My name is Grace and I am a victim of emotional abuse. That short sentence expresses something that took me years to process and come to terms with. It addresses something that had the power to change my entire life. This happened to me 5 years ago, and even after all of that time some parts of writing this were difficult for me. However, I would like to make clear that despite my struggles I don't blame anyone. I'm grateful that the experience allowed me to grow into the person that I am today, although I wouldn't wish it on anyone.

I feel very passionate about educating others on the topic of emotional abuse and intimate partner violence. It seems that in today's culture emotional abuse is commonly overlooked or brushed off and that's unacceptable. It's way past the time to start the conversation about intimate partner violence and how we can take steps to help victims and end the epidemic.

My Experience

While it was happening to me, I didn't even know what emotional abuse was. I knew that there was a problem with how my boyfriend was treating me. I knew that it wasn't normal for me to be walking on eggshells around him yet at the same time incredibly emotionally dependent on him. I knew it wasn't okay for him to insist that I cut off contact with all of my friends and for him to grow angry when he saw me communicating in any way with another guy. I knew it was unusual that he would go hours without talking to me because I would break eye contact while talking to him. I knew that he shouldn't be screaming at me in public places and that I shouldn't be tearfully begging him to forgive me when I didn't do anything at all. I knew that there was a problem with the manipulation I was experiencing and the pain that I felt. Despite all of these red flags and more, I fiercely defended his behavior and stayed in the relationship. 

It's often difficult for those who are experiencing emotional abuse to identify that it's happening to them. Sure, I knew that some things in my relationship weren't normal, and neither was he. However, when I tried to explain to anyone how "wrong" things were, I couldn't put the sense of unease into words. I just thought that I was in "love" with a damaged person who needed a little extra love and understanding. I thought that a "real" relationship meant carrying your partner's burdens and making huge mental and emotional sacrifices for them. I knew that I wasn't necessarily happy and that his constant threat of a break up felt sometimes like a massive relief, but I figured that since he wasn't hitting me, I was fine. That he was just damaged and I could love him and help him get better.

The Facts

When I first saw the term "emotional abuse" a couple months after we broke up, it was like someone dropped a bomb on me. I felt such an incredible sense of relief to realize that there was a name for what happened to me and a variety of resources to help me process it. 

I used to think my experiences and the large amount of trauma that came from them was unique. However, girls and young women aged 16-24 experience nearly triple the national average rate of intimate partner violence. Emotional abuse is often harder to spot than physical abuse and many victims don't realize it's happening or feel reluctant to tell anyone about their experiences. 

Emotional abuse and manipulation can have an effect on victims for the rest of their lives. The emotional trauma that comes with emotional abuse isn't any different from that which accompanies physical abuse. Women who have been abused report higher rates of mental illness and are at a much higher risk of engaging in risky sexual behavior or substance abuse. Psychologically speaking, experiencing abuse during adolescence alters the way you form relationships with others and makes you much more likely to engage in abusive relationships into adulthood. 

What Can You Do

Even though each instance is unique, there are several commonalities that can help you identify if you or a friend is suffering from emotional abuse. Several examples are: if they're constantly being put down or scolded by their partner, if their partner is trying to isolate them from friends and family, or if their partner engages in extremely jealous or possessive behavior. You can find a more complete list here, along with a description of other forms of intimate partner violence. 

Although in most cases emotional abuse is hard to identify, if you suspect that someone you know may be experiencing it there are a few things that you can do. First and foremost, approach them with empathy and respect. Ask them if they're happy in their relationship and how they feel about the way that their partner treats them. Remind them that you're their friend and that you're there to help them. Make sure to be respectful and understanding; often victims of intimate partner violence will become defensive when confronted with the abuse that they put up with. You can find more tips here on how to approach a friend who you think may be a victim. 

In a broader sense, there needs to be more awareness brought to intimate partner violence and emotional abuse. Many people are familiar with the concept of physical abuse but not emotional. Given that intimate partner violence is so prevalent in young people and that its effect is so profound, it is unacceptable that as a freshman in high school I had never even heard the term. With time and hard work I was able to heal emotionally and regain a healthy sense of self worth, but many victims aren't as lucky. There needs to be more education in middle and high school on how to spot dating violence and resources made more widely available for those trying to recover from the experience. 

It's time to end the all-too-common silence on emotional abuse and dating violence