I was in an abusive relationship for three years. It may have looked ‘normal’ from the outside, but that was not the reality I endured.
Over time, I opened up to my friends and family – as well as his friends – about the abuse I faced. It had been a hard decision for me to speak about it. I felt ashamed and embarrassed.
But when I did speak out, the responses I was met with forced me to keep my mouth shut again.
These reactions varied, but mostly told a similar story of just how difficult it can be for victims to speak out against abuse – be it sexual, emotional, verbal or physical, or all of the above.
This is my story – one I want to tell in the hope that it may teach people to be kinder to survivors and not put them through torturous interrogation sessions that appear to be aimed at protecting the abuser’s “reputation”.
When the abuse began, I was recovering from a health scare. I couldn’t make sense of the situation immediately and felt vulnerable and gaslit.
The first person I told was my best friend who was sympathetic.
But when I finally spoke to my ex-boyfriend’s best friend, who had also been his roommate and was well-acquainted with me, he flat out refused to believe me.
According to him, he had never “seen” any abuse during the times we had all spent together. The friend bought into the version by abuser had fed him – that it was case of “sour grapes” and that I was a crazy woman crying hoarse after being dumped.
“Don’t get your panties in a bunch. Move on.”
That what he told me.
I felt humiliated. I had thought that when I would share my story, people would support me and ostracise the abuser.
Instead, I was ostracised. Over months, I discovered how a meticulous narrative of ‘mental instability’ had been built around me.
All this became even more easy to believe since I was already going through a traumatic time by dealing with the abuse and its scarring aftermath.
My abuser’s friends stood steadfastly behind him. Everyone around him liked him – he was good-looking and popular.
Instead of anyone even remotely believing the painful episode I had gone through, I was interrogated and slammed with a question like ‘why didn’t you report it immediately’ as though entirely unaware of the structure and power dynamics of an abusive relationship.
I was told to download Tinder and forget about it.
That sense of of such extreme brotherhood came a rude shock to me – my abuser had played his role well in swaying everyone to believe that I was some kind of ‘basket case’ who spouted lies. That I was making up incidents of assault because ‘my relationship was failing’.
My anger was doubled by the fact that these very same people purported to be ‘woke’ feminists. With them shutting down my story with great alacrity, and several more unpleasant conversations, I eventually stopped telling people about the abuse I faced.
The simple fact is that it’s harder to recognise and call out abuse when it’s being perpetrated by someone that you know and love. It’s so much easier to look the other way.
All through, I would get asked why I was staying in an abusive relationship, and ‘if’ it was abusive, why I didn’t leave. One of my close friend told me she would lose all respect for me if I continued to stay.
It’s difficult to explain why victims of abuse stick around. Let’s not forget that abuse is about control and power.
The controlling features of such relationships is fear, shame and enforced low self-esteem. To top it, leaving is the most difficult part of an abusive relationship for the fear that the abuser’s actions will become more violent if the victim attempts to leave.
And throw in a dash of lack of support and safety, an you have toxic cocktail of why it wasn’t so easy to walk away from my abuser.
I was embarrassed by people who thought that I was making up things like assault just because my “relationship had failed.”
Also read: No Way Out: A Poem on Abusive Relationships
There were very few people who were genuinely supportive. Friends, of course, rallied around but many failed to understand the complexity of what I faced.
Over the course of this traumatic period, I learnt through intensive reading that my ex was a narcissist with sociopathic tendencies who had carefully cultivated a good reputation while being secretly abusive.
Since abuse largely happens behind closed doors and not in the open for all to see, most people would just say it was a bad relationship while ignoring the victims’ cries of help from be trapped in a cycle of systemic violence. They continue to buy into the perpetrator’s narrative hang out with him and simply empower him further.
It took me a lot of time to understand the pattern of ‘lovebombing, devaluing and discarding’.
I am still learning and processing, but I wish people had been kinder to me and believed me. Each time someone disbelieved me, it made my trauma even worse.
Survivors of abuse face a tough and lonely path. Women who have experienced domestic violence often feel a sense of shame and guilt. It is common for women to report themselves as “unworthy”, a “bad person”, or that “they should have known”.
I wish we lived in a world where there was strong support system for survivors. I hope that every time you read, hear a story of sexual assault and abuse, you are inclined to believe the survivor, or at least give them a fair chance to be heard.
When it comes to holding men accountable, we can all do better.
Isha Singh is an English graduate from Miranda House and has worked extensively on trauma studies for her PhD research.
Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty