Any time I’ve found myself in a truly toxic situation or dynamic, it hasn’t been until after the fact that I’ve been able to acknowledge it. It’s difficult to categorise someone’s words or actions as abusive when you feel fondness towards them. When you love someone – romantically or otherwise – you feel as if you understand them.
“That’s just their humour“, “They didn’t mean it like that“, “They were just joking“.
And sometimes, this might truly be the case.
But sweetheart, please please please listen to your emotions. How has the interaction made you feel? Have you withdrawn into yourself? Is your face burning? Have they made you cry? If any of this is the case, it’s a sign that something seriously needs to be looked at.
As a victim of emotional abuse from my Dad, honouring my emotions is something I’ve had so much difficulty with. I’ve always known I’m pretty sensitive, so whenever painful emotions arise within me, I can be quick to disregard them as me being “over-emotional”. I feel as if my emotions were invalidated a lot as a child, which has left me unable to fully trust them.
The first time that I was in a toxic, enmeshed relationship after the one with my Dad was actually a friendship a couple of years ago. He was your typical “nice guy”, always bending over backwards to help people out. Really considerate. We got really close really quickly and had the best laughs with each other. But after a while he started to get nasty and short with me. He was quick to go from joking to hostile and there was one situation in his car when he completely blew up at me because I’d interrupted him. He was driving me home and he yelled and yelled at me despite my attempts to apologise and placate him.
When I got in the door (I was living with my Mam at the time), I burst into tears. I felt like there were pins all over my body, my scalp prickled and I cried from my belly. After apologising to him again by text, I started to distance myself from him. When he asked us to meet up to chat about it, I responded by saying I was scared of his volatility and I’d rather not. At first he accepted this, but later that day came a very long, very abusive message. The type of message you start to read and it’s so horrible that it makes your heart race. It was a completely personal attack fuelled by hatred and anger that I quickly deleted.
This was a great lesson for me about how if a friendship comes on strong and fast, it’s never far from being toxic and enmeshed. Boundaries are so important, as is protecting your energy. If someone seems impossibly nice and if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Practice keeping your distance and nurturing your self worth, independence and autonomy. When guys get really close to you and boundaries are blurred, it is the perfect opportunity for them to get under your skin and pick on you.
The next time I found myself in a situation that was markedly abusive was my second relationship. The confusing thing is that it wasn’t all the time. Nowhere near. We had great times and we really loved each other. But every now and then, when we were drunk, things would turn south. I think alcohol can be a real test for a relationship. So many arguments and problems arise because of it. But just because alcohol is an identified factor in these arguments, it should not undermine their severity.
On more than one occasion, he became incredibly hostile, making jabs at me, challenging me – like he was daring me to fight. It didn’t matter what I said, nothing placated him. And if he really lost it, he would completely turn on me, yelling at me, undermining me in any way possible. “Childish” was a word that came up multiple times. My mental health was also fair game. I became a shell of myself. I remember the first time it happened, I was sitting down, turned away from him and looking down at my lap, just wanting it to stop. I was dissociating because it was too much to bear.
Other than those horrible drunken fights, there were other telltale signs in the relationship that brought me down. I was ignored quite a lot – excuses for this included humour and anxiety (he’d often completely ignore me when we were in the company of other people). I was also undermined a lot in the name of “jokes”. He responded with anger to my confession about self harm, leaving me feeling pathetic and rejected at my lowest point. Then after we broke up and I started to move on, he took huge issue with it and began sending me angry messages. The last message he sent was the worst. He saved the worst for last.
Aside from that, my first impression of him was very negative. I actually thought he was a woman hater. But I thought perhaps I was being too judgemental so I ultimately ignored my intuition.
I try not to beat myself up over it but it’s so difficult. That first night, sitting staring at my lap, why did I not end it? Because I was in love.
Now I’m seeing someone new and part of me is terrified. Lately I’ve been feeling very anxious. I’m worried about putting myself in a vulnerable position again and letting love warp my brain. Learning to honour my emotions is my primary intention at the moment.
“There are no small upsets”. – A Course In Miracles
To me, this quote means that we are never upset for no reason. And even if we are not truly upset with the matter in hand, we have been triggered about something which happened in the past. The only way to know what we are truly upset about is to listen to that emotion and meditate on it. Saying to ourselves: “What am I really upset about here? What am I afraid of?” can help unravel the knot of emotion in our gut.
Aside from meditating on the emotion and listening to my gut, I think it could benefit me to remember that I don’t owe anyone anything. I don’t need to be a people pleaser. Voicing my concerns, striving to get my needs met and setting my own boundaries in a kind way are all things I’m entitled to do. Even if I don’t get the response I’d hoped for, which brings me to the next point.
I am not responsible for the actions and reactions of another. All I am responsible for is my own. So many times, I’ve accepted someone lashing out at me – believing that I deserved it. Anger can hold a lot of conviction but don’t be fooled – more than anything it’s a signpost to that person’s own personal problems and self-esteem issues. It should not be taken personally.
Lastly, a word about humour. It is not an acceptable disguise for emotional abuse. We all like to joke around, we can all derive enjoyment from it, but if a joke cuts too close to the bone; pay attention to it. And voice it. Regardless of how silly we might feel. There are many instances where if I’d set my boundaries with humour in the first place, I would’ve also set the standard for how I allow myself to be spoken to, or I’d have weeded out those people from my life altogether. Narcissists love to patronise and insult you within the guise of humour, be watchful of that. Jokes do not rob you of all responsibility to be a nice, respectful person…
I wrote this post to help myself out more than anything but hopefully it could help someone else, too. Here’s to honouring our emotions all 2019, attracting healthy dynamics into our lives and feeling the empowerment that comes with setting the standard for how we allow ourselves to be treated.
Thanks so much for reading.
– SMUT. ❤ xxxx
Art by Jonathan Pinto – check out his website here
5 thoughts on ““It’s Just A Joke” – The Many Faces Of Emotional Abuse”
Hi H. A brilliant post. Beautiful writing throughout, I especially loved the opening few paragraphs, and this: ‘Anger can hold a lot of conviction but don’t be fooled – more than anything it’s a signpost to that person’s own personal problems and self-esteem issues. It should not be taken personally.’
And this resonated with me due to recent events: ‘This was a great lesson for me about how if a friendship comes on strong and fast, it’s never far from being toxic and enmeshed. Boundaries are so important, as is protecting your energy. If someone seems impossibly nice and if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.’ Wise words, as always. All the best in your new relationship.
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Hi Rachel, thanks so much. This was an important one for me to write and I’m glad you found something you could relate to also. Taking things slow this time round has allowed me to continually check in on myself which I really value.
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This was a wonderful read and I could relate in so many ways !! Xx
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Aw great, glad you enjoyed it. I find myself a bit desperate to find accounts of emotional abuse similar to mine to feel validated – I’m glad I could do that for you in a way! 🙂 xx
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You absolutely did do that for me so thank you xxxx
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