‘I didn’t want to believe he abused me because I loved him.’: Emotional, sexual abuse survivor shares healing journey

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Disclaimer: This story contains details of emotional and sexual abuse, self-harm, and suicide attempts which may be triggering for some.

An Easy Victim

“I had what is generally considered to be a very normal childhood. I lived at home with my mom, dad, and younger brother, and despite suffering from anxiety, I didn’t display any behaviors that may have been perceived as concerning. One thing I will say, upon reflection, probably predisposed me to being an easy victim of abuse was my lack of confidence in my identity growing up. My brother struggled with anger when we were younger, and, from the age of 4 or 5, I can remember seeing the stress it placed my parents under. Not wanting to make home life any more difficult for them, I became a people pleaser, basing my happiness off of those around me. Because of this personality trait developing at such a young age, I’ve never had a stable sense of self, and have always been willing to sell my own beliefs and opinions in exchange for someone else’s, craving their approval.

girl sitting in restaurant booth with younger brother
Courtesy of Millie Vigars

Because of this, I’ve naturally always been drawn to big personalities — loud, opinionated, confident people — of whom I can comfortably hide in their shadow, unsure of my own beliefs. This description summarizes the person who, at age 14, began to emotionally and sexually abuse me.

Right from the start, their presence made me nervous. I used to dread meeting up with them; this anxiety would build as a lump in my throat, making me feel physically ill. However, the anger and guilt tripping I knew I would be subjected to if I attempted to weasel my way out of plans, meant it was easier to give into him and simply try to ignore my rising fear. This was my first proper relationship, so not knowing any different, I blamed myself for my extreme psychological reaction to him and blindly ignored the display of red flags to come. The emotional abuse initially manifested itself through snide comments about my hobbies and interests until everything that made me me was being scrutinized; from my appearance (clothes, hair, glasses, weight), to my family (house, dog, brother, parents’ jobs).

girl in abusive relationship taking a mirror photo
Courtesy of Millie Vigars

As a teenager who was already lacking in confidence, it didn’t take long until I was a shell of who I once was. I effectively morphed myself into an extension of him. This enabled him to do whatever he wanted with me, knowing I wouldn’t leave because, without him, I was nothing. As you can probably imagine, I felt very isolated at the time, surrounded by a sea of my own lies, which only served to echo the constant voice in the back of my head telling me I was a bad person.

Accepting The Abuse

I didn’t realize, or even begin to accept the fact I had been abused until I was hospitalized for an attempt on my life in April 2021. It had been 6 months since I had, thankfully, been removed from the relationship by the police after I was found to be a victim of child exploitation. You would think after this incident, everyone would be well aware of what actually went down between me and him, but desperate to protect the boy I loved, I successfully managed to shield the truth from my family, friends, school, and medical professionals.

I was adamant I hadn’t been abused. I was in a toxic relationship, that was it. We just weren’t good for each other and the whole thing went south. Yes, he wasn’t the nicest to me, but nor was I. At the time, I fought so hard to protect him, to justify his behavior to not only those around me who were suspicious, but to myself. I begged the police not to charge him; I didn’t want to believe he abused me, because I loved him.

woman standing with iv pole taking mirror photo
Courtesy of Millie Vigars

I used self-harm and restrictive eating to repress the trauma I carried for months. I was terrified of what would happen to me if I spoke the truth about what happened between us because I was convinced it was my fault. I was the abusive one, everything could’ve been prevented if I just acted differently. I thought everyone would turn against me and finally realize what I already thought I knew — I was a bad person. Over the course of the year, I slowly began to accept what I had experienced was actual abuse, and maybe it wasn’t all my fault. However, it wasn’t until I was diagnosed with complex PTSD in August 2021 that I was able to learn more about myself and start to understand why the ‘fight or flight’ mindset I constantly was in while being abused influenced me to act the way I did in certain situations.

Self-Harming

I have struggled with self-harm since early 2020 when the abuse first began. Subconsciously, I was using it to physicalize the mental pain I was experiencing. I didn’t know how to use words to explain how I felt, and even if I did, I wouldn’t have been able to tell anyone what was going on without losing him. Alongside the immense fear of losing him, I also was convinced I would be judged as attention-seeking, manipulative, or my parents’ favorite description for me as a child… a drama queen. For me anyway, the emotional abuse was so much harder to make sense of than my sexual assaults, because in the media and general society, it is often perceived as less serious or ‘not real abuse.’ The nature of it means you become so self-doubtful and insecure that you yourself believe what you’re experiencing isn’t actually abuse.

abusive relationship survivor in boho outfit with self harm scars
Courtesy of Millie Vigars

‘I never loved you, I just felt bad and didn’t know how to get you to leave me alone.’ More than two years later, I can still hear him saying these words as he called me in the middle of the night on a family vacation, from someone else’s bed. I remember curling up in a ball on the rough carpet, smothering myself with my hand in an attempt not to wake anyone up with my crying. Muffled sobs that made my entire body ache with the pain I didn’t know a singular person had the power to inflict on me.

