Rape. A brutal, repulsive word, no doubt. When most people hear that word, they immediately think about physical rape and I certainly don’t need to define that term for you, as you already know what it means. I haven’t been physically raped, so I can’t begin to attest to what victims really feel after it occurs, but I know people who have endured it and I wouldn’t wish that on anybody. Rape is horrible. It is harsh. It is ugly. It is beyond barbaric. And I think physical rape has to be the worst kind of rape there is, hands down, so please know that I’m certainly not diminishing that in any way with this piece.
But have you ever considered that another kind of rape exists? How about emotional rape? It’s prevalent, actually, and unless you happen to be a survivor of it, you’ve probably never even considered the notion, rightfully so. What is emotional rape? Jacquetta Y. Parhams, Ph.D., describes it well her in her book The Case of Emotional Rape:
“Emotional rape is extreme abuse of emotional intimacy, brought about by intentional psychological or emotional coercion or manipulation”.
Have you ever thought about that? Because it happens and it happened to me by someone I trusted implicitly.
He was good at that: getting me to trust him. In fact, he had years to groom me into trusting him before we entered into an intimate relationship since we were “friends” beforehand and I use that term loosely because I truly didn’t know what was about to hit me. He pretended to have a genuine interest in my life and began to insinuate himself into it in every way possible, especially after he found out that my marriage was falling apart and that my former husband and I had separated. I hadn’t told anyone yet except for my closest friends and hadn’t planned on telling anyone outside my inner circle until he invited both my husband and myself to a weekend event he held annually. Initially, I declined his invitation, but that led to more questions and encouragement for both of us to come because it was sure to be a weekend of great fun. I finally told him that if we did happen to come, it wouldn’t be a package deal and I told him why. That’s when the real manipulation began and it continued for almost 5 years.
This particular man was in a position of power and calculatedly used his position to take advantage of my vulnerability when he found out I was planning to file for divorce. He shared stories of his own failed marriage and they were eerily similar. He told me he knew how I felt because he had been where I was. He texted me to check in on me. He called to make sure I was okay. So I started to lean on him because he had been through the same thing I was experiencing and he wanted to be there for me, or so he said. He became the person I confided in and in the five months that followed, he relentlessly pursued me until he wore me down. And that’s exactly what happened. Friends repeatedly warned me (“it will be blow after blow after blow with him”, one said, and it was). People who knew him begged me to run, but I didn’t. As our relationship continued, I often equated life with him to running into a burning building and questioned whether I was incredibly brave or ridiculously stupid. You’ve read my blog about narcissism, and this man is indeed a narcissist, I just didn’t know what that term meant until many years later when I started to dig for information in an effort to understand his behavior.
He was highly skilled at showering me with attention and understanding, and then pulling it away without warning at the drop of a hat. I never understood it and often felt like I had done something to cause it, so I found myself apologizing to him for things I didn’t even know I did. Sometimes, he would respond favorably saying I had done nothing wrong, and in the next breath would say “you sure make a lot of out of nothing” — sadness. I found myself questioning every single thing I knew to be true about myself and my character because of the things he said and did to hurt me. I was filled with such anxiety that sometimes, I couldn’t sleep at night from wondering what I had done or said to make him be such an ass (and that’s putting it lightly because I can’t use the term I really want to use in this moment). He relished in keeping me confused, pushing me away, and then pulling me back in, which was always only to his advantage. I didn’t know at the time that this was part of the devaluing stage of narcissism where he would go silent for days, ignore any communication from me, and make me feel like I was absolutely nothing before suddenly doing an about-face and apologizing for “crazy busy days” or “not feeling social” and the cycle would begin again–over, and over, and over. I always felt like I was fighting my way out of an enclosed corner–one I could never seem to get out of.
