While doing internet research yesterday, I found my way to the website of Washington state nonprofit Domestic Abuse Women’s Network (DAWN). Curious, I clicked on the link “Is my relationship abusive?” The page presented the following questions:

Do you feel…

  • Confused about your relationship?
  • Like you are going crazy?
  • That you are “walking on eggshells”?
  • It is hard for you to spend time with family or friends?
  • As if you can’t do anything right?
  • That your partner decides when and where you have sex?
  • Like you are in a relationship with two completely different people?
  • That you need to justify everything you do?
  • Drained?

Does your partner…

  • Call you names or put you down?
  • Want to know what you’re doing and who you’re with all the time?
  • Act extremely jealous?
  • Find excuses to keep you from getting enough sleep?
  • Push, shove, or grab you?
  • Keep you from leaving when you want to leave?
  • Force you to do things sexually you don’t feel comfortable doing?
  • Promise to change (get counseling, go to AA, etc.)?

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes, when considering my last serious relationship. I didn’t even need to think twice before I wholeheartedly agreed with every single statement on the page, except for one (which was more of a half-truth).

Just as I have been many times since I was attacked by my ex-boyfriend (and subsequently came to the devastating realization that I was a victim of domestic violence, emotional abuse, and manipulation to the highest degree), I am dumbfounded by how stereotypical my DV experience was.

And as always, I wonder why I didn’t realize what was going on sooner. But that’s all part of being with an abusive person – it’s a constant battle between listening to your own logic and what you know is right in your heart of hearts, and listening the things that your partner tells you. The reality presented to me by my ex was one in which I was the most selfish, foolish, shameful, and undeserving person. He was “trying so hard to forgive me” for all of my many “sins,” but he just didn’t know if he could be strong enough to do so. I’ve always struggled with my self-confidence and self-worth, so it was easy to believe these things coming from the person who I was deeply in love with (not to mention living with).

Would I have left earlier if I had known what I know now? There’s no way to know for sure, but I’d like to think that the answer is yes. That’s why I challenge every person reading this post to consider their relationship with their partner. If you have any question in your mind whether it is abusive, please do yourself the incredible, possibly lifesaving, favor of learning more about what domestic abuse looks like.

If you are pondering whether or not you are involved in an abusive relationship, I suggest that you read the book “Why Does He Do That?” by Lundy Bancroft. This book is an incredible investigation of the mind of abusive and controlling men (please note: people who are in relationships with abusive women, as well as folks who are in same-sex relationships, can also gain a lot of valuable information from the book, but it is written primarily for cisgender women who are in abusive romantic relationships with cisgender men).

The incredibly strong and brave women that I met at my first DV support group meeting suggested this book to me. It changed my perspective on everything. It made me realize that I wasn’t crazy – that the horrible feelings of self-doubt, self-loathing, and isolation – along with the attachment I was feeling towards my abuser – were all normal things. More than normal in fact – they were the standard.

The more I read about domestic violence and abusive partners, the clearer the pattern becomes. I only wish that I could have recognized it earlier. But maybe, just maybe, sharing my story will help someone else do just that.

If you have any question in your mind about whether or not you are being controlled or abused – or you answered “yes” to any of the questions listed above – please take a harder look at your relationship. Read Bancroft’s book. If you can’t read it at home for fear of your partner, read it at the library or at work. Seek help. Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-SAFE) to get your questions answered by a real human being who understands what you are going through.

Whatever you choose to do, remember first and foremost that you are worthy of true, unconditional love and you do not deserve to be abused (physically, mentally, emotionally, sexual, or in any other way) – no matter what your partner would have you believe.

For immediate assistance, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline:
TTY: 1-800-787-3224