On recovery from emotional abuse.


CN: Emotional abuse, relationships,

depression, anxiety, self-harm

I have struggled for weeks to write this.

Many reasons, questions and feelings flooded through my head every time I sat down with good intentions. These questions asked me: was I just making it up? Was it more my problem than his? Was I making too big a deal of it all? What if he read it and thought I hated him (I don’t)? As I sit to write it now, I think “why this time?” The answer to that is that I’ve realised all these questions are exactly the same ones that instigated and left me vulnerable to emotional abuse. So now I’m here, and I’ve opened up those boxes in my head, let’s see what tumbles out.

“I just want to hang up, let you hurt yourself and get the help you need.” 2AM. I was in my room, in the midst of the darkest panic attack of my life, and he was outside his own university library. Over the nine months we’d been in our long distance relationship, my fraught calls to him became more and more frequent. Every time he would reiterate: “no, please talk to me, please call, reach out when you need”, and each night he would become less and less available. His phone would be off, he would be out of signal, he would answer, promise to call back and never do it. AWOL until 2pm the following day. I remember fraught morning lectures with the Facebook window open, waiting for the familiar ping. Hours of him not answering, my panic spilling over to my mum and exhausting me for the next day’s work.

I don’t really know how this separation anxiety started, but I hope I do one day. Perhaps some of it came from my own fear of his out of control drunk-ness, his occasional tendencies towards hard drugs, his bursts of anger. This anger was never directed to me, until one night when I messaged him for help – an all too familiar scenario. I received block capitals, curses and slurs back. I told him to ring and say those things to me, out loud. But I wasn’t ready for that uncontrolled rage, and I internalised it as being my fault.

“Is it emotional abuse if the abuser doesn’t know what they’re doing?”

My fault? Two years on, I can finally recognise it absolutely was not my fault. Two years on, I see the immense difficulty he was going through, too. I saw that despite loving each other, his raging anger and self-absorption, and my anxiety were a toxic, potent mix that frankly should never have mixed. I asked myself – were there any red flags?

Yes. After our first, nearly day-long, date. He texted me in the early hours of a morning, telling me he could’ve taken a girl to his room but didn’t, because of me. Meant in the spirit of commitment and passion, instead it became a statement of his seemingly laudable self-control and subtle desire to control me, to prove his commitment to me before I ever had the chance to disprove my commitment for him. From the boy with whom I’d formed my first sexual relationship with, who I was in the process of making my first love, this was catastrophic.


Yes, I fell quickly and deeply, the summer before university. Moving away to the most unstable environment I’d ever experienced, meant my sources of supposed security were more important than ever before. The first time you told me you couldn’t give me the support I needed for my anxiety and depression, I begged you to give me another chance. I told you’d I’d fall apart without you, and asked you to let me use you as my inspiration to get better. By this point, I was far too far gone.

I was too deeply entrenched in only being able to come to you when the panic descended, not before. I was addicted to the rush and relief of hearing your voice after hours of trying to call. Addicted to the reassurance that I knew I would be able to hear from you between my own hyperventilated breaths, telling me you’d be there for me, that I was okay. I became unable to reassure myself, deadened to the reassurance of my mum or my friends.

Is it emotional abuse if the abuser doesn’t know what they’re doing, and the dependencies they’re subconsciously creating? On our second date, you told me you’d save the world or die trying. This became the hero complex you carried, and I became the world. In trying to save me, you obliterated my ability to save myself. I still live with a sickness when I hear the now ubiquitous Messenger ping, an uncanny ability to tell you the pre-recorded voicemail message for O2 and a dread of the empty “not-delivered” tick.

My first reaction when that relationship ended out of the blue, was that I had been ‘too much’ again. Too much, too much, too much. Too much and not too much of myself. Too much anxiety, not enough me. Too much time with you, too much time without. Last night I repeated those words over and over and over again, until they ran out of meaning.

Then, I made a vow. Rather than ever being ‘too much’ again, I will be much myself, too. A scrambled syntax, but to anyone who’s lost themselves in a relationship, it’s the daunting prospect of rebuilding yourself, and falling in love with your solitude. Realising that you can and will love and be loved again, most of all by yourself. Most importantly, by yourself.

Header image by Anna Kharitonova

Second image by Dave Kirkham

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