January 28, 2019

Boiling a Frog: How we can Survive, Leave, & Recover After an Emotionally Abusive Relationship.

I am an intelligent, strong, successful, passionate, loving, caring, fiercely loyal, empathetic woman.

I hold a BA in International Relations from Boston University, and I have been professionally successful.

I am a lifelong student of human behavior. I took time to heal from my divorce, learn the lessons it provided, and incorporate them into my life. I have done several retreats around the world and studied with amazing teachers. I am raising my two teenage sons to be great men, by demonstrating to them on the daily how to treat a woman with respect, honor, and appreciation. At 53 years old, I gave up my corporate job and opened my own business. I am a badass in life. I should know better, right?

What the f*ck happened?

I was a frog. And I almost got boiled.

Are you familiar with how to boil a frog? You can’t drop a frog into a boiling pot of water; it’s not going to go willingly, and it certainly won’t stay in the pot. Instead, you put the frog in a pot of cool water and very gradually increase the temperature. By the time the water is boiling, the frog has no idea what happened and cannot get out. And frog stew, you got.

The insidious part of emotional abuse is that the slow boil starts from the inside. In the beginning, all seems warm and inviting and blissful. “I think he/she is the one.” Intimate moments of sharing and understanding. Love notes shared on Facebook. Affection and doting attention in front of friends and family. “Why did you end it, Kendra?” my friends asked, as they thought I’d found “the one” as well. At first, the relationship did seem perfect—intoxicating, addictive, exhilarating, and, as strange as it may sound, peaceful. The warmth I was experiencing lulled me into complacency—and in hindsight, denial.

At first, I asked myself the same question, “Why am I leaving?”

When you spend enough time with an emotional abuser, your self-esteem becomes damaged. Their relentless tactics to prevent you from departing can leave you questioning your decision, your self-worth, and even your sanity. Masters at manipulation, they will put you on a pedestal and boil your core to submission before you know it. The emotional inconsistency and manipulation leaves you feeling worn down and exhausted. When you try to leave, an emotional abuser can come at you in an almost frantic way by text and email bombing, social media posting and trolling, and physical stalking. “I love you. I’m sorry. I promise I will change if you take me back,” are all empty promises made by an emotional abuser. If you go back, the cycle will repeat.

When you finally see what’s going on, strict and strong boundaries need to be set. This can trigger more provocative attempts to get your attention. Be strong, have faith, and call in friends, family, clergy, and police if need be. I thankfully recognized what he was doing, and I did not respond to his exaggerated attempts. Give someone like this an inch, and they will take 100 miles and plow you right over in the process.

I was subjected to every one of the tactics above. He was blocked from all of my social media, email accounts, and phone, as well as being informed to cease and desist because this behavior will not be tolerated. Should he happen upon this article and choose to contact me again, I have all that I need to secure a restraining order. You must be staunch, firm, unwavering, and show fearlessness when dealing with an emotionally abusive partner.

Many people are not strong enough to do this after the first breakup. Although I am a woman and my ex is a man, this behavior is not solely the way of men toward women. Many men are also victims of emotional abuse, but as little as society wants to hear about it from women, there is even less support for men who are living within this type of toxic relationship.

Emotional abusers do not have a look. You can’t pick them out from across the room and say “ooh, a baddie—run away.” Upon initial meeting, an emotional abuser will not behave in a way that would tip anyone off to their abusive personality flaws. These kinds of flaws are typically only displayed once a relationship becomes committed and intimate. Recognizing these individuals takes active listening and watching. They will reveal themselves, but one can easily be blinded by the emotional high they are able to evoke in their new intimate partner.

They are predators.

For me, it started simply enough—so simply that I didn’t really notice. From the start, the emotional bonding and passion were intense. He presented himself to my friends and family as a devoted and supportive partner. He sang my praises and used my lingo like it was his own. He declared I was his soul mate and that he’d never met anyone like me. He made promises of lifelong devotion that included marriage. He introduced me to his friends—wonderful people who all think the world of him.

However, along with his frequent adoring comments and loving looks, came subtle suggestions for improving, such as, “I love your face and your eyes; you should wear your hair off your face. Why are you hiding your beautiful forehead and eyes from the world?” Very gradually, the comments escalated from how I presented myself to having concern regarding my behavior. While I would be actively smiling at him, he would ask me, “What is wrong?” saying that he couldn’t read the emotion on my face, and then would question whether I was angry.

