I waited more than two years to tell my family that my marriage was over, afraid to say what had been happening in our home.
There was no way to explain my ex-husband’s ongoing, despicable behavior, and I was ashamed of how I’d put up with so much for so long. I also knew that if there were a chance of saving the relationship, they would never forgive him.
When I eventually opened up to one of my sisters, it was the day after I’d finally gotten him out of the house. She listened, and then firmly told me that I had been in an abusive relationship.
It was one of the most shocking statements I’d ever heard.
How could I, an educated, independent, intelligent, successful woman, be a victim of abuse? I had run my own business, managed people for years, and traveled chunks of the globe by myself. I was even trained as a crisis counselor! It was impossible that I, of all people, could have been so blind.
During my training two years later as a state-certified domestic violence advocate, I not only learned how right she was, but in how many ways I had been living with domestic violence for nearly half my life.
Since that revelation, I have talked to hundreds of some of the most intelligent and capable people who thought the exact same thing, that domestic abuse happens to the uneducated, the weak, the poor.
How is then possible for it to be the second most-reported crime in my upper-middle-class town full of achievers and success stories?
Domestic violence can happen to anyone, regardless of socioeconomic background or education levels, and it includes way more than physical abuse. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, it is essentially a “pattern of behaviors used by one partner to maintain power and control over another person in an intimate relationship.”
Emotional and psychological abuse, including narcissistic abuse, are much more insidious than physical abuse, because they do not leave obvious marks.
At the beginning of most relationships, people put their best face forward. In toxic relationships, however, controlling behaviors and intimidation emerge and become more common as the relationship matures.
Some behavior can appear romantic in the beginning. For example, showing extreme jealousy of your friends or family, and not wanting you to spend time on other activities because your partner would rather be together may initially make you feel valued.
But this control is a common manipulative technique that an abuser will use to eventually isolate you from as many people as possible.