Post-Emotionally Abusive Friendship: for better or worse?

TW: abuse, self-harm, depression, anxiety, suicide, and there may be more – proceed with caution.

Many of you have read one of my previous blog posts where I wrote an open letter to the people that bullied me throughout high school. In addition to that, I wanted to be open about how being in the emotionally abusive friendship I mentioned in that post has seriously changed my life.

Abusive relationships are not confined to romantic relationships and abusive friendships can have the same detrimental effects on the victim as any other abusive relationship. The thing about these kinds of friends is that they have to be in control; they pressure you into doing things – wear certain clothes, like certain things, go to certain places – and, while this might seem harmless, they can force you to do things that make you uncomfortable or that you just really don’t want to. They change you and you feel like you can’t say no. They have to have all of your attention too. I know that I wasn’t allowed other friends, even though she was, and she got upset with me and guilt-tripped me when I hung out without her. There is no or little mutual support in a relationship like this; everything is about their life and you become their emotional caretaker. Your feelings become second to theirs, if important at all. An abusive friend is okay with making you uncomfortable and can go as far as enjoying your discomfort – teasing you when you’ve revealed a secret or pushing mocking to bullying. This is laughing at you and not with you. In my abusive friendship, it was common that I became the punchline to jokes where she got others to laugh too and I just wanted to crumble and cry. The most vital bit to an abusive friendship is that you feel trapped. You can’t get out because you don’t know how to be on your own; they have worn you down so much that you don’t know who you are anymore or you are so scared to be yourself.

Since gathering up the courage to leave my ex-best friend in past, I have changed quite a bit. Some for the better and some, some is definitely for the worse.

I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. Many of you know this. I have been clean from self-mutilating for over two years now, of which I am very proud, but this was after popping pills, cutting my arms, suicide attempts and lots of therapy and antidepressants. I haven’t been diagnosed with this but my other symptoms are very similar to complex PTSD which is possible after such a long time of prolonged emotional abuse: the depression, hyper-arousal in anticipation of similar events happening (panic attacks), isolating behaviour, feeling different from other people, and my previous substance abuse as a form of numbing.

I refuse to take shit from people. If people are treating me unfairly I no longer let it slide. Whether it is at university, a job, or just in day-to-day life, I refuse to let them treat me badly because I know its a slippery slope. You let one person treat you badly and they think they can continue and others follow suit. Do no harm but take no shit.

I am unable to trust people the same way. This applies mainly to dating but also to friends as well. There have been guys that I truly like and before I can even think about dating them my mind just goes nope – you know who you guys are and I’m sorry, again. The only person you can rely on is yourself. I find it hard to tell people personal things because my mind sees it as a way they can manipulate me or hurt me. I’ve had so many secrets work their way into the world and come back to stab me in the back that I know I can’t take that again.

I’m no longer a naïve little girl without a voice. Realising that the world isn’t all gumdrops and lollipops opened my eyes to the real world. I am now a champion for ending mental health stigma, intersectional feminism, and all sorts of justice. It made me put on my big girl boots, realise I’m privileged with my life and to use that privilege to give a voice to others and help them find their voice. Now I’ve found my voice again, I refuse to stop shouting out against injustice and shouting for the things I believe in.

I do not see the same things for myself in the future. To tell you the truth, I used to be the ‘head in the clouds’ romantic, which most people I meet now cannot believe. I used to want the happily ever after and obsessively read Romeo and Juliet. I wanted the big white wedding and a bunch of kids that I could chase round the house I shared with my adoring husband. My biggest dream was true love. Now? I might be a massive cynic but I’m not a masochist. I do want love, I’m just more realistic. I accept that it might not last forever and that I might not want marriage or kids. The whole experienced has made me focused on myself and I want to be successful and well-travelled. I don’t want to be dependent on someone else because people leave and people hurt you.

I can form more meaningful friendships. Possibly the best thing to come from being abused is this. Now I trust people less, I know that I can count on the people I have in my life. They are there for me and vice versa – the way its supposed to be! I am open with my feelings, where my boundaries lie and where I feel comfortable. There isn’t much I wouldn’t do for them and it is not because I feel forced, guilty or trapped. I truly love them.

These are just a few of the things that have changed since my abusive friendship, for better or worse it has happened and I cannot change that. I will never be the person I was before. I will never feel unadulterated, pure happiness like I did before. I will never trust my whole being with someone else. But, I am stronger and I am working towards a better future for myself.

If you are being abused, please try to get some help. Talk to someone. You may feel trapped and stuck, but there are ways of getting out.

6 Replies to “Post-Emotionally Abusive Friendship: for better or worse?”

  1. This is a poignant post and definitely not a topic most people cover, so well done on that. I have to say though, I don’t think I have to parameters or capabilities the same way you have. I certainly am not less trusting of people – I am completely dependent on them. I’ll have to talk to them as often as I can or I feel like I’ve been abandoned. It’s not healthy, I know. I was wondering if you had any advice on this?

    1. My advice for starters is to get some professional help – there are well-being officers at uni and the GPs are always available to help. From experience, you need to learn to be comfortable with your own company.

      1. I’ve already sought professional help, but they’ve sort of put me on a waiting list. Not sure if I should take any further action.
        I’m comfortable with my own company, but not exclusively…if that makes sense?

        1. Just say that you feel you need urgent help if it’s thats bad. I don’t really understand.

    2. Toby, you might check out a book called “co-dependent no more”. It might help you wrap your mind around why you want constant contact, feel abandonment without the constant contact, and how to start changing that sense of desperation into more balance.

  2. I will if it gets exceptionally bad. For now, I think I’m OK. Sorry, I guess clarity isn’t my strongest suit when it comes to explaining issues I have, but thanks for listening anyway!

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