“You don’t love me as much as I love you” was a frequent statement when I expressed that I needed to take care of one of my own basic and vital needs. He made many incongruent statements that left me confused as I tried to convince him that his belief about me was untrue. I was constantly trying to prove to him that I loved him as much as I said I did. That I truly was happy. That I am easy to please.

Over time, his emotional sways and insecurities intensified. I thought I could help him feel secure in our relationship by giving him more love, but the love I could give was never enough. If we were apart for more than 24 hours, he would express how “emotionally disconnected” he felt. He needed to be with me or engage with me for attention in some way throughout the day and night.

My needs, my children’s needs, and the time I needed to maintain my gym were way within societal norms, yet I felt that I needed to justify this time to him. When we did get together, the first hour or more was spent with me trying to convince him that his statements about me were wrong and that engaging in my normal, daily life (maintaining myself, my home, my children, and my business—I didn’t see my friends while we were dating) was not in any way a withdrawal of love from him. When we finally reached the end of our argument, he would apologize for his accusations. He would love-bomb me and promise to change until I forgave him, often using my own belief system to manipulate me into wanting to sweep this under the rug and forgive him.

This became the norm—it happened every time we were apart for more than 24 hours.

There were so many promises and apologies. Promises to change his way of communicating so that I would not misinterpret him. I was “misinterpreting” his expressions of his hurt, and therefore interpreting these “misinterpretations” as accusations against me. He would say how difficult it was for him to read me and love me, that I was somehow unable to love him in a way that he could feel. That I was cold. (Wait…what? Really? Me? I was difficult to read? I was difficult to love?). Self-doubt eventually settled in as he turned my concerns about him back onto me as something that was my fault.

This began eroding my confidence in myself as a fair, loving, understanding, and nurturing partner. I started to believe that my past relationships had failed because of me. That I was incapable of sustaining an intimate relationship with a love partner. He started to become convincing when he would tell me that I was the difficult one to love, and that only he could love me.

That only he would ever love me. 

Toward the end, he was able to convince me that by calling him out on his sabotaging behavior, I was invalidating his feelings. That if I had a good day, I should not share my good day with him. Sharing about my good day and my successes and my funny moments was selfish. He knocked me down until I was feeling as miserable as he was. In his mind, my mood should match his mood—and if he was down, I should spend my time and energy consoling him, not telling him about what was lifting me up.

Our relationship lasted less than a year. The end was precipitated by a weekend when his behavior was so hateful, I could finally see what was going on. And I left.

This is not to say that he did not try feverishly to get me back into his pot.

Weeks of emails and texts, expressing remorse, trying to convince me that he’d changed with words so sweet, 7 out of 10 dentists would agree they’d cause cavities. But each of his expressions were laced with the criticisms that became a part of our relationship (“You are, in fact, highly sensitive; and I have realized now that you are painfully sensitive to criticism or being judged”). I would not be the successful woman, mother, and friend I am today without being open to constructive criticism and guidance from those who have gone before me. I should be sensitive to mixed messages that profess undying love and commitment in one breath, followed by a reminder that I am damaged goods in the next.

I am grateful that I was able to recognize what was going on when I did. I was able to gather my senses and draw upon what I have known about myself, and what my family and my true friends know about me. I saw the pattern, and was able to break free.

The water got really hot, but I was strong enough to jump out before it reached the boiling point.

I was one of the lucky ones; I was able to see what was going on in a relatively short amount of time. Based on a study conducted by MentalHelp.net of 571 men and women, only 32.06 percent of people emotionally and/or physically abused leave in less than one year; 42.11 percent leave in one to three years, 15.31 percent leave in four to six years, and 10.53 percent leave in seven or more years. Unfortunately, they did not provide any statistics on how many breakups it took before the relationships were finally over.

Thankfully, I have a very strong support network. I have been supported by my friends, family, and my faith as I dismantle this time in my life, analyze the pieces, let go of what I know to be false, and trust myself again.

This can happen to anyone—I am living proof of this. I am also living proof that you can come out on the other side and once again trust who you know yourself to be. This is a beautiful life that we are all given.

Do not let anyone convince you that you are anything less than the amazing, wonderful person that you are.

You are not a frog, and no one has the right to try to boil you—certainly not someone who professes to love you.

Leaving an abusive relationship is not easy. If you are in one, or know someone who is, do not let yourself or your loved one feel like they are alone.

We are all worthy of a great life. Even if you cannot see it, you are loved beyond measure.

If you or someone you know is enduring physical or emotional abuse and needs immediate help, please reach out to the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. You are not alone.

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