*Content Warning: domestic and emotional abuse, manipulation, mental health, long-term healing*
During the last year and a half of my school years, I was in an emotionally abusive relationship. I didn’t realise it until our final break up (there were many attempts), when I could finally detach myself from him a week before starting uni in 2018. The aim of this piece is to discuss the long-term effects of a break-up, and quite fittingly I’m sitting at my desk writing this and only just realising, for the first time in a long time, that I am still, a year and a half later, feeling the long-term effects.
Looking back through our messages now, it is heart-breaking to see the treatment that I endured unknowingly for so long. Our last conversation, where we were breaking up again over text, involved him threatening to kill me if I came to his house. There were times a friend would post a photo of me with a drink in hand, and I’d receive messages from him saying he “couldn’t fucking believe” me, even if the drink was a beer my housemaster had given me on a Saturday night. It’s now that I realise he didn’t let me drink because it made him feel out of control.
He was never physically violent, but I had never considered the full extent of how damaging manipulation can be. By the time we were over, I had completely lost any sense of my identity. My life had been so focused on being what he wanted me to be, what he didn’t like about me – I believed when he said I was lacking in everything from looks to friends and hobbies. And in a way, he was right about the latter – I’d forgotten how to pursue my own interests and do anything that was for me.
I’d tried already before – my first tattoo at the start of that summer was meant to remind me to love and be there for myself. But we got back together soon after, and as he hated tattoos he made me cover it up with a plaster if we were in bed together.
The most difficult part of dealing with this break-up, for me, was coming to terms with the fact that what I had endured was abusive. Emotional abuse and manipulation are not as black and white as physical abuse can be for many people – I’ve spent hours researching what an abusive relationship entails, taken dozens of online questionnaires in an attempt to diagnose the relationship and validate to myself why I was feeling damaged.
In the end, it’s actually quite simple. If your partner makes you feel small, trapped, helpless – it’s abusive. If you have to change yourself, hide parts of yourself, distance yourself from others – it’s abusive. And these feelings don’t just stop after you’ve left the relationship. They most likely won’t even stop when you are “over” that person. The process of healing from any relationship is different for everyone – but healing from a toxic relationship isn’t just about learning to accept being single again, it’s about learning to accept yourself again.
I’d forgotten completely what life was like when I was no longer accountable to someone – the complete freedom was at first unnerving and lonely. I still find myself seeking validation from men as if there’s a hole that I can’t fill on my own, but that’s not to say I don’t enjoy being single – I think actually I’m finally at a place where I can say I do love myself.
Dealing with a break-up is about rebuilding a relationship with yourself again. It’s about treating yourself in the way that you wished your partner had. It’s about taking back control of the things that you used to be passionate about. And it’s fundamentally about love. After having been single for a year and a half, I feel more love in my life now than I ever had in my relationship. You need to remember that your friends love you; your family loves you, people care about you that you never thought did.
The knowledge that you can do it independently too, however, is the most important foundation to build any new relationship on – and it’s a foundation that I’m still working on strengthening. The most important lesson that I’ve learnt from all this is that the only person you can rely on is yourself. This is not to mean that your friends and family are not there for you – they will do the best that they can. But it does mean that at the end of the day, it is up to you to create your own happiness and your own love. It’s something that comes from within you first, and I promise, if you’re going through anything similar; you’ll be able to find it again.
It just takes time.
– Charlotte Weston
Support services for victims of domestic abuse:
“We’ll listen, not lecture”. Exeter Student Nightline is a “confidential and anonymous listening service” that is open every night during term-time from 8pm to 8am. The service is run by trained student volunteers for students – the volunteers listen to anything you may want to talk about. Their phone number can be found on the back of all Uni student cards, or you can find Skype or Instant Messaging service links on their website.
Welfare Support for Students at the University of Exeter
This is a 24 hour National Domestic Abus Helpline run in partnership with Women’s Aid and Refuge for women experiencing domestic abuse, as well as their family and friends. They are a team of “highly-trained, female advisers” who are there to listen, not judge and help you understand your options. They can speak in other langauges, even offering a service for deaf people.
Telephone: 0808 2000 247
National charity at the forefront of working to end domestic abuse against women and children. Their website offers a live chat system, lots of information, details of local services, and a survivor’s handbook, and a forum for speaking to other survivors of deomstic abuse.
Confidential support, advice and information for members of the LGBTQ+ community, their family and friends. Helpline, email and online chat support.
Helpline: 0300 999 5428 (male worker may answer) Monday 10:00-20:00, Tue, Wed 10:00-17:00,Thur 10:00-20:00 and Fri 13:00-17:00. Trans specific service – Tuesday 13:00-17:00.