Struggling to cope with the repressed trauma after leaving my abuser, I became more and more reliant on it, until self-harming became an addiction to me. This meant, even once I was able to accept the trauma I experienced wasn’t my fault, and I had people telling me I didn’t deserve to hurt myself, I just couldn’t stop. My core belief was very cemented that I was a bad person who needed to be punished.

abusive relationship survivor lying in bed with teary eyes
Courtesy of Millie Vigars

Living With C-PTSD

What I think people don’t realize about C-PTSD is how it affects every aspect of my life every single day. Despite being in a safe environment, away from abuse, the trauma I went through still impacts me. In terms of future romantic relationships, I find trust difficult, and without constant reassurance, I can very quickly convince myself I’ve done something wrong or they don’t like me anymore. The smallest things can trigger me, such as taking a while to respond or if I sense a change in their tone. The crippling fear of abandonment I have been left with is exhausting for me and any future partner. After the lies, manipulation, and gaslighting I was subjected to, this behavior is understandable, but it can be a lot for those around me to deal with and can often make the relationship turn sour.

When it comes to having physical relations after being sexually abused, I find myself trapped with the self-destructive mentality of, ‘If they like me, why aren’t they touching me?’ and struggle to see how people could value me as more than a sexual object. I would only be told, ‘I love you’ by my abuser after sex, which was the validation from him I so desperately craved, so I guess I began to assume it was all I was good for.

woman on couch hold hand to face and rubbing her eyes
Courtesy of Millie Vigars

I’m ashamed to admit my C-PTSD has had monumental effects on my family. My brother has seen his big sister in states no one should have to witness, let alone a child. My parents are probably suffering from their own trauma after countless episodes, hospital visits, suicide attempts, and running-aways. Because of this, I will forever feel guilty. I lost two of my closest friends as a result of my trauma, along with many other people in my life. Unable to give my loved ones an explanation as to why my life began revolving around the unhealthy behaviors I was using to cope with the abuse, I drifted from people.

My peers were returning to school, socializing, planning for the future. I was being left behind, unwell, trapped at home, not intending on being alive to see the next year. That being said, I am incredibly lucky to have people in my life who have stuck by me without question throughout all of this, and I will always be grateful for them. Because without their unfaltering love and support, even when I was shutting them out and refusing help, I would not be here today.

abusive relationship survivor partying with friends
Courtesy of Millie Vigars

Speaking About Abuse

I was genuinely terrified when I started speaking about my abuse online. I was scared he would somehow find it and tell everyone I was a liar. He knows things about me he has used against me in the past, utilized them as tools to control me and keep me trapped. Irrationally, I believed I was making myself vulnerable to this form of abuse again if I told my story and he found out. Of course, he didn’t, and over time I became more and more comfortable with talking about the realty of trauma and living with C-PTSD online. It has helped me realize I am not alone and made me feel less weird for the ways in which my C-PTSD can make me behave. It has validated my own experiences, and reading messages from other people struggling with self-harm who I’ve managed to help gives me purpose and makes me less resentful of the abuse I went through. Without it, I wouldn’t be able to offer the same support to other survivors in the way I can now.

self harm survivor in sports bra and running shorts
Courtesy of Millie Vigars

My advice to anyone in a ‘toxic’ relationship, or who has the tiniest inkling they may be, or have been in the past, a victim of abuse, is to tell someone. Emotional abuse is incredibly difficult to spot, especially when you are the victim of it. What I want you to remember is none of this is your fault. This hasn’t happened to you because you deserve it, or because you said the wrong thing or acted in a particular way. You are not to be blamed for the abuse that’s been inflicted on you, even if you don’t believe it yet, or your abuser claims you are.

Another thing I want to add is anyone can be abused: of any age, gender, sexuality, whether or not you’re in a romantic or platonic relationship or they’re a member of your family. Abuse manifests itself in so many different forms, and none is more serious than the other. What you might be experiencing, and the emotions this triggers and the ways you have acted in response, are valid and not your fault. You deserve happiness and safety and freedom, and no one has the right to take any of those things away from you.”

self harm and abusive relationship survivor sitting outside with backpack
Courtesy of Millie Vigars

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Millie Vigars from Bristol, England. You can follow her journey on YouTube, Etsy and Instagram. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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