Post 4 – The first assault on me

One night in July 2016, we went to a social event at College together, and he became very drunk. Once we were back in my room, an argument started. We both got into bed but he was shouting at me. Suddenly he got on top of me, straddled me and put both hands around my neck. He squeezed hard. I remember the look on his face – one of power, defiance. He was red with anger. I tried to scream but it came out hoarse. I remember hoping someone would hear but I think no one else was in the house. I was crying and pleading with him to get off. I remember trying to push his weight off me but I couldn’t move. Then he lifted his right arm and, with his fist, punched me hard in the left side of my head, just above my ear which also got caught by the punch. I went still and he moved off me. I ran to the wardrobe and put on a hoodie and some tracksuit bottoms. He kept coming towards me and I repeatedly told him to get away from me. I kept asking him to leave but he wouldn’t. I then started trying to leave but he blocked my way. I was crying and begged him to let me go. Eventually he stepped to one side and I ran out of the door and across the road to College.

One of the porters (security staff) let me in and I ran past him crying. While running through College I rang a friend of mine who lived close by. I told her he had hit me and asked her to come and meet me. I was frantic and still crying. She came and took me back to her room, through the back entrance of the College. My head was throbbing and spinning and I couldn’t stop crying. I remember my ear feeling very hot and sore as well. As I was telling her what had happened, my phone was going off non-stop with calls and messages from him. Then her phone started going, as did the doorbell. I don’t know how he knew I had gone there but I presume he had followed me. He was still drunk and started banging on the door and shouting. My friend became scared and rang another friend of ours who lived with his girlfriend just down the road. She told him what had happened and asked him for help. He came and took my partner to his house for the night.

I tried to sleep on the floor, but my head and ear hurt so much and I was wracked with guilt for telling anyone that he had hit me. Once the initial fear had worn off, I began to blame myself again for setting him off and thought I should have been more careful not to wind him up. In the morning, I told my friend, and the girlfriend of the man who had taken my partner home, that I wanted to see him, that it was my fault he hit me and I still wanted to be with him. They seemed wary and unsure but I insisted. Unfortunately they did not recognise the emotional manipulation at play here and did not report the event to anyone. When I saw him again, he apologised profusely and told me he was ashamed and would never drink again.

–> Post 5 – The effect of his violence on me, his worsening emotional abuse and the second assault on me

Post 3 – Further development of emotional abuse

We had previously spoken light-heartedly about wanting to be together forever and get married but towards the end of the trip, the topic became more serious and he suggested that it might be a way to enable me to trust him properly. I felt so glad that he wanted to be with me, despite the issues I now believed I had, that I thought it was a wonderful idea. We talked about it a few more times and I thought he was right that it would fix my trust issues. Whilst we were on a trip to visit his father (his parents divorced when he was young) in May, we spoke about it again, agreed it would be best, and he broke the news to his family.

After this, everything became much worse. The emotional abuse became far more obvious but I was too trapped in the mentality of him being right and everything being my fault to see what was going on. He flitted between insults and compliments, telling me I was a bad person and broken but said that he was patient and loved me so was going to help fix me. He would bring up things I had supposedly said or done, weeks or months ago, and tell me how upset I had made him feel. I had no memory of these things but he would convince me they had happened and ask me to apologise. At the same time he would tell me I was wonderful, send me huge numbers of messages about how he wanted his life with me and how he had never loved anyone in the same way before.

When we argued, he started saying I was crazy and hormonal. Thinking perhaps my contraceptive pill might be causing problems, I decided to come off of it. As with many women, this made my hormones go all over the place for a while and I became more upset and frustrated that nothing was working to make me happier.

In June we were invited on a trip to France with friends. I struggled to act happy and, whilst sometimes he told me all his friends liked me, other times he accused me of embarrassing him, saying that actually his friends were unsure about me and whether we should be together – that this was my chance to prove myself to them and I was failing. I burst into tears at one point when alone with two of the women. I told them my fear of no one wanting me there and they couldn’t understand where it had come from. They comforted me and told me everyone wanted me there. I felt as though I was going mad.

–> Post 4 – The first assault on me

Post 2 – The use of self-harm and further confusion

When he began to be violent, after a couple of months, it was directed at objects – he threw a book across the room and punched a bed frame. In doing the latter, he damaged his knuckle, which I felt extremely guilty for. This seemed to set off something in him, for he then progressed to directing his violence at himself. If we argued, he would punch himself in the legs, slap himself in the head and face and once scratched his own fingernails across his forehead. He would then blame me for it, saying “look what you made me do”. I became increasingly scared. As far as I could work out, I was driving this man to hurt himself and I felt like a monster. (Having since spoken about self-harm behaviour with Women’s Aid, I now understand it to be a common guilt-inducing tactic used by abusers.)

I began to feel very frantic and panicky during this time. I was struggling to understand what was happening and feeling very scared, but wasn’t sure what about. His behaviour also made me feel more insecure and clingy towards him, which he got annoyed about. I found myself feeling like I needed to be around him more than before. I struggled to sleep even when he did not disturb me, and had huge worries about myself and whether I was truly damaged. I thought about visiting a counsellor, but believed I could fix things myself. I was determined to make the relationship work.

