*T/W: This article contains descriptions of instances of emotional and physical abuse. Reader discretion is advised.
Mawar was a Marketing student at a local university and is now spending her days as a dotting mother to her beautiful daughter. And while she’s now in a healthy relationship and as happy as can be, that was not always the case. Her previous relationship was nothing like the one she is in now and she’s sharing how important it is to recognise the signs of a toxic relationship. She’s speaking from experience as she recalls her traumatic experience.
“The amount of gaslighting he subjected me to was absurd. I would think that I was wrong ALL the time and it drove me crazy.”
1. How did you meet?
We met online, via Instagram. We started talking and eventually, ended up meeting each other in real life through a mutual friend. We realised that we actually had quite a few mutual friends but just hadn’t met ’til then. Online, we’d converse normally. In real life, he was really quiet and mysterious, but an all-around nice guy. However, in retrospect, from the very beginning of our relationship, he showed signs of dislike towards my lifestyle. He would get upset if I went out with my girls at night and would often comment that I needed to quit the lifestyle that I was leading (I liked to go out and socialise). He would also comment on how I wasn’t as affectionate with him – truth be told, I was slightly uncomfortable with him but I did not recognise this as a red flag.
Throughout our two years together, we didn’t have a single, proper conversation. He would dispute my feelings and my opinions, making me feel as if what I felt and thought was wrong. When I tried to share instances of my day or talk about things that bothered me, he would shut me down and end the conversation. He would give me attitude if the conversation was headed somewhere he didn’t like. The only way I’d get to express myself was through long, essay-like emails to him – of which, I’m not even sure he read.
I made the mistake – no, I won’t call it a mistake – all I did was try to defend myself in an argument. I raised my voice and suddenly, I found myself pinned to the bed. After failing to control me with his words, he resorted to physical restraint. That was the first time he laid hands on me, but what I didn’t realise is that this was not going to be the last time.
2. What happened then?
As our relationship progressed, his tendency for emotional abuse surfaced through his comments on my appearance as they grew more malicious. He started by saying things like my “clothes sucked” and my “shoes weren’t nice enough”. He would repeatedly tell me that nothing I chose to wear was nice. Once, I sent him an image about the cute things Pisces girlfriends do (I’m a Pisces) and it included things like “gives you a back rub when you’re sad” but he the only area he chose to focus on was the part that said that “Pisces girlfriends have a good sense of fashion” and his response was:
“You don’t have good taste in fashion.”
When I tried to defend my fashion choices as a form of self-expression, he said that that was “just plain stupid”. In this way, he started to control the way I’d dress and, unconsciously, I found myself avoiding my tank tops and dresses. I stopped dressing for myself and instead started dressing for him – limiting myself to t-shirts and jeans.
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Even then, I was not good enough. He went as far as to say,
“If I had your a**, I wouldn’t be happy. I would work out.”
I’d always loved my body but his comments made me feel like s***. My self-esteem was at an all-time low and I was constantly insecure. I was pushed to the point where I felt like I had to work harder to make sure he continued to choose me because I was convinced that I needed him. I would hate myself for not working hard enough to make more money so that I could buy nicer clothes to please him. I wanted to be like those girls he would show me pictures of as the “standard” he expected. I believed that I was not good enough and this was the saddest thing I’d ever done to myself; letting someone else define my worth.
His manipulation of my image of and confidence in myself as well as belief in my self-worth kept me in the relationship because I thought that it was me that needed to work harder in it. What I didn’t realise was that I was being gaslighted.
It was crazy, the amount of manipulation I was subject to. I became so cautious with what I said because I was afraid he would lash out and neglect me. I would think that I was wrong ALL the time and it drove me crazy. This craziness then reflected in my actions towards him and it just… it spiralled. I found myself going through this phone and confronting him over his conversations with other girls. He would talk to this one girl about me; smack-talking behind my back and making me feel like my sole role in the relationship was to “please” him.
