Submitted by: Nicole, Survivor
Gaslighting is a tactic that abusers use to manipulate their victims and cause them to doubt their perception of reality. This enables the abuser to gain and keep control over their victim, who will no longer be able to trust their objectivity but will also, despite all evidence to the contrary, start to assume the abuser’s reality in place of the truth. Additionally, abusers use various hardships, loss, and mental health issues the victims experience by exploiting their vulnerability and deceiving the victim into believing the abuser will be a source of support.
Later, these vulnerabilities are used as ammunition against the victim with gaslighting to instill a sense of shame, unworthiness, and self-doubt, thereby purchasing their silence. Survivor Nicole shares with us how the man who would abuse her at first appeared to be an ideal partner used the passing of her mother and emotional issues against her. Find out how the abuse escalated, what happened the night he nearly killed her, and where she is now.
In December 2015, Nicole met some who she thought was a good person, and they began spending time together. She quickly realized that she liked him, but he still had feelings for his ex-girlfriend. At one point, he and his ex got back together, so he and Nicole remained friends. During that time, Nicole’s mom got sick. As her illness progressed, he was there for Nicole as a source of support. When her mom passed away the following January, he went to the funeral and regularly checked up on her. As he continued to be there for her, Nicole’s feelings for him strengthened, and she started falling for him.
When he and his girlfriend split four months later, he went to Nicole wanting to be with her. She still had feelings for him, so she accepted him back in. At the time, she was in a dark place and felt like she needed more – and he was it. Two months later, they started dating, and he moved in soon after. Nicole felt great, and, ignoring all her problems, she focused her attention on him. She thought she had a great relationship. He was able to get her out of the house to enjoy different events; they were always out doing something together.
After a few months, Nicole noticed that he became quick-tempered and learned that he was still in contact with his ex-girlfriend.
Just a few months later, things changed. Nicole had never seen someone with such a short fuse before; he got mad at her for everything. She thought that it was normal for couples to fight, but it continued to get worse. Arguments over minor things turned into screaming matches with him hitting walls near her. By that time, Nicole loved him, so she ignored everything that was happening. She also looked past the shady messages other women would send her and occasionally found secret emails from his ex-girlfriend.
During their first summer together, Nicole took him on his first beach trip ever and paid for the entire trip. He talked to other girls the whole two weeks we were there, and they fought the entire time. After the vacation, things were no longer the same. When they arrived back home, their relationship continued to deteriorate.
That November, Nicole saw an email from his ex-girlfriend and asked him about it. He told Nicole that he did not know why she was still emailing him but promised to ignore her. The next morning, she had a gut feeling that he lied to her, so Nicole looked at his email account. His ex-girlfriend was still contacting him, saying things that seemed like it was in response to something he had sent her. Nicole figured he had replied to her after all.
When Nicole confronted him about the emails between him and his ex, he snapped at her because he said she was accusing him of lying and cheating. He started packing everything to leave, but before he did, he finally convinced Nicole that he did not do anything wrong, and it was his ‘crazy ex’ that would not take a hint. In the end, he stayed, and they made up. His ex-girlfriend continued to email him throughout December into January 2017. For a while, Nicole ignored it because it looked like he was no longer responding to her.
Things were getting better – or so Nicole thought. On their first New Year’s together, he punched her in the face. Nicole had never been in a fight with anyone before. The first time she had ever been hit was by her own boyfriend, someone she, for some reason, thought loved her.
For the longest time, Nicole thought that all that happened that night was him pushing her into a wall and window. Even now, it is still foggy, but Nicole found a message he sent to her in January 2017, where he told her that she does not deserve a ‘piece of s***’ like him who just punched her in the face.
Almost three years later, Nicole still cannot remember he had actually hit her. She had herself convinced that he had not punched her until the following year. At times, Nicole feels the effects of confusion from trauma, because she is unable to recall or make sense out of half of what she went through. Still, the evidence of what happened remains documented in the messages he sent Nicole, admitting to the things he did to her. It has affected her to the extent that she cannot remember the reality of how bad or – or not – things were between from that January through April.
