He Never Hit Me: The Other Side of Abuse

emotional abuse

[Ed. Note: This is a guest post from Eliza McGowen. Eliza is a senior creative writing major at the Johns Hopkins University. When she isn’t in Baltimore, she likes to be home on Cape Cod or traveling. This is her first article on abuse but definitely not her last.]

You would have to be living under a rock to be unaware of the surge in protest against the lopsided way our society deals with physical abuse and rape culture against women. Just this week, a video finally came out showing Ray Rice hit his then-fiancé. Amidst social media uproar, the Ravens officially ended his contract. Although many are already touting about how they took the high road, I believe the fact that they did not release him as soon as the story broke will forever be a black mark for the team and the NFL.

Unfortunately, despite the fact that this issue is so prevalent and getting so much coverage, it is still far from being solved. Ray Rice originally received a two-week suspension for his crime, less than the punishment for a player who got caught smoking weed. Without a doubt, it will take years for our culture to face the fact that rape and sexual assault is prevalent everywhere, from prestigious universities like the Johns Hopkins University, to city slums.

But there is another side to abuse that has still remained under the radar: emotional and mental abuse.

After a quick Google search of “laws preventing emotional abuse,” I wasn’t surprised to find that almost all the links were for child abuse and elder abuse. I am not discounting these issues as “less than” the one I am discussing, but the fact that nothing on the first page had any information about this kind of abuse in relationships shows that it still has not been recognized the way it should.

So what is emotional abuse?

It is many things. There is a list of “signs” of emotional abuse: derogatory remarks, shaming, domination and accusations. According to an online survey commissioned by Glamour, and with help from various domestic abuse organizations, 94 percent of young women have admitted to receiving emotional abuse. But there are still no headlines about these women’s stories. Many will argue that there is too fine a line. I would argue that right now there is no line at all.

I spent over a year in an emotionally abusive relationship that I have been fortunate enough to put behind me. My significant other found a varied number of ways to mess with my head. He would call me a variety of derogatory terms (use your imagination) before breaking down in tears and begging me to forgive him. For over nine months he held my laptop in his possession, deleted my Facebook and forbid me from using my phone. When he found out I had been talking to a male friend via text, he split my flip phone in half and whipped it past my head. For the next year he took glee in cracking the SIM card of each consecutive phone my parents bought me each time I told them I had “lost” the last.

He taunted me through emails (my only allowed form of communication at the time), forbid me to spend time with him in school and forbid others from inviting me to parties and gatherings. The list goes on and on. Yet each time I would be at the breaking point he would come to me, telling me how much he needed me.

But never once did he physically hurt me. Although I spent much of that year alone, I kept telling myself that one-day he would realize that he loved me enough to stop punishing me. I will admit to all of you that I did cheat on him, which is what resulted in his behavior. It took me over four years to finally convince myself that my infidelities were never bad enough to warrant that year of abuse. It took me months of therapy and healing to even admit to myself that it was just that: abuse.

So what is the answer?

Can you really create legislation or change that protects people from emotionally abusive partners? Probably not. But as a society we can help spread awareness and streamline ways to get help. We can put out stories that get national attention to show that 94 percent that they are not alone, and that what they are going through is not okay. Although I had supportive parents and friends who tried to intervene, I did not think they understood what I was going through. Even now it seems hard to imagine anyone suffering through a year of such treatment and holding out as I did; but without a doubt, there are women who have been demoralized this way. Look at Janay Palmer, Ray Rice’s wife. She has come out publicly against the NFL ruling. We should not shame her for standing by her husband. We should work to help women like her recognize that his actions are not OK and that a “one-time” mistake is no big deal. Though she is a victim of physical abuse, the central issue is the same.

I am lucky enough to say that four years after coming out my relationship I have almost fully recovered. There are still certain characteristics in men that make me feel fearful and anxious, but at the same time I have learned what I will not stand for in relationships. It is only my hope that by starting the discussion around the issue that I can help other women do the same.



  1. Good article. I also was emotionally abused for a year. It was a nightmare ending with him cheating on me with my best friend. I am still trying to heal, but have come a long way. I didn’t realize what he did to me was wrong and actually tried to fight to keep him. Thank God I lost that fight. Maybe if I’d known more about the issue I would’ve left before he hurt me bad enough that I developed ptsd. Spread the word. Emotional abuse is just as bad as physical.

  2. Tricia Brown says:

    I live in Florida, here they tell me I’m just my son’s mother. I’m not married to the abuser so whatever he does really doesn’t matter. I’m May of this year I had a stroke, since the first week in July I haven’t fine to a Doctor, why because I’m not allowed to use his vehicles but since a bus doesn’t go to the town where my Dr is at I’m screwed but he wouldn’t/won’t give give the money for a cab or even bus fare so it doesn’t matter. He stopped paying for my phone as well, turned off the internet because I was supposed to start school. According to the abuse hotline they don’t consider any of this abuse. He tells our son it will be over soon, meaning me getting thrown out of the house, he filed an eviction on me, with him knowing I have no one here in Florida to help me. If I want to do something with our son I have to walk and it can’t cost any money but all this isn’t abuse I’m told. Angry? Me? The system is a joke.

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