Love shouldn’t hurt.
Victims of abuse often wear a happy face publicly, to mask the amount of pain they are experiencing at the hands of someone they love. Emotional abuse is a type of domestic violence that is easy to hide. It’s easy to miss the signs, even when it’s happening to you.
“The scars from mental cruelty can be as deep and long-lasting as wounds from punches or slaps but are often not as obvious. In fact, even among women who have experienced violence from a partner, half or more report that the man’s emotional abuse is what is causing them the greatest harm.” -Lundy Bancroft
As a teenager, I used to hear about cases of domestic abuse where the abusive partner was physically violent. I vowed to never stay with any man who hit me.
I didn’t know that not all abuse is physical. I didn’t know that there are many abusive patterns beyond physical acts of violence. A partner might humiliate you and put you down. They might try to control where you go, what you wear, and who you are friends with. They might belittle and trivialize your accomplishments, opinions, hopes, and dreams. They might make you feel like they are always right and you are always wrong. They might constantly blame everyone else for their behavior without ever admitting mistakes or apologizing. They might give you the silent treatment for weeks. They might use “gaslighting” (basic definition: pretending that their poor treatment of you didn’t happen) to manipulate you into feeling crazy. They might even threaten to commit suicide if you don’t do exactly what they want.
When I was 21, I was in a relationship where these things happened to me. I knew something was wrong in my relationship, but I didn’t know what to call it. I didn’t understand how a person who claimed to love me could treat me so poorly. My ex-partner never hit me, but I still lived in fear. I walked on eggshells, never knowing if it would be a good day or another day where I would take the blame for everything wrong in his life. He made me feel like I didn’t matter.
This man was someone I’d known for years. I met him when I was a teenager. Back then, I saw a young man who was sensitive, talented, and soft-spoken. He was the first boy I ever kissed. We were in contact intermittently for years. When we were dating seriously, I considered him my closest friend. He was my first love. I thought I knew him. I never imagined he’d grow so cruel.
Months after finally escaping the cycle, I was on Twitter and I noticed a hashtag, “#MaybeHeDoesntHitYou”. As I read through the tweets, I saw for the first time that I was not alone in my struggle. I saw how many other people dealt with manipulative and hurtful behaviors from a partner. Like me, many initially did not realize what was happening to them, even as it destroyed their confidence and sense of self-worth.
If you read these and feel like they describe your relationship, please know that it isn’t your fault. You do not deserve to be treated this way, especially not by someone who claims to love you.
- #MaybeHeDoesntHitYou but you still know that something is wrong, even if you don’t know what to call it.
- Maybe he doesn’t hit you but he constantly makes you feel undeserving of his time and affection.
- Maybe he doesn’t hit you but he gaslights you so much that you start to doubt your own memories and perceptions.
- Maybe he doesn’t hit you but he constantly moves the goalposts. Every time you think you’ve won, he creates another obstacle.
- Maybe he doesn’t hit you but he treats you like you’re crazy if you ever call him on his bad behavior.
- Maybe he doesn’t hit you but he belittles you in front of other people.
- Maybe he doesn’t hit you but he feels threatened by your successes. He makes you feel bad for being ambitious, talented, smart, and capable.
- Maybe he doesn’t hit you but he constantly corrects you and treats you like you can’t make your own decisions.
- Maybe he doesn’t hit you but every time he hurts you, he manages to turn it around and make it your fault for “overreacting”.
- Maybe he doesn’t hit you but he deliberately makes promises he has no intention of following through on to keep you from leaving.
- Maybe he doesn’t hit you but when he punches the brick wall next to you, you wonder if your turn will come.
- Maybe he doesn’t hit you but he criticizes the way you dress, the music you like, your friends, your struggles, and even the way you speak
- Maybe he doesn’t hit you but he is the only one allowed to have a hard day. If you are sad, you are “whiny”. If you are hurt, you need to “grow up”.
- Maybe he doesn’t hit you but nothing is ever his fault. Apologies are late if they come at all.
- Maybe he doesn’t hit you but even on “good” days, you’re waiting for the other shoe to drop.
- Maybe he doesn’t hit you but you have to ask permission before going out with your friends.
- Maybe he doesn’t hit you but he gives you the silent treatment for days if you ever say something “wrong”.
- Maybe he doesn’t hit you but he repeatedly crosses your boundaries.
- Maybe he doesn’t hit you but he dislikes when you have strong opinions.
- Maybe he doesn’t hit you but he goes through bouts of extreme jealousy.
- Maybe he doesn’t hit you but he makes you feel bad for having a good day when he didn’t.
- Maybe he doesn’t hit you but it is a battle every day to remember your worth after feeling small for so long.
- Maybe he doesn’t hit you but you still replay his critiques of you in your head, even after he’s long gone.
- Maybe he doesn’t hit you but he made you believe that you were selfish, needy, oversensitive, over-reactive.
- Maybe he doesn’t hit you but even after all this time, you still find yourself apologizing for everything.
- Maybe he doesn’t hit you but he’ll tell you that he loves you, and then all the reasons you’re not good enough, in the same breath.
These behaviors are not normal and they are not okay. This is not what love looks and feels like. Love is not possession. Love should not make you feel crazy. Love should not purposely hurt you over and over. You are not a punching bag to be hit with harsh words and accusations. You are not a marionette to be controlled and manipulated. You are not meant to be put into a box.
“In a dating and courtship relationship, I would not have you spend five minutes with someone who belittles you, who is constantly critical of you, who is cruel at your expense and may even call it humor. Life is tough enough without having the person who is supposed to love you leading the assault on your self-esteem, your sense of dignity, your confidence, and your joy. In this person’s care, you deserve to feel physically safe and emotionally secure.” -Jeffrey R. Holland
The after-effects of emotional abuse are often severe and long-lasting. Emotional abuse from a partner can result in PTSD, anxiety, and depression, severe stress, and a lack of trust. High-school and college-aged women are at a particularly high risk of experiencing emotional abusive behaviors. It is critical that this type of abuse is more recognized so that there are fewer victims.
The hashtag was created to bring attention to the emotional abuse inflicted upon women by their male partners. Unfortunately, many people experience emotional abuse from loved ones. Emotional abusers can be any gender. They might be friends, parents (or other family members), or even managers at work. A lot of us have unhealthy behaviors that can cause problems in our relationships, but a pattern of abuse is very different from a few bad habits.
I still have days where I look in the mirror and I can only see what he saw: a prideful, selfish, rude, egotistical, and attention-seeking girl. I still hear his biting remarks in my head. His abuse continues to impact my mental health and relationships. It took several tries for me to truly leave him behind and escape the cycle. I hoped desperately that he could change, but he never did. Cutting off communication with him was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.
Please know that you are worthy of love, respect, and kindness. My life changed when I was finally able to free myself from a toxic, abusive person. I truly never knew the weight I was carrying until I felt the freedom of letting it go. I hope that in helping people see these signs, they can get away sooner than I did. Sadly, most abusers struggle to change their behavior in the long run. Abusive people do not deserve a million chances. You owe them nothing. Your safety and sanity are too important to put in the hands of someone who will only tear you down.
No one has the right to treat you poorly and call it love. You are worthwhile. You are enough. You are not alone.