Our mutual friends would see him out when he told me he was doing something else, and he was often with other women…women who were nothing like me…women who were more like him. I used to tell him he wanted to live class but play trash and he always turned that around on me. He lied to me so many times that I can’t believe his tongue didn’t rot out of his mouth and yet I stayed because I loved him and I thought he valued me. He didn’t, but he knew how to play the game and how to keep me entangled so that I would think he did.
It took him years to admit he was emotionally abusive to me and even though he said he recognized it, I don’t really think he ever stopped. The words emotionally abusive seem so minuscule when I try to relate them to his treatment of me because I now realize that it went way beyond that. Way. Way. Beyond. It took me moving out of state and far away from him to see the level of damage that he did to me over the years of us knowing one another. He picked me apart emotionally every chance he got in order to make me lose not only my self-respect but also my self-worth. He was able to target every insecurity I had and consistently threw them in my face to make me feel even more insecure so that I would become more emotionally dependent on him for sustainability. There were times he was downright mean with his words and he was usually drunk when he emotionally hit me with whatever decided to fly out of his mouth in the moment. He set his sights on me, he exploited me, he degraded me, and then he discarded me like a puppy he had gotten tired of kicking around.
But you stayed with him, you might say, knowing what people said he was. Yes. Yes, I did. But the fact that I stayed doesn’t change the truth of what he did to me. Nothing changes that part. So when they say love is blind, they aren’t kidding. I stayed because I loved and adored him, truly. And my heart isn’t dirty like his heart is because the word manipulation isn’t even part of my vocabulary. When I love someone, I love them genuinely…purely…without ulterior motives. Yes, I knew what people said about him–no doubt–and I think I also knew what I was getting with him. But he showed me a different side…a side I thought was real. A side that was never there. A side he mirrored to me because he was able to duplicate my emotions so that I would think he had the capability of feeling them. I gave and gave and gave, while he took and took and took some more. When I tell you that he pushed me to the point of exhaustion during our relationship, I’m not exaggerating because I am tired. I am depleted. I am suffering. And I am completely spent.
Raped. I feel emotionally raped.
As I look back on that relationship now, I wonder how I ever endured it. I had to change my life from top to bottom in order to be okay again. I’m still not okay and I still struggle, but every day gets a tad bit better. The anxiety he instilled in me is still there, especially when it comes to men and relationships: both scare the hell out of me because I don’t always trust myself to choose better than him and I wonder sometimes if I even have it in me to give anything to another person because I died a thousand times loving him and gave him everything I had when he never earned it. He told me last week that he ‘prays’ I find peace, which I find absolutely absurd considering he’s the one who forcibly and knowingly took every ounce of peace I had left in order to feed his own selfish, overinflated ego. I did not give him permission to do that: to take my peace, to take my self-worth, or to take my heart and destroy me in the process. It is painful. It is numbing. And it is devastating all at the same time.
What would I tell someone who encounters such a man? I would tell them to run, just like my friends (who were his friends too) told me. Abuse of any kind is never okay, and just because someone doesn’t hit you and leave a bruise does not mean they aren’t abusing you. If you are questioning whether or not the person you’re in a relationship with is abusive in any way, shape, or form, you’re questioning it for a very good reason and I would implore you to pay attention to that. One of the best things you can do is find a therapist who deals with the aftermath of abuse so that you can be supported on your journey back home to yourself. You’re going to need that support, so please seek it out. Decide to stop at nothing when it comes to educating yourself about the toll that emotional and psychological abuse takes on a person, because that toll is very big, very real, and sometimes, people don’t come back from that. Shore yourself up and keep moving forward, even if that means you have to crawl to your destination just like I’m doing. You are worth it, you are deserving of better, and you will be okay
Til next time,
To learn more about Dr. Parhams’ work, please visit her site here. If you are in an abusive relationship yourself, please consider contacting The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or visit their website to speak with them via online chat. If you are concerned for a friend or family member who may be in an abusive situation, please call 1-866-331-9474 to contact Love Is Respect.