I was fading fast. Feeling dizzy, I could barely get out of the Corolla and back to the Motel 6 room. The muscles in my calves were giving out and I could hardly make it to the elevator. It was 11PM and it was way past dinner time. By the time I reached the room, he tossed the food from Denny’s on the bed. “I don’t feel like eating,” I replied. “I deserve better than this,” I said with a weak voice. I broke into tears wondering why he had me stay at a dingy Motel 6 far away from Dollectable and far away from his family. I was neither familiar with Palo Alto or knew anyone in the area who could help me immediately. Had I knew that I was going to be held captive during Dollectable, I would have not accepted his offer to attend. Here I was, thinking I wanted to help a friend with a Lolita tea party, but emotionally held hostage with my diet, transportation, and housing under his control.
Emotional abuse happens, but not many people come out about it. I recently spoke about my abuse to a close friend. Often times, the first step in healing is to talk to someone you trust about it. Why it was so hard for me to come out is because I did not want to hear the typical, “What an asshole! I’ll kill him!” I wanted someone who would listen to my feelings and empathize. Coming from a female’s perspective, it is not uncommon for girls to trash talk the guy if he is in the wrong. Trash talking can only do so much in the long term. What needs to be met is how one feels and how they are coping with their emotions.
The goal of this editorial is to help others identify signs they or someone they know may be trapped in an emotionally abusive relationship. What this has to do with geek culture is that we oftentimes feel that our best partners are within our social group – a likeminded band of nerds. Like any other community, there are the bad seeds out there.
1) Social Pressure
One of the many problems I have with the anime community (and even in a general perspective), is that people want to seek validation. This functions both at the subconscious and unconscious level. The most common sign is when friends tell you that you should hook up with each other. While there is nothing wrong with friends supporting the idea of two likeminded people to date, when it becomes the basis and reason for why two people are together.
When your partner says, “So and So says we’re cute together!” then that’s a telltale sign of social pressure. What a couple can do to make sure they are together for the right reasons, not because friends tell them they are, is to evaluate why they are compatible with one another. One thing friends of a couple can do is to perhaps ease on the validation and ego stroking. Insecure people and couples often tend to seek validation. While one’s personal life is their own business, often observe how your friends are functioning and if they are really happy and if they are resolving conflict in a way that does not harm feelings.
Listen to Huey Lewis and the News’ “Stuck With You” to get a better understanding of whereI am coming from.
This is a big one. Often times, control can be easily identified on the spot. Other times, it’s tougher to tell than it really is. Control can come in many different forms from manipulation, Facebook stalking, and constant telephone calls at the most inconvenient times. Because this is such a large issue, I will go over a few examples where control and manipulation were used in our mutual cosplay and convention going hobby.
One example I can cite from experience was when a group of friends wanted to see “The Incredibles” when I was visiting home from college. I have not seen my Los Angeles friends in months. My parents knew I was a responsible adult and I never had a set curfew. However, he started calling me and guilting me for going out with friends into the wee AM hours. Going back with Social Pressure, I was quite confused how my friends stood on this issue after the drama had passed. When they said, “He’s controlling you! You don’t need this!” and the next day, “So, when’s your wedding?,” it was completely confusing. Friends, be careful of your actions and what you may say. Own responsibility for what you say. If a friend is hurt and feels that they are being manipulated, a true friend would stick with them.
Control is a huge sign of an emotionally abusive relationship. There are times when it is obvious in the example posted above, but there are other times when the signs may not be as present. What friends can do is to mentally jot down the incident and help their friend observe their significant other’s behavior. Ask yourself is this a onetime thing or behavior that has been happening frequently.
3) Emotional Neglect
This is a sign not often outwardly seen. One has to assess their emotional needs in a relationship. Of course, the obvious answer to communicate what you are seeking for in a relationship. It is one thing to verbalize it to your significant other, but communication is a two way street where both parties listen to each other’s needs. Being in any close knit relationship requires trust, compassion, and empathy. When neither of those are met, it is emotional neglect. I will delve into trust in the next section.
One of the more obvious signs of emotional neglect is when your partner feels that their needs supersede your’s.
If you hear a friend disclose to you that they feel as if they are talking to a wall and there is no real communication going on, listen to them. Listening is not only hearing what a friend has to say withholding any judgment, it is also providing them an empathic ear and giving them the space they need to talk about their given situation. Perhaps by this time, your friend may have a plan to leave the relationship, but cannot find an easy way out. Giving them your trust and empathy allows them to process their thoughts much more clearly. Chances are, your friend probably does not have a safe sound board in their current relationship. Above all, do not turn this into gossip and start texting everyone you know about your friend’s plight. Trust is lost. Your friend needs someone who will not judge them, not to be seen as gossip fodder.
4) Insecurity vs. Trust
This is a huge one and a bright red flag to identify if you are in an abusive relationship. Trusting one another is key to any successful relationships. Without trust as a basis, the relationship will not work. One of the more obvious signs in this as seen in the convention world is the couple that has to be with each other 24/7 during the con and even after. I have been in this situation many a time. While there is nothing wrong with couples wanting to spend time together during a convention and make cosplay plans with each other, allow me to clarify with a few common examples from personal experience.
Typically, we would always cosplay together. There’s nothing wrong with couple cosplay, but I really do not believe someone should be dragged into a cosplay they do not want to do. There came a point when I wanted to do solo cosplay like Umi from Magic Knight Rayearth or Lust from Full Metal Alchemist. He got on my case about how I would be better suited for Riza Hawkeye and that “everyone agrees that we are the Riza / Roy” and that there would be nobody for him to pair up with Umi.
