This post deals with domestic abuse and could be triggering for some readers.
This weekend, four years since my abusive ex-husband and I separated, I attended an event he was also at. The host, an old friend of mine, hadn't thought to tell me he'd be there. I had no opportunity to decline the invitation or to prepare myself mentally for the encounter.
Watch: Coercive control is a deliberate pattern of abuse. Post continues below.
When I saw him, I left immediately because my heart started pumping so hard I thought I was having a heart attack and felt like I was going to pass out. After some time sitting in the car talking to my boyfriend and bestie on the phone, I went back in for an hour just to show myself I could.
Reflecting on all that later, here's what I learned:
- Despite thinking I'd dealt with my fear, my body recognised danger and went into a fight/flight response. I trusted that response at the moment but am pleased I thought through the situation logically.
- I now know my friend still doesn’t believe what happened to me. She never did.
- Some friends are best let go.
After my ex-husband and I separated, a counsellor helped me to understand what had been happening to me. When she first referred to it as 'emotional abuse', I was shocked. After a while, I spoke about it but some friends didn't believe me. They couldn't accept my ex as the person I was describing and found it easier to nullify and deny my lived experience.
When a victim of emotional abuse finally musters the courage to speak out about what's happened to them, please do that person the honour of believing them. That is the moment people move from being a victim to a survivor. Choosing not to believe victims of abuse is a form of wilful blindness, defined as intentionally choosing to keep yourself unaware of the facts or not acknowledging what you know as truth. I now know my experience isn't uncommon, but it felt like betrayal and hurt like hell.
After that weekend, I wanted to write about that form of wilful blindness, because it's just so important that people believe survivors of emotional abuse.