loose. He started his tirade on how I had no morals, was openly flirtatious, and had no sense of propriety. He went on to say that I should head off with one of his friends and I was only with him for his money. I am also a firebrand, and I started screaming back and said I wanted to end this relationship because I didn’t want to be with an insecure man. By then, his friends, a building watchman, a few other drivers and some 20 odd passers-by were spectators to this argument. I felt humiliated, I felt naked.
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My pride and self-respect didn’t let me be with a man like this. However, ironically, I found myself going back. The reason was he seemed sorry, he apologized and said never again; I believed gullibly that I was the ‘ONE’ that could change him. More importantly, he had successfully emotionally manipulated me and gotten under my skin. He gradually eroded my self-confidence and made me feel that I wasn’t smart enough, good looking enough, talented enough, and how he, this loving, kind, generous man was making all the compromises to be with me. I was conditioned to believe that I should be grateful and that I could NEVER do better than this, that HE, he was getting the short end of the stick.
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My parents, friends, family all warned me, but I saw no reason. I just kept believing this is what I deserve and that I was actually lucky. I slowly became more reclusive, I found myself avoiding friends, family, and any outings with them. From a gregarious girl, I had become a weepy, an empty shell of my former self. Some part deep inside me knew this didn’t feel right, but every time I tried to break up, he would make a gesture of grandiose, expensive jewelery , flowers every day (sometimes taller than my 5 foot 7 inches), home cooked meal, tattoo of my name on his body, and few attempts at suicide (at least only verbal threats). I went through the gamut of emotions – I felt happy, sad, elated. But more importantly, I felt trapped.
I realized I needed help because he was now putting pressure on me to get married. I had postponed it for years. I felt myself slipping in deeper and deeper and wanted to meet a person to help me come to terms with this feeling of unease. That is when I went to a psychologist, who, over multiple sessions helped me see what was happening, how I was being manipulated by a master puppeteer. I had so much anger… anger with myself for letting myself get manipulated, my parents for not protecting me, my boyfriend for subjecting me to so much. Some of it was rational, some irrational, but it was all part of my healing process. I finally took 6 months and weaned off this relationship. It made me afraid to love again, but I am taking my time through this journey, and I have taken more accountability of myself both in and beyond a relationship. I find myself in a happier place than I have ever been.
Image source: Pixabay, under Creative Commons License
My lesson and my two pennies worth to the strong, independent women out there. You may think you are strong, empowered, and beyond getting caught up in a mess like this. But the stronger we are, the harder we fall. Psychological battles are intense and often, we just don’t have the stamina to withstand the long term mental manipulation of such master manipulators.
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My three rules that I now abide by:
1) You can’t live on love and fresh air; find someone who is mentally in sync with you rather than good on a checklist
2) It is important to listen to the people who have got your back (usually your parents and your close friends), because they help you see a more holistic version of the person you are involved with
3) It’s not embarrassing to reach out for professional help. Sometimes having a person who is not involved in your life and giving you an unbiased view is the best thing that can happen.
For those of you still in an abusive relationship – physical or emotional – and wanting to reach out, you can contact the NLT editorial team and we can be in touch with you and guide you through it.
Featured image source: Pixabay, under Creative Commons License