Going further onto insecurity, I finally had a chance to attend a convention where I could finally spend the whole time with friends. I was being called constantly about who I was sharing a bed with and who I spent the day with. This was also recorded without my knowing and placed on the Internet. Even outside of conventions, he would guilt me for spending time with people he did not like and constantly got upset anytime I was out after 1AM, even if a mutual guy friend had to escort me back to my apartment after catching a midnight showing.
Constant calls, the need to be in everything I plan, and disrespecting time I spend with friends, that’s definitely a sign of abuse. The recording incident is what caused me to give my final ultimatum. Insecurity can lead to control. Abusers like to prey on people who are kind by nature so that they have someone who can defend their actions and make excuses. If you are an outsider looking in and you can clearly see control, it is time for an intervention. Talk to your friend in the abusive relationship and remind them there is no need to apologize for their partner’s actions. The wrong thing to do is to outright confront the abuser. Much like the previous section, you need to give your friend a safe space to talk about the issue. Provide empathy without judgment. If police reports need to be filed, be there with your friend when they gather the evidence.
5) Second Guessing
“You’re so cute together!” and “OMG! I love your engagement photos!” I heard those all the time for about five years. I did appreciate my friends’ compliments and infatuation over coupledom, but as said before, what other people think is not justification for marriage or any long term commitments. It’s normal to second guess if your partner is right for you, but if you find it to be a question you ask yourself on a daily basis and finding it at the top of your conversations with close friends, the next step is to ask where did all the second guessing come from. Back in the day, we used to have something called Livejournal to process and type our thoughts out loud. I usually suggest to privately journal your feelings and process why you feel that you are not right for each other.
Every couple, at any given point, typically second guesses if the relationship is right. However, if it is a consistent thought, it is probably time to start thinking about if the relationship is healthy and to assess if you are treated with the same respect. I second guessed agreeing to marrying my ex because a close friend and a photographer’s wife suggested not to wait too long. My ex looked at me and he agreed with their (bad) advice. He wanted to compromise my ethics that I wanted to wait until I was financially stable and that I was 200% sure. If you have a personal belief and are asked to compromise your morals and values that is a bright red flag to get out.
6) Sociopaths: Devil in Disguise
At one time or another, we have met someone that has attractive features, talks smooth, and they have won us over. A colleague of mine once asked me, “How can you tell if a kid is a sociopath? What are the early signs?” It is a pretty hard one to figure out because chances are, we are already won over. Sociopaths are just that. They are master manipulators and they can make you believe the sky is red when it is a clear blue sky. Sociopaths are very dangerous because they have this power to manipulate and ability to get people on their side.
My parents were won over by my ex. Despite their conservative beliefs, they did not care if we travelled and shared hotel rooms together. My friends, up to a certain point, were also manipulated believing he had the common cold for six months straight which was his excuse for not recording any more of the web series, “Cosette & Eponine.”
Sociopaths can bear a strong, likeable presence to others. In private, they can be degrading and disrespectful to others. This is the hardest sign to pick out because you probably already were won over by them. The person in said relationship typically finds themselves apologizing and finding excuses to justify the person’s actions. It is really hard to determine whether or not someone is a sociopath. It takes an observant mind to identify is something “off” about someone. If this is a concern, perhaps it is time to have a heart to heart talk with your friend.
7) “Everything is Fine” is a Lie
I cannot tell you how many times I have used this excuse before. “Everything is okay,” “Everything is fine,” “Don’t worry about it,” “Things will work out,” etc without delving much further shows consistent denial that something is wrong. This may be the first time your friend mentions when you ask them about their situation. Typically, they would change the subject right away or leave an awkward silence. Be wary of the tone of the situation you are in. It is important to give them a safe space and offer them your trust.
Even from an observer’s point of view, you are not fond of their partner’s actions and behavior around others and your friend, and this “I’m okay” is consistent, it is a good idea to really keep a good eye on your friend and be there when they need you the most.
Abusive relationships can happen anywhere, not just in the nerdverse. It is delightful to find someone who is into the same things you are into. It is also important to be conscious about your own needs and what you want out of relationship. It is important to discuss boundaries and what you are comfortable and not comfortable with. Communication is a two way street that involves listening and responding to the needs of others. Compromise is something that two people should work together on, rather than dismissing each other’s values. A person in an abusive relationship may not see the trouble that they are in and find themselves thinking they could change the person. With good intentions aside, the abuser typically likes to exploit that someone thinks they are kind and sympathetic.
As friends, there are things we can do about it without stirring drama. I can imagine if a friend is trapped between two friendships (friends with the abuser and victim), but a good friend wants to look out of the well being of both parties, especially if one feels neglected in the relationship. Sometimes, all someone needs is someone who will not be judgmental or violently reactive. They just need an empathetic sound board so that they can see things much clearly. If you do see signs and feel uneasy about their significant other, communicate your concern to them.
I wrote this editorial so that I can also heal from my abuse. This was not a rant to exploit his actions, but I intended it to be an insightful piece so that friends can be there for friends who feel that they are in a situation they feel trapped in. I certainly hope this was helpful in understanding what emotional abuse looks like and how friends can prevent it.
scarlet.rhapsody @ ymail.com