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By Valerie Guardiola

It’s so often a mistake for us to attribute emotional abuse to purely romantic or intimate relationships. Even when similar actions occur in our careers, families, friendships, or acquaintances there is ease in dismissing it as part of the other person’s personality, and perhaps as nothing tremendously detrimental to our mental health and ourselves.

This sort of abuse, as so many types, does not discriminate, which is why, when I met him, it didn’t matter that I wasn’t young, or naive, or inexperienced. I was not extraordinarily trusting, and I tended to be careful with my heart. All the love I had experienced prior to him was good love, perhaps ending badly, but never necessarily debilitating.

I remember, he was so many things at once – smart, funny, shy, quick to drop a compliment – all the characteristics that Renee Zellweger movies had made me see as desirable. What I didn’t notice was the red flags that those movies failed to point out – aggressive text messages, guilt whenever I had to reschedule a date, naming other girls as “crazy” after he was finished pursuing them, throwing all his attention towards me one day and ignoring me the next.

For the next year our relationship was never consistent, and never anything that was titled, maybe for the better, maybe not. But, because of this lack of commitment I always thought his behavior towards me couldn’t be considered abuse – We’re not actually dating. It’s not like I’m his girlfriend or anything, right? His actions towards me must be more my imagination than anything else.

The reality of it was that he was emotionally manipulative from the beginning, in small ways that added up over time, but were still assassinating my psyche to the point where I didn’t notice its effects until months after I walked away.

My catalyst was a moment where he compared our relationship to a drug for him, something that he could easily “relapse” on. Though perhaps a mild comment to some, this stayed with me for months and months before I left, and before I finally understood what he actually meant – that I was reliable, but also disposable. This commentary is what emotional abuse does in a nutshell – he used these words to humiliate and infantilize me to the point of a diminished sense of identity and self-worth.

Perhaps the worst part of all of this was my ignorance to these tactics until long after. My brain registered my departure as healthy and necessary, but somehow I was still showing up at the same cafes looking for him, hoping he would be out drinking at the places I would meet people for dinner, liking his Instagram posts at 3 a.m. These actions were not normal for me, I knew that, but I had all these emotions running through me. I felt abandoned, I felt hurt, I felt used – even though I was the one who cut off communication.

This is where the abuse became most clear – in the after.

And it took so, so long to heal from, and not done alone either. My privilege came in the form of best friends to tell me what was happening to me, good family to remind me what love really looked like, and a job that kept me healthy and kept my brain moving and busy – all to the point that my healing process worked to my advantage.

No one asks for this sort of situation, and not everyone has the opportunity to experience the love that we deserve. There is a place, though, for healing when emotional abuse is so hidden you can’t find it until after you’re infected.

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