Domestic abuse wrecks lives, damages families and communities. In this series of posts we present the real life experiences of South Leeds women who have suffered various forms of domestic abuse. They make for uncomfortable reading, but it is important that we all understand domestic abuse, how to spot it and how to stop it.
We have kept the individuals anonymous. Where we have used names these have been changed to keep everyone safe. The stories, information and advice have been collated by Kushmina Begum, Claire Carter, Linda Meikle and others.
Does your head spin all day, every day, with what is true and what is not? Do you doubt yourself constantly, feeling unable to believe what your own eyes, ears and brain tell you? I do.
Whilst for some this can be a profound lack of self-confidence, for others it has come about due to being in a toxic, manipulative relationship. Like mine.
I met C when he moved to the area. We became friendly, and it was hard not to be impressed by him. He was so different than anyone else. Handsome, charming, confident, with a really fascinating life. He wasn’t shy with the compliments either, and who doesn’t like to feel special?
The relationship moved quickly, but I was keen not to seem like I wanted to “own” him. He was a “Free spirit” after all. So we agreed not to be exclusive. I just had one rule: Tell me if you meet someone else. I didn’t want to get in the way of what could become a “real” long-term thing, and I didn’t want to be “The other woman.”
Imagine my feelings of betrayal, then, when evidence came piling up that he had not only met someone else, but he had been in a relationship with this someone for quite some time. On confronting him with this evidence, I was branded a crazy woman, a stalker, and told I had no right to feel hurt.
But I did. I felt foolish, jealous and used. Somewhere at the back of those feelings, though, was the thought that perhaps I had over-reacted? Perhaps I was the one at fault? Maybe I wasn’t firm enough with my initial rule? This doubt overtook everything else until I was desperate to make ammends.
Imagine my relief when he made contact, and indicated I had been forgiven for “my” behaviour! Things took off again. He had “Let her go,” the other woman (his words). Like you would let go a member of staff. Little did I know at the time how accurate this phrasing was.
When we were together, everything was wonderful. We would have deep conversations about our past, sharing secrets. He would tell me about his difficulties and I would tell him about mine. Every now and again, he would name-drop other women. Ex-partners, or female friends he was still in contact with. And always, always, he would look for a reaction.
He once appeared delighted when he mentioned the ex-girlfriend, going as far as to point out the way my whole body tensed up. “You’re jealous!” he said, with a huge grin. Who takes such pleasure in the discomfort of others?
When we weren’t together, it was a different story. Not in the beginning. In the beginning, my phone would ping with sweet nothings from morning till night. “So what?” you say, that’s a normal stage every relationship goes through, right?
Indeed it is, but when someone suddenly becomes unreachable by a method of contact they have previously used to the full, that is a big, screaming warning sign. I noticed it. Days would pass, and my messages would be read, but not responded to. Or sometimes not even read at all.
On the occassions where he would respond, the reply would be terse at best. Just as I was beginning to panic, as if by magic, the sweet messages would return again, drawing me back in to that wonderful feeling of love and security. Excuses of bad signal, a heavy workload, illness, forgetfulness, were all lapped up by yours truly.
I began to notice that nothing was ever my decision
I also began to notice that nothing was ever my decision. Everything was on his terms. When I saw him, it was because he had called and I had come. If, however, I asked for his company, it didn’t happen. He would go where he wanted, when he wanted, and if I showed an interest, he would berate me for “Trying to control him.”
So I stopped asking. I became scared to ask, scared to be seen as clingy and paranoid. If he knew I was visiting friends, he would ask me to see him instead. So infrequent was my time with him, and so relieved did I feel that he wanted to be with me, I would do just that!
Then there was the rage. He would pick a subject I was passionate about, then he would rage on and on about how ridiculous my beliefs were. How he couldn’t believe someone with my inteligence could be so stupid. This could go on for hours. In the end, I would just agree with him on any subject, even if I knew he was wrong.
There was a constant feeling of walking on eggshells
It was so much easier than having an opinion, and besides, I figured he must be having a bad day to get so worked up. It was my job to make him feel better. There was a constant feeling of walking on eggshells.
I questioned everything I ever said, did or wrote to him. I questioned everything he ever said, did or wrote to me. I looked for meanings in messages, spoken words, body language and actions. He was awake and online, so why wasn’t he talking to me? I knew this was crazy, but I felt so unsure of where I stood with him and so unable to discuss it for fear of losing him.
One instance stood out for me as the defining moment in how far he had come with his level of control. For three weeks, I had essentially begged for his company. For three weeks, he had deflected, giving a heavy work load and illness as a reason. Then, oh rapture! I was walking on air, he had sent me a message stating very clearly how we would be together as soon as he was able. Not long now.
The following day, he proceeded to tell me his wonderful old friend (a woman, and avery attactive one at that) was going to be in town and would be spending the night at his house.
I remember feeling physically sick. I remember the pain actually manifested like a punch in the stomach. I remember the anger.
He didn’t contact me for a week after that. I had tried calling that night, but of course his phone was off and he wasn’t responding to my messages. When he did finally get in touch, he queried why I seemed so down. When I told him how hurt I had felt, guess who was at fault? How DARE I suggest there was anything going on between him and his sweet friend, a woman who he loves and cherishes so much? Really, the man did protest too much.
I was punished. He blocked my messages for a time, until he decided I had learned my lesson not to question him. Then it was business as usual. Of course, he now knows this woman gets a reaction, so she is name-dropped on a regular basis. I strongly suspect she is in the same situation with him as I am, as she has been doing her own research into me.
What situation is that? We go back to his own words, “I let her go.” The situation is, I am staff. As are all the others. This man is my boss, my controller. He chooses how to treat me, when to see me, what I see and what I say and do.
I am punished for my failures with silent treatments, comparisons to others who are all “So much better” than I will ever be, rants and indifference. All sprinkled with just enough crumbs of comfort to make me think otherwise. Whilst I am being punished, he looks to others for comfort. They then become flavour of the month, until they fall out of favour because of their actions.
Then it’s my turn to be invited back into the fold. This is my story of how domestic abuse does not always have to be physical. Sometimes, the manipulation of a person’s mind, insidiously and over time, can turn someone into a different person. A person who no longer has self-respect or boundaries.
A person driven so crazy with this gaslighting behaviour, that when the abuser suddenly decides to move onto a “shiny new toy,” leaving the initial plaything so broken that they scream in pain and try to resist by any means necessary, the abuser can then say to his friends (and remember, they are all walking the same tightrope of favour at all times) “See! I told you she was a nutjob.”
Where to get help
In an emergency call 999. If you can’t talk press 55 when prompted, the operator will stay on the line with you
Call the Leeds 24 hour domestic abuse phone line on (0113) 246 0401
Ask for “ANI” at any pharmacy offering a Safe Space, including Boots, Superdrug and many independent pharmacies. You will be taken to a private consulting room and offered support
Leeds Women’s Aid run a refuge and offer advice a support: leedswomensaid.org.uk
If you need to travel to take up a refuge place you can travel free by train on the Rail To Refuge scheme
Find more information on the Leeds City Council website here
Other useful organisations:
Behind Closed Doors: Leeds based support for peopole affected by domestic violence and abuse www.behind-closed-doors.org.uk
Refuge: run a freephone 24-hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0808 2000 247 www.refuge.org.uk
Respect: run a helpline for male victims of domestic abuse 0808 8010 327 mensadviceline.org.uk
Karma Nirvana support victims of honour-based abuse and forced marriages karmanirvana.org.uk