I met Heba through friends a year ago and we developed a bonding that grew stronger by the day. She was young, cheerful, and buzzing with life. We had so many common interests and so many sacred friendship rituals; breakfast together every Friday, weekends by the pool, catalogue shopping, darts competitions, and many more things that we enjoyed doing together until she met him. Two years younger, Karim was a dream come true: well-educated, well-mannered, good looking, and successful. I went out with them a few times but I did not feel very welcomed; Karim was civil but cold and we just did not blend as a group. Heba was blown away by her new amour and did not notice that we did not do anything together anymore. Nonetheless, I was happy for her, resided in the back seat, and kept my mouth shut.
Heba and I met every once in a while to catch up and all we talked about was Karim, which was fine by me until all I heard from Heba was: "I am not feeling well", "I am out of mood", "He has changed", "He is not there for me", "I miss my friends", "I am so lonely", "He scares me sometimes", "Am I pretty?", "Do you think he loves me?", "I saw him with someone else", "I want to leave him", "I can't leave him", "I left him", "We are back", "I made him hit me when I insisted to talk about us right after he came from work", "He apologized", "How do I hide that bruise?" … and more. He sucked the life out of her and let her down a million times; she was emotionally blackmailed into a relationship that seemed to drag on forever. Yesterday, they had a fight and Heba could not go home with his fingers printed in blue on her cheek. I let her in and she did not want to talk. Now, as I write this article, I could hear Heba in my bedroom sobbing and I am not sure what hurts her more; the bruises on her face, the wounds in her heart, the deep scar in her pride, or the longing for her old self and old life?
When is it the time to draw the line? To call it quits? To pack and leave? To walk away from a relationship that turned sour? To walk out on a man who crushes your self-esteem with a lethal dose of abuse? When he neglects you to the extent of feeling like a big nothing in his life? When he sees you but does not look at you? When he hears you but does not listen to you? When he touches you but does not feel you? When he starts having affairs? When he continues to have affairs? When he forgets your birthday? When his words turn into daggers that stab your pride and dig holes in your heart? When he barks instead of talks? When he ignores your needs? When he embarrasses you in public? When he belittles you? When he hits you the first time? When he hits you the second time? When he hits you all the time? How much abuse could a woman handle? How much abuse should a woman handle?
Most people assume that abuse is directly related to physical aggression but this is just the tip of the iceberg. Psychological abuse is as damaging as physical abuse; and since it is harder to recognize, it is, therefore, harder to recover from. It causes long term self esteem issues and profound emotional repercussions for the partners of abusers. Emotional and verbal abuse frequently shifts to more overt threats or physical abuse, particularly in times of stress. Abusers are needy, controlling, yet clever people; they master manipulation and lies, and they are able to turn a situation around so that somehow the blame lies on you, and not on them; it is always you and what you made him do! Needless to say that abuse typically alternates with declarations of love and statements that he will change, providing a "hook" to keep you in the relationship.
I was once in a physically and emotionally abusive relationship and it took many years to mend the broken pieces – as much as possible. Today I look around me and I see most of my friends putting up with many levels of abusive behavior from their partners. I am not talking about young na?ve inexperienced girls like I was then; I am talking about women who have lives, looks, careers, experience, and education. He tells her "if you do not want to go out tonight, I have 5 other girls who would love to be in your shoes"! He makes her feel as if he was a God-sent gift to pull her out of a stinking brothel! He promises to join her and her friends and never shows up nor calls to apologize! He hates all her friends who envy her for having him! He hits her when he has a tough day at work! She is a bitch if she has a social life! She is pushing her body onto men if she dresses nicely! She is not allowed to argue with him in private and is forbidden to voice a contradicting opinion, or any opinion, in public!
Yes, this is how Heba was being treated, and yes, she accepted it! She literally had to report to Karim; She was accountable for every what, when, where, why, who, which, how, and how often that takes place today, might take place tomorrow, and that took place last year, the year before, or ten years ago! On the other hand, she was not allowed to complain, question, nor inquire. She cannot say "no" or she will be express shipped to lonely island again. She was robbed of her right to choose and denied her right to be fulfilled. Heba, and many others, are 24/7 slaves in the dungeons of cruel merciless masters, they call boyfriends! They are starved for love and attention, humiliated in private and public, emotionally blackmailed, brainwashed, forced into sex, cheated upon, restricted, isolated, intimidated, neglected, and, at times, beaten up!
There is more misery to come! I told Heba that she is in an abusive relationship and that she could do better, she told me she is in love!! Heba sees this as love! I know how she feels. I never had the courage to tell her that I was once in her shoes, but I was a kid and I did not know any better, what is her excuse? Ah, yes … it is the fear of loneliness; this is the knife that the loving Karim holds to her throat and sticks in her heart. She has to obey and conform to the rules or else she will be abandoned – she will have the "I am single" stigma for life. No man will take her, no one will want her, and she will grow old and die alone like the famous spinster aunts! So the trick is to get the "slave" to depend on her "master" when it comes to social acceptance, some care, infrequent attention, physical gratification, financial support, or any other dangling carrot that will keep her locked up in the cage.
It is easy for anyone on the outside to tell Heba to just leave. But she knows how hard it is to break free from his chains. She worries about his reaction, she is not sure if she can face the world on her own, and she tends to prefer the devil she knows to the many other devils out there that she does not know. Heba has no more faith in herself and zero self confidence. She tried to leave the dungeon many times but she fell into the usual traps of ending an abusive relationship:
Trap one: "To avoid his anger, I'll just do something to make him break up with me" – he might not even consider breaking up with you; he will punish you more for misbehaving!
Trap two: "I will not return his calls till he forgets about me" – what a better way to infuriate him?! He will stalk you, haunt you, and you would have created your own version of "Scary Movie".
Trap three: I will tell him: "It's not you, it's me" – You do not need to rub salt into your own wounds. It was never YOU it was always HIM and his bad temper, lousy moods, and continuous abuse.
Trap four: I will say "We can still be friends." – This is like saying, "I don't want to be with you but I'm going to see you often just to remind you that you can't have me." Why would you want this man in your life? Why do you want your jailer to still have a grip on you? Bid him an everlasting farewell – once and forever.
Trap five: "He promised to change" – HE will never change! Do not lose sight of all his previous promises and how he failed to keep any of them. YOU need to change!
Dear Heba, please love yourself and lean on your family, friends, and those who truly love you. Rediscover the fulfillment you used to get at work and let's find more fun things to do together. Accept yourself. Take time to get to know who you are and what you really need. Love will come to you only when you are ready to be loved, and when deep down you know that you will not settle for anything less than true love.
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