Facing Emotional Abuse in Relationships Head-On

When you say the words “abusive relationship,” many people’s first thoughts turn to abuse of a physical nature.

Years of awareness campaigns and public service announcements fill our heads with depictions of yelling matches ending in hitting or someone covering up bruises with makeup.

When I was a teenager, I even remember being told, “If you get hit, you leave” as a sort of relationship guideline to help us recognize abuse.

This really only reinforced a very limited understanding of what abuse could look like. I’ve since realized that no one ever gave us a guideline for how to act if someone made you cry, scream, called you names and/or destroyed your will to live without ever laying a finger on you.

A new awareness initiative has popped up on campus called Love Doesn’t Hurt, with the aim “to educate students on the signs of emotional and physical abuse and to aid survivors on their healing journey.”

The distinction Love Doesn’t Hurt has made in acknowledging emotional abuse is important because recognizing, accepting and leaving an emotionally abusive relationship can be much harder than people may think. They’re often really subtle and hard to recognize, understand or even explain until you’ve been there yourself.

It’s rarely ever as simple as just leaving. I know from experience—I was in an emotionally abusive relationship for months before I even realized it.

I wasn’t a kid, it wasn’t my first relationship, and I wasn’t dumb or weak. I just didn’t recognize it because it was subtle and no one had ever taught me about emotional abuse.

My partner was possessive and controlling, but he didn’t start out that way. The change was gradual and reached a point where he became irritated anytime I expressed interests or goals that didn’t directly involve him.

When I wanted to see friends without him, he hid his anger in comments like, “But I love you so much that I want to spend every moment with you.” He demanded all my online passwords because it was integral in showing that I “trusted” him.

I was blamed for his depression and often called “insensitive” for not doing my part in preventing him from lashing out.

This all started months into the relationship and caught me completely off guard. Leaving wasn’t easy because there was a ton of emotional manipulation, harassment and refusal on his part to actually acknowledge the breakup.

I changed my number twice and considered moving just so I wouldn’t have to keep looking over my shoulder every five minutes. Months later, I got a letter in the mail describing our future children and how we would move past all this silly stuff because he wouldn’t live without me.

I was terrified and even had moments where I thought, “Maybe it’s safer to just stay.” In the end I got out of that situation because I had a supportive friend and a great drop-in counselling clinic.

Accessible resources are essential in these situations: it’s one thing to know you’re in a bad place and to be told you’re not alone, but it’s another to know what support is actually there to see you through.

Unfortunately this is an area where I feel the Love Doesn’t Hurt campaign falls short, despite what I’m sure were great intentions. While the Facebook page includes resources like a checklist to help you tell if you’re in an abusive relationship, it doesn’t have much in terms of helping you if you realize you are.

I’m really glad that awareness of relationship abuse has been finding its place on campus, but campaigns too often fall into the trap of negatively contributing to the dialogue surrounding abuse and assault by pinning the responsibility for ending it entirely on the victim.

Awareness is great, but it just isn’t enough anymore unless it’s paired with concrete steps that people can take if they actually realize they’re in the situations described.

There are many crisis hotlines and support services available in Montreal, so let’s share as many of them as possible to spread not only awareness, but also knowledge of the tools available to people who need them right now.

Share one or more of the resources in the sidebar and if you know any that should be added, send them in or comment online!

Concordia Counselling & Development:
514-848-2424 ext. 3545

2110 Centre for Gender Advocacy:
514-848-2424 ext. 7880 (peer support, advocacy and referrals)

Head & Hands:
514-481-0277 (counselling services for 12- to 25-year-olds)

Tel-Aide:
514-935-1101 (24/7, free, anonymous and bilingual)

Centre Multi-Écoute:
514-737-3604 (phone and face-to-face listening service, referrals, counselling)

Each of these services can refer you to other resources if necessary.

Submit your questions anonymously at sex-pancakes.com.

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