5 Red Flags

Leo
6 min readMar 25, 2021

A tale of my abusive relationship.

A message sent by my ex when we first started talking.

Writer’s note:
I wrote this in Feb 2020 and it was intended for publication but I missed the deadline through no fault but my own and thought I could publish it on another publication but that fell through as well. Finally decided, hey you know what, I have my own medium, why not publish it here instead.

So this will read very article like. My intention to share this piece is to create awareness, I hope you will never be in a situation that I was in. This relationship happened in my last year of university, back in 2018.

Trigger warning: Descriptions of manipulative and emotionally abusive behaviour. Brief mention of cheating.

It’s been two years but I still vividly remember sobbing over the phone like it was yesterday. I thought I would finally have the courage to break-up with Jon, but somehow, with his manipulative words, I would, once again, agree to stay in the relationship. To give us another chance.

Each time I felt hopeful yet bamboozled. A part of me was looking forward to making things better, yet I knew that the constant unhappiness I felt throughout this relationship was not normal. I was stuck in a trance and could not find a way out.

When I spoke about my unhappiness with my friends, they would tell me that something is wrong. Yet I would still defend his actions. Maybe he had a bad day or is just in a bad mood — I couldn’t leave because he makes me happy.

I was lucky enough that while some doubted the way I felt, citing that I was overthinking and that it wasn’t that bad, the majority of my friends told me that Jon wasn’t treating me right. And even though I believed them, I didn’t do anything about it.

Just because there aren’t any bruises, doesn’t mean it won’t hurt less. Subconsciously I felt that the pain wasn’t that bad. At least he didn’t hit me, he couldn’t have anyway, we were so far apart. If this relationship was not long-distance, I’m sure he might have turned violent with me.

It’s been two years and thankfully I know better now. I write this because I don’t want you to have to go through what I did. If this helps one person, that’s one person saved.

1. Insecurities

“So for the last time, what would you have me do?”

“Nothing, there’s nothing for you to do. You’ve already done it. There’s no solution to this.”

“I was convinced that you were going to cheat on me.” I understand the need for requiring more attention than usual in an LDR. You barely get to see your partner and the only forms of communication you have are online messaging platforms and video calls. Before Jon and I were a couple, I had told him that I had many long-time guy friends and he had nothing to worry about.

When we got together, he did tell me that he was the type to get jealous, but within reason. How does one reassure their partner when said partner does not even know how that could be done?

To quell his insecurities, I forwent some friendships with my male friends. But it was never enough. “Don’t accidentally fall onto your housemate’s dick”, he would say in jest but imagine ending every Skype call with that phrase.

Jon was so insecure with himself that he projected those insecurities onto me. He faulted me for simply living my life. My confidence deteriorated and this was the beginning of the fall of my self-identity.

2. Guilt Tripping

He made me feel guilty for doing things that were part of my everyday routine. “You’re too naive. You’re too trusting. Just because it has never happened before, doesn’t mean that it will not happen.”

I felt so horrible for constantly upsetting him.

Prior to us getting together, he knew that I was a smoker. When we were together, he was ruthlessly trying to get me to cut down. I understand when your partner tries to get you to quit a bad habit out of care. But this was not care, this was him trying to exert control over me.

“I won’t smoke every night.”

“Piss off. I already told you to cut down last time, you didn’t do shit. Meaning you think this is all one big f***ing joke. So f*** this. You’re on your own.”

“I tried my best.”

“Good to know.”

I now understand that this was his part of his manipulative agenda, to slowly but surely make me feel bad about myself constantly. Like a cockroach flipped on its back when sprayed, he slowly morphed me into his ideal version of me through vulnerability.

3. Gaslighting — the act of manipulation

“I never said that. You remembered wrongly.”

He would say things and when asked again about it, but would deny he ever said it. He distorted reality for me. Which, in turn, made me question myself all the time. I thought I was an irresponsible partner for forgetting the small details. And he made sure to make me feel bad for ‘forgetting’.

And because I ‘forgot’, I always took him for his words and rarely questioned him. This was very dangerous as my self-doubt slowly engulfed me, I couldn’t trust myself.

I felt absolutely terrible. All I wanted to do was be a good and attentive partner, but it seemed that no matter what I did, I was always in the wrong. I could not do anything right, no matter how hard I tried to ‘remember’.

4. ‘Jokes’

He would say hurtful things masked as ‘sarcastic jokes’. “Don’t accidentally fall on anyone’s dick!” was his go-to. “You scummy hipster.” was a close second.

The first few times he made those jokes, I would play along and pay them no mind. But after he kept repeating them, it slowly got to me and started to hurt. When I expressed that I wasn’t too comfortable with what he said and asked him to stop, he reacted defensively.

“You’re too sensitive! It’s just a joke! Why can’t you take a joke!”

There’s a saying: ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but words would never hurt me’. I tried very hard to keep that in mind, but slowly his words felt like sticks and stones, and they hurt me deeply.

He did not have the basic respect to listen to me and continued with the hurtful jokes. It took a toll on who I was. ‘Was I actually a scummy hipster? Am I being too much of a snowflake? ‘Am I really too sensitive?’

I could not rationalise my feelings and thoughts any further. I was questioning myself with every taunt.

5. Questioning my sanity

All of his actions made me question my sanity. Every time I cried over him, I was convinced that I was losing my mind. I felt helpless and hopeless; I was in so deep that even therapy could not help me see clearly.

Due to the traumatic nature of the relationship, I was not able to fathom how I was in that relationship for a year long. Perhaps I was so entrenched with the idea that when we did reunite in Singapore, everything would be better.

I would fantasise about when we would spend time in Singapore and how with time he would eventually learn how to appreciate me for who I was. That day never came and I’m confident, had I stayed in this excuse of a relationship any further, I would have become a shell of who I was before.

In retrospect, after copious amounts of self-reflection, I somewhat managed to have a grasp on my behaviour. The reason why I was not able to leave Jon any earlier was that I had formed a trauma bond with him. A trauma bond is the ongoing cycle of abuse where sporadic reinforcement of reward and punishment produces a powerful emotional bond that is resistant to change.

It is easy to simply tell someone to simply leave their abusive partner. But things of such nature are easier said than done. There are many contributing factors that may prevent someone from leaving. If someone you care for is clearly going through an abusive relationship, start by offering kindness and a listening ear. Encourage them to seek therapy and understand the behaviour behind their insistence on staying.

Red flags don’t have to be red — sometimes they’re shades of pink. And sometimes the flag doesn’t have to be a flag, it could be a pole. If you’ve found what I mentioned in this piece oddly similar to what you’re currently experiencing in your relationship, I genuinely hope you’ll find the courage to leave your partner, sooner rather than later.

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Leo

Way too curious for my own good, a baby nihilist and writer of sorts.