Testimonial 1, 30 years old
I was 20 years old when I was in that relationship that overall lasted about three years. He tried to control me throughout. A typical example would be that every time he noticed a change in my appearance, or if he thought I made an extra effort, he immediately accused me of doing it for somebody other than him. I remember once that I was on a diet and lost a lot of weight, and he told me that I only did this because I was going abroad to study and “I wanted to look good so guys would make a pass at me and I’d cheat on him.”
He was very jealous and didn’t want me to be around other men. He believed that everyone who approached me did so because they wanted to have sex with me, so I couldn’t just tell him that “I’m going to have a cup of coffee with a [male] friend”, because he’d accuse me of flirting.I even saved some friends’ numbers under women’s names. After all, I had valid reasons to believe that he was checking my mobile. I ended up meeting with my friends in secret without telling him.
Another example would be when he tried to limit and contain me when he saw that some of my goals or choices might create a bit of a distance between us. I used to tell him that I wanted to do a Masters degree in a specific city abroad, at a specific university. His reaction was to tell me that I didn’t really want to study nor did I care about University. “You just want to go to another city so you can be away from me. This way you can go to parties and meet guys”. “Come back to your senses, find a Master’s degree in Athens so we can be together”.
At the same time, he thought that some of my female friends were “threatening”, probably because he realised that they disapproved of our relationship. He kept badmouthing them to me and calling them “dumb, shallow, too promiscuous”. He was so judgemental towards them that I felt uncomfortable telling him when I saw them. If I told him that I met with one of them, and then happened to see him, he’d immediately ask “What did they say about me?”. He created such a disapproving and hostile environment around them and an “it’s either them or me” vibe, that I felt bad meeting them by myself (or telling him that I saw them), because I knew that he’d be upset afterwards.
There was no physical violence, but there was verbal abuse. A constant undermining of my intelligence and appearance on one hand and a continuous effort to prove to me how much I needed him and how nice of him it was to pay me any attention.
I remember an incident when we were in the car and had just had a fight. The reason was that I mentioned the name of a guy and he started saying “Who is he? Why haven’t I heard of him before? Is he your ex”. At first, I told him that it didn’t matter because it was ancient history, but he insisted and yelled until I told him that indeed I dated that guy before I met him. He got really mad because I had sexual relations with a guy before him, he said that I put him off and he started speeding like crazy, ignoring the traffic lights, despite me shouting that I was scared.
What’s strange is that if one asked me at the time, I wouldn’t say that I was into a bad relationship. When I broke up with him, I felt that something was wrong. I wanted to break free from that. But even then, I blamed myself for wanting to leave him and for not being happy with a man that loved me and took care of me despite my flaws and weaknesses.
My instinct told me to walk out, but I was blaming myself. That’s why the break up was extremely difficult for me. The main event was followed by major psychological blackmail. “You’re leaving me after all the years I’ve wasted on you”. “I don’t have any friends left because I was spending every minute with you, and now you’re leaving me alone and unhappy”. “You’re a disappointment. I was wrong to pick you”. I was feeling guilty constantly because he was blaming me for everything. For talking with guys, for not being smart like him. Whenever there was something the matter between us on a personal or sexual level, it was always my fault. I felt so guilty that I wouldn’t share any of this with my friends.
For a good while after we broke up, he logged in my personal account on one social media platform and checked my personal conversations, without my knowledge. He was trying to control me by violating my privacy. He didn’t accept that I have boundaries, my own personality and my own life. Also, he kept approaching people I know in order to get in touch with me.
Generally speaking, looking back, I realise that in domains that he wasn’t so good or he couldn’t satisfy me, he would blame it on me or he’d say that “it was nice of him to be as patient as he was with me”.
It took me 7 years after our breakup to realise that this was a deeply toxic relationship, that my partner was deeply transgressive, that he undermined me constantly in order to keep me close to him, that he made sure I always felt guilty, that he pushed me away from my friends so that I couldn’t share with them what was happening in the relationship. The issues were two: One, that I didn’t realise that the situation was problematic and also that I didn’t share it with anyone.
Today, I still can’t figure out why it took me so long to realise that this situation was deeply disarming for me. I feel puzzled and angry that it took me 7 years to get angry with that jerk. I feel a deferred and deep anger towards him. And I feel sorry for the 20-year-old me that thought that all this was normal and that I deserved it.
Testimonial 2, 42 years old
The relationship started when I was 30 years old. During the first three months, there was no indication of what was to follow. It felt like a dream. He was caring, funny and I felt that he lived for me; that we had a rare and unique connection.
Then, I started receiving daily criticism about my clothes. He would say that a shirt or a knee-length skirt were too provoking. Even certain trousers, because they were tight and outlined parts of my body. I am a smiling person both with the people that are close to me, as well as with business partners or associates and for that, I was accused of being immoral. Thus I had to explain that in the name of common courtesy, it’s customary to smile at waiters, for example. I don’t need to distinguish between genders, as he was equally jealous of men and women – something that I perceived as an indication of love and devotion, instead of as an insult to my personality.