And while he had the freedom to do what he wanted, I was not allowed to live my life for myself. He would keep me away from my friends by lashing out at me when I was out with them. He would force me to ditch them, in favour of a Skype call with him. If I bumped into him when I was out with my friends, he would demand that I follow him and his friends instead. He would not hang with my friends but I was expected to hang out with his? And as unfair as it was, I listened. No matter how ridiculous the request, I was so deeply consumed by his emotional blackmail that I found myself lying to my friends in order to keep him happy.
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And suddenly, it became imperative that I did not anger him. After an argument, I found myself pinned down, with his hands around my neck. In the blink of an eye, he was choking me. So not only was I subjected to torrents of emotional and mental abuse, but he also started to hit me. While emotional and mental abuse was a constant in the relationship, the physical abuse escalated slowly. By the end of the relationship, it got so bad, it bordered on vicious.
He would slam me on the floor; I suffered from internal bleeding in my knee and near concussions from hitting my head. It wasn’t just behind closed doors – he slapped me in front of my friends and made a huge fuss as he dragged me out and away from them. The final straw was when I was trying to talk to him while we were sitting in his car. Without giving me the change to speak, he started to contact a friend to come get me. I took his phone to end the call and he punched me in the face. He threw his phone at me. I would not have been surprised if I had ended up dead on the road.
3. How did you get out of it?
At first, I shouldered on. I did not tell anyone what happened and I tried to carry the burden alone. He would demean me in front of my friends. It became harder to hide the bruising. And as time passed, I found that I couldn’t keep it in – I needed help. I couldn’t take his disrespect and old ways. I talked to my friends and family.
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They made me understand that what was happening was wrong and that he was a major A-hole. I cut all ties with him.
4. What is your biggest regret and what are you most proud of thus far?
To date, my biggest regret has been in allowing myself to go through such horrible treatment. I was with someone who expected me to bend to his whim and be someone I was not. I had to carry his baggage on top of my own and… I look back at those years and cry. I cry not because of him but because I let myself be in that position. I knew I had a choice but I held onto the hope that things would be better and that made me stay.
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And now, my biggest flex is, definitely, having the guts to end the relationship and work for a better life for myself. I’m now married to someone who genuinely loves me for me instead of the idea of me. My husband is very supportive – he motivates me to become a better person and he would never disrespect me. For the first time in a long time, I finally feel like it’s an equal relationship where we take care of each other, instead of me carrying the weight of a full-grown, insecure boy. He would hang out with my friends and is eager to get to know my family more. To top it off, I’ve grown closer to my family because of him. I’m moving onto a new chapter in my life and I’m glad I’m doing it with someone who I trust with all of my being.
5. What advice do you have for the people (men & women alike) who may be in the same position you were in?
I‘m lucky enough to be able to say that I have been able to safely cut all ties with him. I know that that isn’t possible for some people. But if you can recognise the warning signs early on, the higher your chance of getting out will be.
Remember this – don’t fool yourself into thinking that he/she will change for you; even if they do, it’s a temporary change. Don’t expect their remorse after a big fight to be enough for them to change their ways – especially if it happens a second time. If they were to change, they’d have to change for themselves and only then would it be a permanent change. Most of the time, they’re more in love with their own idea of who you should be, how you should act, or the idea of a relationship in general than they are with you – and that’s the honest, painful truth. Someone who truly loves you will not put you in a position of such pain.
Despite the relationship being over now, I still feel the after-effects. I am engulfed with fear that rises whenever anything related to him appears in my life now. I have flashbacks from the relationship and dreams – vivid dreams of him hitting me and me being unable to call for help.
Leave and work on yourself. Live life for you and you will find someone who appreciates all that you are. You deserve better and that’s a fact.
*If you are experiencing abuse or assault at the hands of another, please talk to someone. You (both men & women may seek help) can also reach out to the following hotlines: 1. Women’s Aid Organization – +60 37957 5636 (Their website has an easy exit option & will not show up in browsing history should you need it) 2. Malaysian Police – 999 3. All Women’s Action Society (AWAM) – +603 7877 0224 4. Sisters In Islam (Telenisa Helpline) – +603 7960 8802 5.Talian Kasih Hotline – 15999 (24h)