I was due to go abroad for fieldwork in April 2016 and we agreed he would come along as my assistant. I could not work out why I was so unhappy and why this relationship was not working and I thought perhaps going away together would help. Instead, things got worse. Out there, the fights continued, the accusations of lack of trust continued, and I started to wonder if there was something seriously wrong with me. I had a wonderful PhD position and, I thought, a wonderful partner – why couldn’t I just be happy?

A key event occurred while we were there, when one day, after an argument, I asked him for some space and cycled off to a field site. He followed me there, however, and the argument continued. I became very panicked and asked him to go back to the house and leave me alone. He refused and kept coming towards me, shouting at me. I screamed at him to leave me alone and pleaded with him to give me some space. He ignored me and came towards me again, trying to grab my arms to hold me in place, at which point I slapped him. I immediately felt extremely guilty and apologised to him. He held me while I cried and said it was ok, that he could see it wasn’t me acting in that way but that it was my lack of trust in him and my inability to love properly that was the problem. I felt so relieved at being forgiven and angry at myself that I was acting in this way and unable to just be happy. (The fact that I slapped him caused me huge shame until only recently, when I confided in a member of staff at Women’s Aid, who told me it is very common for violence in a relationship to start with the abused lashing out at the abuser, who then uses it to increase feelings of guilt.)

–> Post 3 – Further development of emotional abuse

Post 1 – The beginning of the relationship and initial development of emotional abuse

I met my former partner, a Cambridge PhD student like me, at the end of 2015. Emotional abuse and manipulation were present from the start, though, being uneducated in the signs, I failed to recognise what was happening. I was very insecure, having come out of a long relationship which I was struggling to get over. He was charming, popular and intelligent and I thought he was wonderful.

To start with, we were happy. We had a huge number of mutual and overlapping interests which I enjoyed discussing with him. Within just a couple of weeks he told me that he loved me and wanted to be with me for ever. He told me he had never felt like this about anyone before and often bought me expensive gifts. I felt extremely lucky and happy to have found a partner I shared so much with.

The relationship quickly became very intense and he began spending every night at my place as well as coming to every social event with me. I often felt I wanted some space, but since he was always so eager to see me, I felt too guilty to bring up the issue. Each night he would want to talk until late, despite any protests of mine about wanting an early night. If I didn’t talk much he would usually initiate sex, which I felt obliged to agree to, though I often felt far too exhausted. I worried that if I turned him down too much, he might decide he didn’t want to be with me. He frequently told me how much his ex- wanted to get back together with him and I thought he might return to her. I thought he was a great catch, and insecurity on my part caused me to feel I did not deserve him, so I was quick to overlook behaviours on his part that I thought were unfair. I believed he was just very keen and that things would settle with time.

Chronic lack of sleep led me to become exhausted and ill, however. Some friends picked up on this but I did not speak to them much about the cause, for fear of them thinking badly of him. I thought we would settle into a better routine and were just finding our feet. I wanted to be with him and I wanted to make it work. However, being so over-tired and not having any of my own space made me stressed and grumpy. I would frequently snap at or nag him, and he would respond by lecturing me about it, often for hours. He would say that I didn’t trust him enough and if I fully believed he was on my side I would never snap at him.

When I tried to walk away from arguments he would pin me in place by my wrists or block the door. If I did manage to persuade him to let me leave and go to work, he would often turn up to my office to continue the conversation and I started to get behind in my work. He would frequently burst into tears, which made me feel very guilty and back down. He would also remind me for days, sometimes weeks afterwards, about things that I had said which had upset him.

He then began to react in similar ways at times when I did not snap at him but was just sad or quiet. He said if I truly loved and trusted him, I would have no need to ever feel sad. I began to believe that he was right, that that was how true relationships worked and perhaps I had just never learnt to love properly before. I felt very ashamed of my behaviour towards him and couldn’t understand why I kept snapping or why I couldn’t feel happier.

Feeling under such pressure to be happy, I became more stressed and upset. He started to tell me that I had mental health problems and severe trust issues. He told me he could put up with me being snappy because he saw the good in me and thought I would get better as I learnt to trust him properly. My insecurity became worse and worse and I felt guilty that, from my perspective, he was having to take the time to teach me how to be in the relationship with him and put up with my issues. However, I still had a small voice in my head saying he was wrong and that I was better than he said, and I found myself bouncing back and forth between these two mentalities. I had had good, long-term relationships before this one and so couldn’t understand why all these issues hadn’t come up before. I wondered if my ex-partners just hadn’t told me how bad I was. We continued to have intense arguments, usually ignited by me either snapping as a result of being miserable and over-tired, or disagreeing with something he had said or done. He would leap on anything negative on my part, however minor, and tell me how much I was hurting him, crying and pleading with me to say I was wrong, to trust and believe him. He would interrupt and talk over me, faster and louder so I could not respond. No matter the subject, he would always steer the argument towards me not trusting him. I felt very confused and began to doubt all of my opinions. He told me that my parents were to blame and that I had insecurity issues because of my relationship with them. He insisted throughout that he was trying to help me, to fix me and that I had to let him. Because I felt it was me initiating the arguments, I believed he was right and that I was in the wrong. I vowed to listen to him more and to change my behaviour.

–> Post 2 – The use of self-harm and further confusion