Abuse doesn't always leave bruises, and gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse.
*based on a true story
Physical abuse is easy to recognize. That doesn’t mean it can’t be hidden. The abuser often saves his wrath for times when he is alone with his target. He hides his violence in the shadows and behind closed doors.
The aftermath of physical abuse is easy to recognize.
Broken bones and bruised skin are visible to the naked eye. However, the physical manifestations of abuse can be covered up and camouflaged. The victim covers her black eye with foundation and powder. She lies and says she broke her arm falling down the stairs.
Emotional abuse is different.
It’s subtle. It’s more a whisper than a shout. Sometimes emotional abuse looks a lot like love. It isn’t.
My boyfriend loved me so much that he didn’t want me to wear makeup. I didn’t need it. I didn’t need contact lenses either. Glasses were fine. He wore glasses, too, and contact lenses were an unnecessary expense.
I sat in a patch of poison ivy that had been run over with a lawnmower. The itching was maddening. My legs swelled. The flesh turned hard and purple from my ankles to my upper thighs, but my boyfriend said I shouldn’t go to the doctor. It was only poison ivy, and the emergency room would be an unnecessary expense. He was only looking out for my finances, he said.
After two weeks of sleepless nights, hourly soaks in hot water, Dawn dish detergent and table salt, and scratching until I bled, I went to the emergency room where I received prednisone pills, cortisone injections, and a tetanus shot. It cost me $300. It cost me $300. The relief was immediate. It was worth every penny.
He screamed at me for three months, demanding to know whether it was worth it. Was it worth the exorbitant luxurious expense of $300 just to receive treatment for something as common and mundane as poison ivy? He didn’t think so.
Then there was the time he canceled a book I ordered on eBay. How dare I spend $2.99 of my own hard-earned money on a book without consulting him. It was a book on yoga. Seriously? Why would I even need such a thing? “Good news,” he said. “I caught them before they shipped it. So I got you a full refund.”
My boyfriend loved me so much that he insisted upon filing my tax returns every year we were together. He did everything with such excellence, he told me. Never mind that I had successfully and accurately filed my own taxes since filling out paper forms with a sharpened №2 pencil when I had my first part-time job after school. He was taking over, and he was doing it for me.
He let me know what a sacrifice he was making, how he spent hours poring over documents and figures to make sure he was getting me the maximum refund. That confused me because it’s the 21st century and filing one’s taxes when there are no extraordinary circumstances is pretty straightforward. Yet he indicated that the harder he worked on my paperwork, the better my refund would be.
It didn’t make sense until I got audited and had to pay $20,000 in back taxes and penalties, some of which I owed because he’d reporting his earnings under my social security number. But I owed it to him for all the things he was doing for me.
When I told him about it, he insisted he didn’t know what I was talking about. I must be crazy. Clearly.
He was an expert at gaslighting me.
My ex-boyfriend loved me so much that he demanded I relinquish control of my bank accounts, credit cards, PayPal, eBay, and Amazon. He was so good with finances, that having him in control could only benefit me.
Since it was too confusing to have two people using the same PayPal account, he banned me from using mine. He got into a fight with a customer while selling items through my Amazon Seller account and got me banned for life. But he was helping me! That’s what he told me every day. Why wasn’t I grateful?
I changed my passwords, and he called me furious. If I didn’t change them back or give him the new ones, he would never talk to me again, he said. Ever! Oh, how I wish I had taken him up on that offer.
We spoke on the phone for upwards of eight hours a day. I worked from home, but he said I could work while on the phone. So convenient! He even allowed me to buy a headset with my own money so I could accommodate him more easily.
He regularly took food out of my hands, saying, “It isn’t time to eat yet,” then ate the food himself.
My boyfriend loved me so much that he didn’t want to share me. He forbade me from having friends. Having friends was stupid! He was all I needed. Family was stupid, too! Why couldn’t I see his point? We were a team!
When he screamed so passionately that saliva flew from his mouth and his face turned red, it was only because he cared so much. He wasn’t like my ex-husband, he assured me.
He wasn’t an abuser. No. No. Of course not.
My boyfriend thought I owed him. He thought he owned me. He was wrong on both counts. Now, he is gone, and I am free, and according to the voice mail messages he leaves me, he misses me like crazy. I could have told him that was going to happen.
Leaving him was one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever done in my life. I don’t regret it for a single moment. What I do regret was every minute I ever spent with him. Although there’s nothing I can do about that now, at least I can look forward to a life without him. Turns out, that’s the best life of all.