One afternoon, I was meant to meet an ex colleague at a cafe near my workplace. I left my car at the company’s parking lot and went to the meeting place with another colleague’s car. I thought we’d be 4 women in total, but when I got there, I saw that there were 2 more male colleagues present. While I was there, he called me, but I didn’t mention there were six of us after all.
One of the male colleagues would leave earlier, so I asked him to drop me at work, so I could pick up my car.
When I was at my colleague’s car, he called me again. I told him that in five minutes, my colleague would drop me off at work. That’s when he started yelling on the phone and call him all sorts of obscenities. My colleague was worried about me and asked me to stay with me at the parking lot, so he could clear things out with my partner. I told him that there was nothing reproachable in our work relationship nor in the fact that he dropped me off at work, and I let him leave.
In five minutes, he arrived in his own car, his face red with anger and he started banging on my window yelling that I should get out of the car. At first, I didn’t realise how serious things were, because I’ve never seen him like this before. Plus I hadn’t done anything to make him this upset. He was threatening me that he’d break the window, all the while looking for a crowbar in his trunk, so I got out of the car. He snatched my phone and asked me to call my colleague but I didn’t have his number.
This is when he grabbed my wrists and pushed me against the wall while calling me names and making harsh and abrupt moves on me. I started crying and waved to a passing vehicle. The driver stopped to see what was the matter. This was the peak of the incident, since a punch on my face made me fear for my physical integrity. The other driver left and three minutes later, two police bikes arrived. We explained what happened and they asked me if I wanted to press charges. I said no and asked them to make him return my mobile phone – that he’d kept- and stall him until I could leave safely. A few minutes later, while I was driving down the highway, still shaking with fear, I saw him driving right next to me, calling me names and following me. I called my brother and told him I was in a difficult situation. He advised me to park my car in the underground parking lot and that he’d be there to protect me.
When we arrived almost at the same time, he was very calm in front of my brother. He spoke to him in a calm voice and told him that I was cheating on him and that he didn’t want to continue our relationship. My brother, who didn’t know that he had hit me, told him that he couldn’t believe I’d do such a thing, but that if this was his decision, then breaking up would be a good solution. I kept thinking of him for nine months and decided to meet him, in order to understand why he believed such nasty things about me that led him to destroy such a lovely relationship.
This, of course, was my biggest mistake, because I got into an endless cycle, when one minute he would show me respect and love, but when I met or spoke to my friends and family, he would treat me like a heartless woman who shares her love, while he only focused on me (In reality, he met his family and friends daily).
After years of therapy, I now know why I couldn’t set any boundaries but instead I let someone humiliate and isolate me while also trying to change me and bad-mouth my loved ones.My insecurities had me hooked up on trying to prove my self-evident worth to a man who was clearly projecting (as per psychology’s terms) his own way of thinking.
Testimonial 3, 30 years old
Almost from Day 1, we would spend a lot of time with one another, because we both wanted to be close to each other. At first he was very caring and tender and in fact, he stayed that way till the end of our relationship, something I considered to be contradictory at the time.
His first outburst happened after a petty incident. In just a few minutes, he became abrupt and explosive, something I thought was unlike him. The more we got to know one another, the more hurtful he’d become every time we fought. He called me names,he swore and undermined me and gradually, he made me think that all the problems in our relationship were due to my behaviour and my insufficiencies. He scrutinised even my tiniest actions, making me feel as if I were constantly under thorough examination. A small mistake on my part could lead to a large-scale episode where I’d end up feeling incapable of fulfilling even the easiest task. I felt stress even during supposedly carefree activities.
At the same time, he started undermining my feelings, my reactions as well as my perception and memory. When I cried during our fights, he’d accuse me of overreacting. When I tried to explain which part of what he said had upset me, he claimed that he never told me such things and that we both knew how bad my memory was. The way he spoke to me was unacceptable to the point that I stopped sharing all that with my friends, either because I was ashamed of staying in that relationship or because I was trying to protect him; probably both.
Gradually, I started developing cooling down tricks, in order to make his frequent outbursts of rage shorter and less violent. In the final phase of our relationship, I had embodied his criticism to a degree that I was convinced this was the only type of behaviour that I deserved. Emotionally, I had entered a state of constant stress and deep loneliness. I felt like the smallest person in the world. I believe that this feeling of being completely broken down inside was the very reason I didn’t believe I had any right to end this relationship. Our break-up was eventually my liberation, because without this development, I wouldn’t be able to take steps towards loving myself, with my positive and negative traits.
