A woman shares her nightmare of psychological and physical abuse.
An average of 20 people are physically abused by intimate partners every minute in the United States, amounting to more than 10 million abuse victims annually – that’s according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV).
For those affected, domestic violence is all too real–and is a much longer battle than 31 days.
“It’s been a little over three years since we’ve been in contact,” says 23-year-old Rheanna Lind of Detroit Lakes. “I still have trust issues. I’ll still let people know what I’m doing all the time because it’s hard to get out of that habit. I’m super self-conscious about a lot of things, and my emotions can run wild.”
The person that Rheanna is talking about–who will remain unnamed in this article–is a man that she began dating at age 16. He was about six years her senior–according to Rheanna’s mother, Linda Lind–and seemed like a nice guy at first.
“In the beginning, everything was pretty great. My friends liked him, my family didn’t mind him. He treated me amazingly,” Rheanna says. “It slowly started to go downhill, though. He started to control who I talked to, what I did. He could go out and do whatever he wanted to do, but I couldn’t even go to Walmart without telling him and, if I did, I’d get yelled at and basically get in trouble.”
She explained that, at the time, she had never been in a serious relationship and didn’t realize that the amount of control she was experiencing was abnormal or unhealthy. However, according to NCADV, the aspects of the relationship that Rheanna had begun to notice were a textbook match for psychological abuse–one of many forms of domestic violence.
“Psychological abuse involves trauma to the victim caused by verbal abuse, acts, threats of acts, or coercive tactics,” the website explains. “Perpetrators use psychological abuse to control, terrorize, and denigrate their victims. It frequently occurs prior to or concurrently with physical or sexual abuse.”
Signs of psychological abuse include humiliating the victim, controlling what the victim can or cannot do, withholding information from the victim, deliberately doing something to make the victim feel diminished or embarrassed, isolating the victim from friends and/or family, denying the victim access to money or other basic resources, stalking, demeaning the victim in public or in private, undermining the victim’s confidence and/or sense of self-worth and convincing the victim that (s)he is crazy.
“Every day after school, he would take my phone and see who I was texting and, if I texted anyone that he didn’t like, he would break my phone,” Rheanna says. “In the first year of our relationship, I went through six phones because of him. It just got progressively worse.”
Linda sighs heavily when she looks back on this period in her daughter’s life, explaining that Rheanna pulled away from friends and family alike.
“Rheanna has always been a very nurturing girl, from a very little girl and on. She would help other kids all the time, she was very honest and very truthful,” Linda says. “But, when she became involved with him, she started lying to us and just shutting down. For three years of her life, we lost her. We completely lost her. She quit talking to us. Nothing mattered to her in those three years except for where she was. Now, we find out that, if she didn’t go with him, she got hurt.”
It was when the physical abuse began–about six months into the relationship–that Rheanna began to realize this wasn’t the way a relationship should be.
“At first, he would throw me to the ground or push me. He would make everything feel like it was my fault–like he did this because of something that I did–and it turned into me apologizing for every single thing,” she explains. “It just kept getting worse, but he was pretty good about making it so the bruises were in places that I could hide. I would wear long sleeves and long pants–even in the summer–so that no one else could see the bruises. But, eventually, he stopped trying to hide it and occasionally I would get a black eye or a swollen lip somewhere where I couldn’t hide it.”
After about a year and a half, the abuse had escalated to a point that could no longer be hidden. She stopped going home to see her family. She stopped going to class at the high school and began taking classes at the technical college to earn her diploma, successfully avoiding her friends. She tried to cater her behavior in a way that would lessen his anger. But, although she tried multiple times, she wasn’t able to leave.
“I became hostile around everyone because I knew that they knew, but I felt like I couldn’t do anything,” she says now. “He’d threaten to seriously hurt or even kill me or someone I loved. He’d go after my friends, verbally threaten people around me. I stayed because I was scared of what he would do to me or to someone else.”
Psychological abuse increases the trauma of physical and sexual abuse, and a number of studies have demonstrated that psychological abuse independently causes long-term damage to a victim’s mental health, according to NCADV.
“Contrary to popular belief, physical abuse is not simply a maladjusted person’s occasional expression of frustration or anger, nor is it typically an isolated incident,” the website explains. “Physical abuse is a tool of control and oppression and is a choice made by one person in a relationship to control another.”
Finding the strength to leave
The day that Rheanna decided it was time to take a huge step–to tell her mother everything–came after finding her then-boyfriend in bed with another woman. Upset, she confronted him–and ended up being pushed down two flights of stairs and thrown across the hood of her own car.
“At that point, I had twisted my ankle and was hurt, so it took me a while to get up,” she says. “He punched me a couple of times and, when I tried to hide in the bathroom, he threw me down to the ground and started to choke me. I finally got out of there, though, and I got to the end of his road and I had to stop because I was so upset. I thought I was safe, but he ended up showing up there and pulling me out of my car. He slammed me into a puddle and left. He said nothing. I went into town, and I hid in my car. I didn’t talk to anyone, I didn’t see anyone, I didn’t know how to cover this up.”
It was then that she reached out to an old friend, who convinced her to tell her mother everything.
‘It was a great relief when she finally told me,” Lind says now, her voice catching. “I totally tear up, and I get so scared because if that wouldn’t have happened, I can see him still doing this. There are times when I really kick myself for letting her deal with that. When you think back, there are always ways to make things different but, at the time, the harder I pushed, the more that he pushed back and the farther away she got. He controlled her that much.”
Rheanna would go back to him once more, but eventually walked away for the last time at age 18. Looking back, she says that she feels embarrassed for giving him another chance, but knows that no one was able to make that decision for her at the time.
“Nobody else knows what this person is doing to keep you there. I thought this person loved me, and that this was a serious relationship,” she explains. “I just tell people that, until you’re in that position, you don’t know how it is. Sometimes, it’s easier to take a punch than to take the fear of leaving.”