The next thing Nicole remembers was April when his band had an interview with a radio station out of town. Usually, he brought her with him everywhere he went, always informing her that he did not want to go anywhere without her and that she was not allowed to go anywhere without him. For almost a year, he enforced these rules with Nicole, and suddenly, she was not allowed to join him on the trip for the interview. When she objected, it turned into a big argument.
On the following morning, he got up and went out with his friends. Nicole thought that everything was okay because they had talked all day, but she had the feeling that something was off again. A few weeks later, Nicole messaged his ex and asked her when she talked to him last. She told Nicole that it was about three weeks before while he was on the road all day – at the same time that he traveled out of town for the radio interview.
When Nicole confronted him about his contact with his ex while he was out of town, he assaulted her with his four-year-old witnessing part of the attack.
Nicole and her boyfriend had his daughter for visitation that weekend, so she pulled him aside where they could talk in private, and she asked him about it. He snapped and started screaming at her. Eventually, he pushed her into the hallway, threw her to the floor, landed on top of her, and repeatedly hit her in the back of the head and the top of her back. She was not able to breathe with his weight on her, and Nicole started to panic.
At some point, he was able to grab ahold of her wrist, and, in the process, somehow caused wounds, leaving scars behind. The only reason he stopped that day was that he realized that his four-year-old daughter was in front of them, crying and screaming at him to stop and get off her. Once he did, Nicole ran.
Once Nicole was able to collect herself, she went back inside to try to talk to his daughter and calm her down. Nicole was heartbroken when she looked at her crying and asked why he did that to her. All she could think of to say was that he did not mean to hurt her. At that point, Nicole was at a loss as to what she should do. She does recall that being a pivotal moment where she started to get scared about what was happening to her. She was too scared to leave or try to do anything else. Furthermore, by that point, she was also financially stuck.
Nicole is not able to remember the following month, except a time when she was able to use the internet on his phone while he played games. She saw an email account on a webmail service that he had never used before, so she looked at the account. When Nicole discovered that there are many emails from his ex-girlfriend, she realized that he created the new account so he could communicate back and forth with his ex while he was out. Nicole confronted him, and he said he claimed that he did not know what she was talking about and insisted that he neither created nor knew anything the email.
Despite her misgivings, he was so convincing that Nicole started coming up with reasons to explain it away. He somehow had her believing that he maybe did not create the email account to communicate with his ex, but Nicole was still hurt and cried all night. That night, he laid in bed with her, holding her while she cried, and hold her that everything would be okay.
The gaslighting she endured caused Nicole to start questioning her reality.
Nicole still questions why she stayed. She said that she had so many reasons to leave already, but by that point, she was scared and trapped. He had gotten into her head and made her believe that if she were good enough, he would not have treated her the way he did. That is also what Nicole always told herself as well, so she just kept trying harder. She was determined to make it work, because he had stayed with her despite her emotional issues, and she had never had that with anyone before. He also promised Nicole that he would never put another hand on her. She needed to believe him.
By then, it had been a year, and Nicole did not know how to leave. Despite the continuing abuse, she stayed because that was all she knew to do. Regardless of how much time passed, nothing changed, though, with the exception that the fighting only got worse as time went by. He also continued to send messages to other girls behind Nicole’s back and never gave up on his ex-girlfriend. Somewhere along the way, Nicole stopped wishing that he would change because she knew he would not. She came to hate him, and she hated herself. Nicole always thought that had her mom survived her illness, she would have been disappointed in her. She felt that she had not made one right decision after she died.
To make matters worse, every time that Nicole did try to leave him, he threatened to kill himself and told her that she was nothing without him and that she would have nothing if it were not for him. He used to tell her to go die or that he hoped she would die, and he even threatened to kill her once.
Nicole was slowly worn down by verbal and emotional abuse. He told her that he could understand why every boyfriend she ever had cheated on Nicole and why she lost all her friends and family. He called her degrading names, including referring to her as a c***. Nicole’s emotional issues were often twisted and thrown in her face, and he often told her how stupid it was and that she needed to get herself together and ‘get her head figured out.’ He made her feel like she was crazy by saying something or doing something, then swearing it never happened. Slowly but surely, the gaslighting caused Nicole to start doubting herself.