Testimonial 4, 40 years old
This was a relationship I had when I was 31. It lasted for 10 years. His efforts to control me were not obvious. On the contrary, they were very hard to detect. For example, while he’d often compliment my looks or my performance, whenever I chose to do anything on my own, there’d be pouting, grumpiness and he’d be difficult. To put it simply: he would ruin it for me. At first, I thought this happened because of the difficult situation this specific ex partner was in at the time, but when I thought about it, I realised that this behaviour was aggravated after this circumstance was over and I had become the mother of our child.
It was very difficult for me to have any personal time. Even though he claimed that he wanted some for himself too or that he was on board, every time I claimed some time for me, the consequences were terrible. Many times, I chose not to do something on my own, not to go out, not to see my friends, because I felt this would raise hell.
The violent outbursts were mostly verbal, rather than physical. Emotional and psychological violence. The anger caused by whichever motive would always be released at home, in front of our child. There wasn’t even any effort to explain or understand this anger, despite my efforts to make him talk about what was happening to him every time. He has sudden and angry outbursts, where he’d use really nasty words, not just addressing me, but also towards a very young child. This was something that I as a young mother found impossible to handle. It all made me feel incredibly guilty. Guilty towards our child, towards myself and towards the relationship itself. I felt that everything was my fault because I couldn’t control or balance every circumstance, regardless of the fact that this had nothing to do with me or our house. It had to do with that person’s insufficiencies that he couldn’t see and didn’t want to manage, with the help of a therapist for example.
There were violent outbursts because this is how masculinities are raised in our society. They’re taught to behave like three-year-old boys that lash out, swear, yell, are mad at everyone and everything but won’t mention what all that’s about. They leave a trail of “ruins” behind and then society calls for “mom” to clean up the mess. This brings the victim or the second person in a terrible imposition, first having to deal with the actual phenomenon and then also with its consequences, even though those are not her fault. So it makes sense when she doesn’t know how to handle all of this. How can I explain to myself or to a baby why my partner or daddy did what he did?
The violent outbursts weren’t just the shouting and the swearing; they could be expressed in different malicious ways, such as the silent treatment. He’d come home and not speak to me at all. He’d wear a long face and act like I was invisible. Me and our kid. This is a very difficult situation to handle, especially considering the fact that I was a mother. The silent treatment is terrible. It is unbearable to feel invisible in your own home, in front of your partner. It’s something that can’t be fully defined by the term “violence”; it’s something way deeper that can utterly deconstruct you. You feel insane and worthless. You believe that you’re invisible to everyone, since the person that matters the most to you won’t see you. You feel incredibly lonely and cut off from the rest of the world.
What helped me immensely was that I found the strength, after a lot of research, to look for a therapist. The first thing I told her was “I think I’m crazy” and that “I think I have some disorder that we should find” because I have a baby. But I didn’t suffer from any mental illness. The issue was the harsh violence and isolation that I was experiencing at home.
The worst thing was that all those things are done by someone who then feels bad about what they did. He didn’t apologise, but he always told me “I’m the only one who loves you so much”, “I can’t live without you”, “you’re everything to me”. Big words and meaningful statements that are just the thing you need at the time, because you go from being invisible, back to the spotlight. I think that this is the worst part for many women who are in toxic relationships.
I felt very guilty because every person who enters in that position has already lost any self-confidence they may have had, they’ve lost their strength and eventually themselves. They’re random dots in a Universe that revolves around another Me. The other Me that determines everything. Therefore you are guilty for everything that’s happening to it.
Self-blame was the only solution. You feel so guilty deep inside your deconstruction, that you can’t even recognise your own reflection in the mirror. It’s practically impossible to make decisions while you’re in this state. The only hope for change is if there’s a ray of sunshine, a helping hand. I was lucky because in previous stages of my life, I’ve built personal relationships. I may have lost them for a while, but when I started screaming for help, in my own way, they were by my side once more.
In this insane situation, I managed to get psychological support. My therapist managed to help me build a supportive environment. Still, said environments (friends, family) can’t help on their own, if there isn’t substantial psychological support, because friends and relatives can’t see clearly what the victim is going through. There has to be an objective observer.
I had the advantage of being a working woman. I had a certain autonomy and managed to stand on my feet, support myself and my child, divorce. Divorce was very hard because it brought consequences that were worse than what I was experiencing while I was in the relationship. When we tell women to leave a toxic relationship, they need to have a lot of help and support that will be available to them in the long term. It’s a year after and I feel that I’m finally finding myself again. Compared to that period of my life, I think that I am now wiser and liberated.
I think that I’ve come a long way since the day I left. I feel stronger than before. I don’t feel hate for the person I was with. He was partly my choice. Sometimes I think of him with pity, because he also has a lot of demons that he hasn’t faced, even though he should. I don’t see myself as a victim anymore. I feel free and this is the most important thing. I now feel really free.