(an edited repost)
I’ve always known I was too damn smart to get stuck in a toxic relationship. If I spotted the manipulation, it couldn’t affect me. I was too perceptive to be controlled, too aware to let someone get the better of me, and yet I spent several months having my self-worth chipped away one piece at a time, and leaving was a struggle that I still barely understand.
I knew what was happening. His psychological abuse was not exactly covert, and yet I kept trying to fix it, kept taking all the blame onto my own shoulders. Every time I managed to leave, I went back. I told my friends how many mistakes I made. I developed a hundred ways of taking on all the blame. Self-awareness has its downfalls in a relationship like that. I knew all my flaws, and if I could just become perfect, it would mend every bridge. I could earn love if I could just change enough.
I was told that no man would ever be good enough for my impossible standards. I believed him even though many men had been good enough for my “impossible” standards.
I existed in his world according to his rules. My identity went onto the pile alongside my dignity and self-esteem. I was trained to behave like a good rescue dog: never bark, always sit when told, greet every cruelty with loyalty and obedience. What I struggled to learn was how to be silenced. For the longest time, I used my voice, even when I was scared to. That was my greatest downfall. You don’t speak your truth unless you’re willing to accept the rage that follows, and so ultimately I lost the courage to speak up.
I didn’t want to be held accountable to leave, so instead, I spoke about rainbows. It was intensely isolating. Even my closest friends didn’t know the truth about my life.
Every aspect of my character was torn apart. Nothing was too precious to evade attack. Everyone had been raped and I was the only one complaining about it, he said. My epilepsy was just a tool to manipulate, he said. The death of my friend was meaningless because he can’t have meant that much to me, he said. Some days I hated myself so much I wanted to die.
Gaslighting that goes on for long enough leaves you feeling as though you have some kind of concussion. You lose a sense of yourself. You forget that there is a space in the world where you end and he begins. It’s as though you get sucked into someone else’s body. You must exist not as an individual, but as an extension of somebody else.
Posting this on my own profile is terrifying. I’m still controlled by him, still scared of the consequences of being free. After he left, I began counting the days. The longer I stayed away, the prouder I became and the clearer I saw the truth: I am a woman of value. I’ve started to believe it.