It’s been a while since I’ve written on here. Life has been insanely busy over the past few months. Insanely busy. Busy. Insane. But I’m learning a lot. So I’ll be doing some posts on lessons I’m learning. Here goes the first post. It’s about abuse and abusers.
Over the period of 8 months, I’ve endured an abusive relationship in the form of a roommate that lied, manipulated, and tried to control me in increasingly hostile ways.
She was a textbook narcissist. I couldn’t bring friends over for dinner or she’d have a heart attack–she wanted me to inform her every time someone walked into our house, when they were coming, exactly when they were leaving, etc.,etc., like I was a 5-year-old child who needed to report my activities to her. She stopped paying bills on time, and then stopped paying them altogether. She tried to implement a strict set of rules for cleaning, etc.,–only she expected me to be the only one to follow it. She was belligerent and disrespectful and threw fits when anything didn’t go exactly as she wanted it to go. I began to get panic attacks and feel unsafe every time she came home. It got so bad I wanted to stay in my room or be completely gone when she was in the house, because there was so much darkness in her presence. She piled all the living room furniture into a pile in our living room at 2am one night because she was angry at me. Took all the kitchen supplies so I couldn’t cook and then left for an entire week. Yeah, stuff like that. And she lied to the landlord about various things—which the landlord and I finally put together.
Oh, but she could be very charming when she needed to be—which is how all abusers work.
I lived with this girl for 8 months, and I only began to see the truth about her 6 months in. Which goes to show how hard it can be to see abuse for what it truly is. There were signs from the beginning. Red flags that when looking back, I’m frustrated at myself for not seeing. But eventually, the truth came out. I had friends and family concerned for me when I would tell them stories about her, and I finally began to stand up for myself and ask hard questions, see through her lies, ask for help (from the landlord), and not cave in anymore to the pressure of just trying to be “good” and not be too threatening if I exerted my own independence against this abuser.
It was hard (to say the least). I went to counseling the week after she finally moved out—she tried to sneak out a month early without telling me, but luckily the landlord and I were in close communication—and I broke down and cried and just completely fell apart. So much anxiety, tension, and sorrow had been building up for months, and I didn’t truly recognize how deeply the abuse had affected me until she was gone.
“I feel like I just went through an abusive relationship,” I told my counselor.
“Well, you did,” said my counselor. “So you’ll need to process it that way. Just because you weren’t dating doesn’t mean it wasn’t abusive. You lived together in close quarters, and you were damaged by this toxic person.”
Her words helped me validate my own pain, to the things I felt but couldn’t quite verbalize. Up until that counseling session, I’d never called my roommate an abuser. I mean, she’s only a roommate, right? How bad can a roommate be? Certainly roommates aren’t abusive. That’s for boyfriends and spouses, right? That’s for other people in other scenarios. Not her. Not this person I let into my life 8 months ago.
But suddenly, I had a name: abuser. And it helped. It helped make sense of the turmoil I’d felt, the pain I’d experienced, and the healing that I’d need to work through.
You see, I’m realizing I’m attracted to abusers in all shapes and forms. I’ve had relationships and friendships throughout the course of my life that have been extremely controlling, selfish, one-sided, and harmful. I can think back to one other roommate situation in college that was particularly toxic and abusive—although I didn’t realize it at the time. I can think back to dating scenarios and other friendships with people who controlled me, manipulated me, lied to me, hurt me—although I usually internalized it and thought it was all my fault (which is what abusers want–they will blame everything on you).
You see, my Kindred Spirit (my friend who died inside an abusive cult environment) struggled with these same issues, too—and I’m still wrestling through the fact that we were so. dang. similar. All the beautiful parts, all the broken parts. We were empaths, people who truly love and want to care about others–and empaths are HUGE targets for abusers.
BUT here’s what I’m learning.
1. I’m learning that intuition is everything. That no matter how “nice” a person seems, when the alarm bells are going off in the deepest part of one’s gut—there is always a reason. When you can’t trust someone or fully let them in (even when they demand it), there’s always a reason. Lots of people aren’t safe. (For example: I KNEW deep down I couldn’t depend on my roommate from the very get go, and that intuition grew stronger and stronger as the months passed. I knew something was off long before I realized she was lying about a lot of things.)
2. I’m learning that abusers mask themselves in garments of light—that abusers will learn what makes you feel good and try to hide their lies and manipulation with compliments and offers of help just so you’ll feel more confused when they control you.
3. I’m learning that abusers are often very damaged people, and that they often find particularly empathetic people to milk sympathy. They will tell your their story and make you feel sorry for them so that when they start demanding things from you, you will want to help them, heal them, or not let them down like so many others have in the past. Abusers are pros at playing the Victim Card. (For example, my roommate told me some of her life story and kept lamenting that no one had ever stuck around in her life growing up. As an empath, this immediately made me so sorry for her and made me see her as a victim, not an abuser.)
4. I’m learning that once you start to realize an abuser’s games and start to resist, all their charm goes away and they will become vicious and violent. But only to you. Not to everyone else on the outside.
5. I’m learning that if you’re having doubts about a person and your friends and family really don’t like what they’re hearing about someone–that you should always heed that advice. Even if you can justify behavior (because the toxicity often comes on so gradually you don’t even realize it), the people who truly love you will NEVER justify abuse.
6. I’m learning that abusers will seem very nice and charming to people on the outside and will tell lies about you and turn people against you. Still, no matter what they say about you, you know the TRUTH, and you know the truth can set you free from the opinions of others.
7. I’m learning that there is pride and healing in standing up for oneself, hope when you believe you yourself are worth defending and worthy of being respected.
I’ve been learning a lot. Lessons I wish I didn’t have to learn. Lessons that have been painful. Lessons years in the making.
And that’s okay. I’m healing. I’m growing. I’m striving to thrive. New beginnings do come.
In the end, I’m learning that this is all that really matters.
Photo by Adobe Stock/sparky