It’s everyone’s worst nightmare — to think that a relationship that started out of love between two individuals can turn abusive, where the victim feels shackled to their abuser.
In the U.S. alone, statistics show that one in three adolescents will become victims of physical, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse in a relationship, and over half of college students claim that abuse is hard to identify.
The result is a lack of awareness of abuse in young people and college students, and several victims who are afraid to speak about their experiences or unsure of what is “normal” in a relationship.
Abby Reitan, a sophomore at Minnesota State University Moorhead, opened up about a previous relationship that turned into emotional abuse. She discussed how her abuser came off as “clingy” and “pushy,” but she did not realize what was going on at the time.
“At first, I was totally clueless on the emotional abuse that went on in our relationship and even friendship for many years,” Reitan explained.
Reitan discussed that going through emotional abuse was hard. “If you have self doubts like I do. and the emotional abuse goes on for awhile, it almost becomes ingrained in your mind,” Reitan said. “You want to please them before worrying about yourself until you can’t do so anymore.”
In the case with her abuser, Reitan explained that over time she felt as if she were doing more and more things for him and getting nothing in return.
The unfortunate reality for most victims of emotional abuse, is that it can be difficult to identify. “I started to realize the emotional abuse slowly. Within a year, it had completely dawned on me and I had reached my limit at the same time,” Reitan stated. She went on to explain that she had realized at that moment that she had to break the relationship off.
However, the longer lasting symptom of emotional abuse often comes in the form of severe anxiety and depression for the victims.
“I tried breaking it off and they became more clingy, pushy and even got very angry,” Reitan continued. “I couldn’t break up with them face to face because of the major anxious meltdown I was having when I finally got the resolve break up with them.”
In the aftermath of her abusive situation, she is still recovering. “I find it hard to talk to (my abuser) even if we still are ‘friends’ in a weird, messed up way,” Reitan said. “At the same time, after the initial emotions and getting over it, I found that I had a sense of freedom I didn’t before.”
However, she explained that it is the same feeling of freedom and the experience of her past abusive relationship, that makes her leery to try a relationship again in the future. In spite of this, she hopes that she can find a healthier relationship.
When asked about her thoughts about awareness about emotional abuse, Reitan explained that she does not feel that is a subject that is talked about enough.
“Some people still have the older mindset that argument and other acts of emotional abuse is stuff that can be worked out,” Reitan said. She continued to explain that it rarely works out in favor of the victims of abuse.
In other cases, she believes that emotional abuse is not discussed openly because of the belief that emotional abuse is “just something they should deal with because they ‘love’ their significant other even if the significant other doesn’t love them back.”
Emotional abuse is often about control for the abuser, and for survivor’s like Reitan, escaping that nightmarish cycle of destructive dating behavior is the first step toward the road of recovery.
If you, or someone you know, is a victim or survivor of abuse, The National Domestic Violence Hotline is free, confidential and can provide immediate support. If you are afraid your internet usage might be monitored, you can also call their 24/7/365 toll free hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), 1-855-812-1011 (VP) and 1-800-787-3224 (TTY).