THE BLOG
06/04/2012 01:17 pm ET | Updated Jul 31, 2012

What Is it Like to be in an Abusive Relationship?

This question originally appeared on Quora.

By an Anonymous User of Quora

It is like not being able to breathe.

That is my best description of it. Metaphorically, it is suffocating, but even physically, it is literally suffocating. As I am writing this, I am literally feeling my air passage blocking off.

I was in an abusive relationship for two years towards the end of high school. I never lived with my abuser or had kids with him or married him. Beyond going to the same high school, I didn't have any messy connections to him formally or informally. I know I'm luckier than many others in similar situations.

It creeps up on you. You realize some things are not quite right, but you're willing to tolerate more and more. This can be for a variety of reasons. Maybe he rationalizes them away. Maybe he convinces you that you're just overreacting, or worse, crazy. It took me several months before I had an epiphany that things were terrible and I had to get out; it took me over a year to actually do it.

One common occurrence pattern is instability. There's a cycle of violence. There will be a honeymoon stage, where everything is awesome and you're so in love. It's intoxicating. Then it starts to build up; you feel like you're walking on eggshells and you're jumpy and afraid something is going to happen at any moment. Finally, he lashes out bigtime. And while this is scary, I always found that this caused some level of relief. Things are rocky for a little while, and then everyone apologizes and you're super in love again. You might even break up and get back together a few times. And even if you realize that this 'love' thing is totally fake, you enjoy it while you can.

You feel like you're on edge even for the smallest disagreements. And there will be disagreements, no matter how much you try to be perfect. No matter how much you try to give in to the ridiculous demands.

It's extremely lonely. Your abuser will try to cut you off from anyone that can keep you sane. It will probably work. Some of your friends and family won't believe that things are as bad as you say they are. If they were, wouldn't you leave? They may accuse you of trying to get attention, of trying to ruin someone's life, or of being a drama queen. They may just be in denial because they're a friend of the abuser. Maybe they just don't want to deal with that level of problem. Even the ones that do support you will get tired of your actions. They won't understand how hard it is to cut things off. They won't understand that doing what he says is for your own safety. And he'll be telling you not to talk to this person or that group of friends, and eventually, nobody will be left.

I developed physical symptoms that were difficult to deal with. Five years later, I still get nauseous if I'm triggered, and sometimes vomit. I'm also subject to panic attacks.

I've lost a lot of my guilt associated with lying. It's taken a long time to re-learn that I shouldn't lie for the hell of it. At some point, I felt so strongly like needing to rebel that I started trying to hold a secret life. I started lying about the tiniest things, like what I had for breakfast (he was very curious and controlling about my eating habits; during one particularly bad month I lost 30 pounds).

One thing to realize is that being in an abusive relationship is just that - a state of being. Getting a beating doesn't necessarily make things worse. In my experience, physical violence was often just an assertion of his power, an assertion of the status quo. Given the choice, I'd take physical violence over being forced to do anything sexual, and sexual abuse over a new rule to conform to, because he never hurt me badly enough that it stunted my day-to-day activities. The emotional damage I received from sexual abuse and rape would very strongly affect my ability to function. His demands would often directly influence my ability to function and result in a huge loss of dignity.

There were highs and lows, but I always felt sick. I didn't like being conscious, and I only liked being unconscious sometimes. Sometimes, a particularly bad panic attack, or a particularly bad abuser attack, would be completely debilitating, but for the most part I was extremely dysfunctional. Ironically, I was probably resourceful beyond what I thought I was capable of in order to survive the experience. It feels like a strange haze, a spell. It's the only thing you can think about.

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