When first contacted by this remarkable young lady I had no idea what she had been through. What her bubbly smile, confident demeanour, and bright eyes masked.
Whilst the title of this blog post sounds heavy, I ask you to read on.
Why? If you've ever attended safeguarding training, be that for adults or children, you are taught about the signs and consequences of different types of abuse: Physical, Verbal, Sexual, Neglect, Discriminatory and Emotional (to name a few). You are given the policies and procedures to follow should a concern arise, as we all have a duty of care to look out for vulnerable individuals, namely children, the disabled and the elderly.
Often in the midst of looking out for others we forget to look out for ourselves. Rarely considering that we may in fact actually be the vulnerable ones.
No matter your background abusers do not discriminate, they destroy.
This account challenges us to consider just who is vulnerable?
It explores how events may go unrecognised, and the difficulty confronting the reality of the situation when emotionally attached, even in love with, the perpetrator.
She herself is the voice of strength, reminding us that no matter how hard it may seem, there is always an escape route waiting, and that these experiences can have detrimental consequences even after the storms have passed.
This is Emotional Abuse...Through Her Eyes
"When someone is described as 'vulnerable', like 'vulnerable young person' or 'vulnerable adult', we make assumptions on who these people are. I would never have considered myself to be 'vulnerable' at the age of 18 because I didn't fall into any of the stereotypical groups I associated with the word. I was still in education, I wasn't on drugs, I was living at home and I was a pretty confident and capable person. I was surrounded by a network of friends and I had hobbies that saw me mixing with a wide range of people.
I was a reasonably mature 18 year old. The moment you discount yourself or someone else as not 'vulnerable', you remove a layer of protection and care, otherwise afforded to others. You make a judgement call that this person is less at risk of harm.
When I was 17, I met someone 16 years my senior. By 18 I had fallen in love with him and we had embarked on a relationship.
It was great.
He was funny, handsome, caring and charming.
He took me to nice places, he cooked for me, he encouraged and supported me with my studies and my hobbies. We went on some amazing holidays and despite me feeling guilty for not being able to contribute financially, he would always reassure me that it was fine, I was a student after all.
There were whispers and mutterings about the age difference but when people saw us together, laughing and smiling, they soon accepted that 'sometimes age doesn't matter' and it made me more determined to prove that.
I went to university and worried a lot about what it meant for our relationship. Luckily for me, he wanted me to come home every weekend and sometimes during the week if I could. He'd show up when I was on nights out with my friends and say how much he missed me and that he'd come to take me home. I thought it was lovely to be missed and thought about so much.
When I moved out of halls, I moved in.
Things began to change without me really noticing, I wasn't allowed my own key. I wasn't allowed to have people round, I wasn't allowed to bring more than a few items of clothing at a time, I couldn't be there unless he was or unless I was locked in.
I was working as well as studying but earning barely enough to pay my train fare each week. This became an issue. He said university was pointless and I'd never succeed anyway. I needed to be paying half for the things we did together. Dinners out, day trips, holidays, all things I couldn't afford and hadn't chosen to do. I didn't drive so would often end up waiting for hours at train stations or walking back alone late at night.
He started using my insecurities against me, he'd make passing remarks about my weight, about my body, about me being unstable or overly emotional. He'd make jokes about it in public and I'd laugh too to try and make it less painful.
He withheld affection and sex, it all became on his terms, which was hard considering I'd had a difficult history with intimacy. I'd overcompensate by spending money I didn't have, buying him gifts or taking him out but it was always wrong and never enough. I knew he was cheating and with multiple people but I felt unable to act.
By this point, I'd become isolated at university.
I'd lost friends because I hadn't seen them.
I'd been so determined to prove people wrong, how could I now tell them I was unhappy?
Before I knew it, I'd become entirely dependent on him. I was depressed, in debt, isolated and had no self worth.
Ending the relationship was the hardest and best thing I have ever done. It took all of my strength and all of my courage to acknowledge that it was unhealthy, even though I didn't believe I deserved any better.
Initially he made it easy for me to leave. He was convinced I'd be back. Then he continued to try and control elements of my life.
He wouldn't return my possessions for months.
He tarnished my reputation by fabricating reasons for our split - generally based on me being emotionally unstable and that he'd had to deal with a lot.
Classic manipulation really.
It has taken years to regain some sense of identity, to begin to understand myself, even just figuring out what I like and don't like.
It continues to affect my relationships now.
I am always fearful that being truly myself will leave me open to more hurt and harm so I never let my guard down and I push people away when they get too close.
It took a while for me to totally break free of him. I've done a lot of soul searching and have had counselling too. I still struggle now and find myself behaving in a very defensive way, like my body and mind are constantly in self preservation/flight mode. Intimacy is the hardest bit and I still struggle with the associations I have between sex and my self worth particularly - am I being used/do I feel obliged. I'm always learning and I have to really depend on and trust who I'm intimate with because I'm scared.
Learning to be loved and learning that sometimes it's ok to rely and need other people is hard but necessary to have fulfilling relationships. Emotional abuse is abuse. It doesn't matter how old you are, how long you've been together, your gender, if you're straight or LQBTQ+, the affect can be devastating.
Understanding and recognising what constitutes a healthy relationship is essential. Encouraging a sense of self-worth is essential.
Until we start talking more openly about what happens behind closed doors and educating children and young people appropriately, everyone is 'vulnerable'."
If yourself, or anyone you know of, are at risk or have been affected by any issues in this post that you feel you need help with then please either reach out and use the contacts below, or drop me a message on my contact page.
It doesn't matter if you are unsure, or if the incident was long ago. If it is impacting your safety, wellbeing and health then make it a priority.
Victim Support: Free confidential service tailored to your needs. Online, calls or Samaritans: Call or drop in for help, support or advice MIND: Offer information about abuse, and contacts for qualified counsellors
Other sources of help, advice and domestic abuse helplines can be found on the Crime Stoppers website.