What would you do when the reality is far from your expectations? When your life is different from what you imagined and not for the better? When you feel lost, confused and you don't know which way to turn or how you ended up here? When you are constantly feeling like you have to look over your shoulder?
Relationship abuse can be very well hidden, especially now when many stay indoors. While for some people spending more time at home is a blessing, for others it has been an ongoing nightmare.
With the current global pandemic there has been an increase in reports related to domestic abuse and violence. According to UN data, 243 million women and girls aged 15-49 were sexually or physically abused by their partner during the last 12 months, or - one in three women experienced such violence anywhere in her life.
When Supergirl actress Melissa Benoist started dating her former partner, Glee star Blake Jenner, she never in her wildest dreams imagined he would hurt her physically and emotionally. Melissa bravely opened up about her past abusive relationship in November 2019 on the 14-minute Instagram video she posted. "I am a survivor of domestic violence or IPV — intimate-partner violence — which is something I never in my life expected I would say, let alone be broadcasting into the ether," Melissa said.
Their relationship didn't start abusive, on the contrary. It started when Melisa felt confused and he became her friend. The one she could rely on, the one to put a smile on her face.
"He was a magnanimous person who didn’t really give you a choice not to be drawn to him. He could be charming, funny, manipulative, devious... I was newly single and gaining my bearings after a period of change in my life making dumb decisions, but in the midst of that, he became a friend. A friend who made me laugh and feel less alone, made me feel special and worthwhile. Once we started dating, it was a zero to 60 catapult.”
Black shared with Melissa his struggles and pain. Since she cared for him, she felt empathetic and wanted to help. He started to show abusive behavior as he revealed his jealousy by trying to monitor who she sees and speaks with. There is a big difference between concern and control, if someone wants to monitor your activity and conversations he is more controlling than caring.
“there was a lot of jealousy, he was snooping on devices… I had to change clothes often before we went out because he didn’t want people looking at me.”
In abusive relationships, the abuser uses Gaslighting which is a form of psychological and emotional abuse used to eradicate or alter another human being's perception of reality to gain influence, power, and control. It causes the victim to feel off-balance, confused, it can shake their confidence and cause self-doubt and guilt.
Little by little his jealousy and comments started to affect Melissa's career and social life as his criticism, mind-games and behavior lead her to cancel auditions and keep a distance from friendships "I didn't wanted to hurt him, none of it registered as abuse because I was worried about what he felt at that point." she explained.
The physical violence started after 5 months of dating "a smoothie being thrown in my face" before escalating to the point where she was "pinned down, slapped and repeatedly punched".
"I learned to lock myself in rooms but quickly stopped because the door was inevitably broken down," she said.
Shame and self-blame can lead to continuously being hunted by the secret you never wanted to be a part of in the first place. “It had to be secret for shame, for fear of more attacks, for reluctance to admit any of it was happening,” she explained.
“The stark truth is I learned what it felt like to be pinned down and slapped repeatedly, punched so hard I felt the wind go out of me, dragged by my hair across pavement, head-butted, pinched until my skin broke, slammed against the wall so hard the drywall broke, choked.” She said.
Melissa's self-worth changed "I learned not to value myself." After emotional and physical abuse, she was no longer feeling like herself. Every time she couldn't take it anymore, he made the "typical abuser apologies speech". He'd kneel next to the tub crying self-hating tears with me." Melissa painfully explained.
She forgave him as she convinced herself she could love him enough to help him change, even though deep down she didn't believe he will.
There was a breaking point. A turning point at which Melissa knew she was no longer able to keep living this way. “The impact tore my iris, nearly ruptured my eyeball, lacerated my skin, and broke my nose. My left eye swelled shut, I had a fat lip,” she said, adding that her vision would “never be the same”.
Melissa knew she wasn't in a loving relationship, that wasn't what love should be and feel like. She felt tired from anxiety and from the burden of carrying this secret. Tired of this physical/emotional abuse and daily nightmare. "I made myself believe I had no one to turn to if I did leave him, and I was ashamed." She explained.
After a brave friend reached out to her, she finally shared her secret and revealed the painful truth. Shortly afterward Melissa used the impenetrable strength she built up throughout the pain and struggle and got out of the relationship. Melissa chose to share her story because she knows she is not alone, and she wants to help women who are experiencing now what she went through.
4 Abuser Partner Tricks:
Isolation: Partner insists on spending all or the majority of your time together, cutting you off from friends and family, making fun of your interests in other activities.
Possessiveness and jealousy: Partner constantly accuses you of sexual interactions with anyone in your life (friends, teachers, bosses, counselors, etc.). Accuses you of flirting; monitors how you look and what you wear.
Controlling behavior: In the beginning, an abuser will attribute controlling behavior to concern for the victim (for example, the victim's safety or decision-making skills). As this behavior progresses the situation will worsen, and the abuser may assume all control of finances or prevent the victim from coming and going freely.
Quick involvement: A victim often has known or dated the abuser for a brief period of time before getting engaged or living together. The abuser will pressure the victim to commit to the relationship. A victim may be made to feel guilty for wanting to slow the pace or end the relationship.