BRIGITTE.de reader Ines* (37) is a survivor of emotional violence. It took her many sessions with her therapist to figure out what was happening to her.
I had started the therapy because seven months of home office, the pressure at work and the workload had gotten to me so much that I was depressed and on the verge of burnout. Luckily I had a doctor with experience in occupational medicine. She immediately wrote me off sick and recommended psychotherapy.
This was my first time in therapy and for the first few sessions I was tense and tense. My therapist was patient, let me tell the story, summarized, asked questions and then the first breakthroughs came.
I felt like I couldn’t do anything right
Emotional bursts with tears as I was finally able to say that I was overwhelmed, that I felt like I couldn’t do what was being asked of me, that the department I was working in was asking more and more. Exploring and questioning my reaction patterns to stress was the next step.
I can’t remember exactly which statement made my therapist prick up my ears, but it was about my fear of making mistakes and the reaction of my mostly male project managers. She asked me to think about where this feeling that I couldn’t do something right came from before the next session.
At the beginning of the next session I was scared. I had thought about it and some things had surfaced. But I felt stupid, because it wasn’t that bad back then. Or is it? My therapist felt that I didn’t know exactly how to start. She asked me to simply describe a situation that had occurred to me.
In his eyes I was absolutely incompetent
I started: I was red from shaving my armpits and was wondering if I should risk using deodorant or if it would sting too much. “How do you manage to hurt yourself like that while shaving?” He stood behind me in the bathroom door and gave me a questioning look. I said nothing, apparently I could do it. Another thing I couldn’t do properly.
On other days I couldn’t load the dishwasher properly, I couldn’t put the food storage containers in the cupboard properly, I couldn’t change the bed properly – my method was incredibly cumbersome. If I said that’s what I was doing, he thought I was acting like a toddler and should stop immediately. If I forgot to prepare his coffee or toast in the morning, I was being selfish. Just like when I dared to eat without him in the evening.
My plans for weekend things to do were never good enough. He could always improve something and then of course we followed his plan, but he meant well. He only meant well when he didn’t want to take me out of the house the way I was dressed because my skirt or trousers didn’t suit me or he thought the shoes were terrible. He just wanted to show everyone how pretty his girlfriend was.
My friends were weird so we stopped seeing them. When I met my friends without him, he always wanted to know exactly where we’d been and who I’d talked to about what. If I didn’t want to tell that in detail, he was offended. Because I supposedly couldn’t open up to him, I was weird, selfish, emotionally crippled, and unable to relate.
With morning yoga I fought for some space before the day started. But since I got up earlier because of this, it was my fault that he couldn’t sleep well. Besides, I couldn’t be a real yogi anyway—I couldn’t even get my hands to meet in the middle of my back with that stretch.
At some point I gave up
I told my therapist how I eventually gave up. And if defiance flared up, I was punished with withdrawal of love. Especially when I tried to leave him twice. He did not accept my arguments, they were not rational, but “infant logic”. He also wanted to call his mother and uncle right away to help clean up my case. The idea of having to argue with his family, who interfered everywhere, frightened me so much that I stayed. I shared how I finally broke free and how bad I felt for breaking his heart. I felt like the most terrible person in the world, ate little and punished myself with muscle pain through exercise.
At the time, I had asked him for a month’s leave. After that he contacted me, wanted to know if I had someone else. He had found out about my new hobbies and activities through social media – he said I could have done all those things when I was with him. He wished we would try again. I blocked.
After the breakup I was able to breathe again
My therapist asked why I hadn’t. I said that at the time I felt like I could finally breathe again. I could be content again and had stopped biting my nails. At the end of the session, she said to me, “You are a survivor of emotional abuse. When you make mistakes, don’t completely doubt yourself. We all make mistakes.”
Me, a survivor? It wasn’t that bad back then, was it?
I didn’t really get used to the term “survivor”. From my point of view, I had pulled myself out of a difficult relationship – the long-term effects were just harder than I thought.
It took a few more sessions before I realized: I’m a survivor and I got off lightly. I am grateful to my therapist for how gently she helped me deal with the issue of emotional violence and its effects.
“I am a survivor of emotional abuse”
I’m still working on my reaction to mistakes and stress. But now that I understand the causes and triggers better, I can deal with them better than I used to. I can now also say, “I’m an emotional abuse survivor.” But I only do it with people who have known me for a long time and whom I trust completely. Nobody around my ex-partner would believe me.
Our society still pays too little attention to emotional violence. Victims are often dismissed as sensitive or overly sensitive. This makes them feel stupid and silent. The injuries and scars of emotional abuse are often not visible until the man slips his hand or the woman injures herself. We all need to take better care of ourselves and others to recognize and act on emotional violence.
*The author: Ines (37, name known to the editors) lives in Vienna in an open relationship. She is a freedom-loving, open personality who enjoys laughing, travelling, spending time with friends and actively exploring her surroundings.