The trauma of the abuse caused on-going issues with Nicole being able to remember much of the abuse she experienced, but some assaults have not faded from her memory. One particularly traumatic event Nicole recalled was an assault where he had Nicole pinned to the ground in a chokehold. It was not the first time it happened, but that incident was the first time that she had ever seen him so angry.
When Nicole told him that she had enough and wanted him to leave, he became enraged and viciously attacked her.
He and Nicole had started to fight, and she asked him to leave and told him that she was done. After pushing her to the floor, he chased her to the bedroom and pinned her against the dresser. Without thinking, Nicole reacted by slapping him across the face. She does not remember what he did immediately after, but the next thing she knew, she was on the floor being strangled.
That moment showed Nicole who he really was. She had never seen that much hate in someone’s eyes, and it was all directed at her. She tried to fight back and push him off her, but she began to panic and went in and out of consciousness. The attack was so severe that Nicole thought that she was going to die, and she knew if she did not get him off her, she would not survive.
Nicole is unsure if her scratching and fighting are what finally made him release his hands from her throat or if it was her pleading for him to stop and promising to be quiet, but he eventually did. When he let go, she got up and tried to run, but she was not able to make it very far before collapsing. Unable to breathe and having lost her glasses during the attack. Nicole waited for things to calm down before going inside. She was ready to leave then, and then when she remembered that her telling him she wanted him to leave triggered the assault, she became afraid. Nicole felt trapped with him, as though she did not feel safe enough to try to leave. She was too terrified to try again, so she stayed.
For Nicole, the next year was a blur that she cannot really remember. At the end of 2018, he sent her to the emergency room after he hit her in the face, causing a severe injury to her forehead. Nicole could not leave him after that assault. The medical staff would not separate them at the hospital to ask questions about her injuries. Also, due to the severity of the injuries, Nicole was not able to drive herself to the hospital in the first place. She continued to suffer.
It was common for him to throw Nicole around like a ragdoll, dragging her around by her hair across the room; one of these times, he held a guitar over her head, preparing to hit her with it before he stopped. As he leaped at her across the bed, Nicole was thrown off the bed, hitting her nightstand, before landing on the floor, pinned underneath him as he strangled her. Nicole even experienced head trauma that triggered convulsions after he threw her backward across their bedroom into a dresser, hitting her head against it.
Another time he flipped Nicole’s coffee table, breaking a table decoration that was her mom’s, and then broke a mirror, cutting her leg. His physical assaults often left behind hematoma where Nicole was injured, and one time, after she slapped him, he punched her in the face.
After Nicole caught him cheating again, she confronted him about it one last time.
“I hate myself for staying for three and a half years, for taking the constant blows, and for letting someone talk to me the way he did. I know I stayed because I was in survival mode, and the last time I tried to leave, I almost died. I started planning as best as I could until I could try again to leave safely.
“In October this year, I caught him cheating again. When I confronted him about it, it turned into a fight. He grabbed me by my hair and slammed my head into a window, threw something at me, chased me, and pushed me into a wall. I was done. He never came back home. I got an order of protection two days later.
“Court has also been an on-going issue. I thought the last hearing would have been in November, but I had to drop my order of protection because the mother of his child made messages sent between her and her ex seem different than they really were. I was told my order of protection probably wouldn’t be granted, and he would pursue an order against me.
“In some ways, that was okay with me, as I don’t want contact with him ever again. But I felt so defeated because he got away with everything. I was not allowed to present my evidence. Everything was done how he wanted it. He came with three women to back him up and support him even though they know how he really is.
“I was still left with no justice. Only to leave court and get served papers where he took out his own order of protection against me a few days before. He made up many untrue things about me, claiming why he did not feel safe. His initial request was denied, but there is still another hearing to come.
“I’m finally done with the relationship, but the aftermath is awful. He’s still in my head, and I have depression, anxiety, and PTSD, but I’m in therapy now.
“I never thought that is a situation I would have stayed in, but I did, and I can’t change that. I can’t change the type of person I turned into from all the trauma or whom I had to become to tolerate him. I pushed every single person in my life away to the point he was all I had. But I’m finally done. It’s over, and I can change how I react to things in the future. As I move forward, I am trying every day to be a different person. I can’t be that girl anymore. I won’t be that girl again.”
**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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