Survivor Story: Drawing a Line Between Love and Abuse

Submitted By: Cassandra, Survivor

It is not always easy to spot red flags that manifest in abusive relationships. Often, the beginning of the relationship is deceptively peaceful and loving, as the abuser wears the persona they need to draw their victim in. Rarely in the early stages of the relationship does an abuser show their true character; if they did, they know their intended victim would not stay long enough for them to escalate to abuse. Domestic violence is a slow, insidious process of pushing boundaries, shifting dynamics, and taking control.

Not every abuser will use the same forms of abuse, and not all abusive relationships look the same. However, there are some key hallmarks of an abusive relationship that serve as warnings that the relationship is beginning to turn. Having a general knowledge of warning signs can help alert us when we might need to re-examine whether or not the relationship is healthy. Survivor Cassandra shares with us some of the red flags she missed, how the abuse progressed, and what she has learned after leaving her abuser.

Growing up, abuse was not as black and white as Cassandra thought it was. She saw abuse as something that was only physical or sexual in nature, but she never imagined how serious mental abuse could be and how it would impact her personal life so drastically. One thing that Cassandra has learned through experience is that there is typically a cycle to the abuse. It is not just one or two days of bad then going on as if nothing happened. It is a multitude of small, almost unnoticeable signs.

Cassandra’s story is long and quite painful, but she knows that someone out there needs to know they are not alone. Our stories will never be exactly the same, but they will always have similarities.

Cassandra had known her abuser for much of her life and was comfortable around him.

By the time Cassandra and the man who would become her abuser started dating, they had a long-developed familiarity with each other. She had grown up him with him around for much of her life and was extremely comfortable with him because his grandmother and her father had been together since they were children. He was 20 and Cassandra was 16 when he took her virginity. First red flag: 20 is grown, 16 is not. What a man that age wanted with a minor was questionable itself.

They kept their relationship a secret because Cassandra’s family was not thrilled about him. She lived in fear of what her family would think had they found out, so she ended their relationship. Second red flag: if it is something you cannot tell your family, then it probably should not be happening.

Five years later, Cassandra was 21 years old and had just left a relationship of almost five years and moved back to her home state. For understandable reasons, she was in an emotionally vulnerable frame of mind. She went to visit her father, and out walked her abuser. That reunion would be the catalyst for things to go wrong.

It started with him always being available but not available to her – emotionally, physically, and mentally. Nothing Cassandra ever did was enough, and that only made her try harder. He told her that he was ‘in no rush’ for a relationship, yet they were doing everything that would happen in a romantic relationship. Third red flag: being committed to someone without them reciprocating is nothing more than manipulation.

Cassandra then started noticing all of these small warning signs. He told her how to wear her hair, what clothes she could wear, and whom she could not spend time with. She also saw little things that might make some believe that the abuser is looking out for you, but in reality, they are just trying to benefit themselves at your expense.

At first, her abuser did not want to be in an official relationship, but he still wanted to have control over all the decisions she made.

Almost a year into the relationship, he would start fights over what Cassandra wanted to wear, her social media posts, all of her family relationships and friendships, and her mistakes, and yet, they still were not officially together. After a year, he told her that he wanted to make it official, and Cassandra was thrilled. She felt that she had finally somehow become enough for him.

Because of her experiences, Cassandra wanted to tell others that if you feel you are not good enough for someone because of the way they treat you, maybe you are not the problem. She believes that you should start examining whether or not they are right for you. Sometimes we really are not the problem, even if we are made to feel as if we are.

It became clear to Cassandra that they would not remain a couple if she did not stop hanging out with her best friend. They were so close that they were more like sisters. It was him or her, so she chose him. She tried to appease him as much as possible.

It got to the point where Cassandra soon realized that if he was not having a good day, then neither of them would. After being put through so many bad days, she craved good ones. It was painful for her to feel like she was worth less than she was when she made mistakes or did certain things, but if he behaved the same way – or worse – it was okay. She was not allowed the right to be upset with anything he did. Fourth red flag: if someone expects you to accept something they do or say but gets upset if the situation is reversed, it is a recipe for disaster.

These things happened to her for so long, Cassandra became accustomed to it. It was her new reality. She knew that for her to be happy, he had to be happy. She tried to leave several times, and each time it ended with him begging for her to come back. They say people do not realize a good thing until it has gone, and that is generally true for some. However, a narcissist only realizes the good until they talk you into coming back.

Once you do go back to them, they know they have that hold over you as long as they show you that little bit of affection and love you have been craving. After a while, you fall into the cycle of thinking things are finally started to change when they are not. It was just a tactic to get you back. The truth is that you cannot change a person who does not see a problem with their actions. Cassandra says that she learned that the hard way.

In the six months leading up to her leaving her abuser for the last time, there were many fights. Some of them became physical. Cassandra said that if she were given a choice, she would have taken the physical abuse over the mental abuse. She reached a point of almost being numb.

Regardless of how many times she tried to leave or how many times her family reached out to her out of concern for her, he was always there to give Cassandra the reasons she needed to stay. She is not ashamed that she chooses to see the best in people, but she does struggle with shame because she did not see how much more she deserved.

Cassandra reached a limit on the amount of mental abuse she could from her abuser.

Things continued that way for a while, and Cassandra reached a point where she could no longer handle the effects of the mental abuse. He made her feel as though she was actually crazy, and she questioned everything about herself. She always tried to be a positive person, but he drained all of that out of her. Dramatic shifts in behavior toward Cassandra – going from occasionally being told, “I love and care about you” to “You’re a whore, and nobody will ever put up with what I have” – caused profound damage to her self-worth and how she viewed herself.

Why did she risk losing the one person who ‘tolerated’ her because of all of these ‘small’ things? Cassandra said that she constantly found excuses for his behavior. It only changed once she realized there was never an excuse for the way he treated her. She understood that she should not have to beg a man to love her the way she deserved. Either someone accepts you, or they do not, that is, unfortunately, the way it goes.

Cassandra was finally able to leave him about a year ago. At the time, she still loved him, and things were getting better than they had been, but it should never have been abusive to begin with. By then, too much damage had been done.

“When I left, he not only hacked all of my social media and email accounts, he used that access to post revenge porn and also shared those images on social media. I was fired from my job because he showed up to my workplace and caused a scene.

“All of this happened because I ignored all the signs – everything I was told, everything I witnessed for myself. My love was greater than any pain he could bring me. Maybe, had I not been told that all relationships are hard, that in a real relationship, you go through the trials without giving up because that’s love, maybe I would have made different choices. Where do we draw the line on what is love and what is abuse?

“Here I am, a year after leaving him, and not one day goes by that he isn’t on my mind. But there’s also never a day that goes by where I am questioning my worth because of how someone is treating me. The story I’m sharing can never be detailed enough to allow everyone to see the full picture, but I hope it’s enough to help even one woman to realize that the red flags she has been ignoring shouldn’t be ignored any longer.

“I’ve come to learn that no matter how much effort you put in, no matter how much you have invested, if it’s not being reciprocated, then it’s not something that should have your full devotion and attention.”

**If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there is help. You can visit the Break the Silence website at www.breakthesilencedv.org, chat with one of our helpline advocates at 855-287-1777, or send a private message through our Facebook page.

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