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Stephanie

Age at interview: 39
Brief Outline: Stephanie is now free of her second emotionally abusive relationship but still suffers from nightmares and stress and describes herself as ‘cynical’ and less trusting of men. Stephanie met both partners in the workplace. She did not live with either partner. The first relationship lasted six years and the second one only a few months, her previous experience enabling her to recognise the developing abuse sooner.
Background: Stephanie is a 39 year old professional single white British woman, living by herself in a privately rented home. She works full time as a finance manager for a large organisation and does not have children.

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Aged 28, Stephanie left a long-term relationship, living with her partner in the house they owned together, when she met a man at work; a new relationship that she felt was ‘just meant to be’. However, he was ‘very abusive from the beginning’, calling her names, blaming her for his mood swings and, once, physically attacking her in a night club. His friends tended to ‘normalise’ and laugh about the abusive behaviour, which made Stephanie think she was ‘over-reacting’.

The relationship had frequent break-ups and reunions, when Stephanie felt they managed to talk honestly, before the abusive patterns of behaviour began again. Following one break-up, Stephanie moved to a different city for a new job but their relationship re-started. Stephanie felt encouraged when her partner showed remorse for his behaviour, he sought help through his GP and attended cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) sessions. However he continued to lie about his whereabouts, his friendships with other women, and to blame her for everything. After one particular night of his ‘rants’ she ended their relationship, threatening to call the police.

Six years later, Stephanie’s second partner was initially sympathetic to her previous experience of abuse, which drew her towards him until, months later, he blamed their break-up on this previous abuse, suggesting it was her fault and that she needed psychological help. 

This partner had kept a liaison going with his previous girlfriend and then engaged in ‘gas-lighting’, causing her to question her own sanity by denying events or conversations that had taken place.

Stephanie feels this relationship has impacted on her professional life, she constantly fears encountering her second ex through work, and she is also upset that, when they split up, most of their mutual friends ‘sided with him’.

Although Stephanie feels that most people ‘don’t particularly understand, one friend suggested she was experiencing abuse. Stephanie made an internet search and was shocked to find her experiences described, but she also felt ‘validated’. She joined an internet forum, which has been a major source of support.

When the second relationship ended, Stephanie was depressed, under-weight and, at times, suicidal. Her self-esteem was ‘ground down’ by the abuse, she suffered from panic attacks, she self-harmed, and still has frequent nightmares. Following a short course of counselling via her workplace, she received help from private counselling, feeling unable to wait many months for NHS counselling offered through her GP. She feels that GPs need training to recognise the signs of abuse and that relationship education should be improved at school so that children do not learn to ‘normalise’ abusive behaviour.
 

Stephanie’s partner blamed their break-up on her need for psychological help, ignoring his own behaviour such as continuing to see his previous girlfriend.

Stephanie’s partner blamed their break-up on her need for psychological help, ignoring his own behaviour such as continuing to see his previous girlfriend.

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I think I reacted fairly normally to some very unpleasant situations but because I told him about this previous relationship that I’d had perhaps I’ve reacted a little bit worse than somebody else would have done. And then in the end when he decided he wanted to go back to his ex-girlfriend he blamed the breakdown of the relationship on the fact that I well, he said I needed psychological help. 

Which and I’d only reacted badly because he’d done things like ignored me with, with the silent treatment. So after building me up and saying he wanted all these things and then just completely switched off and then said, “No, it’s because you need psychological help and that’s why the relationship’s not worked out and I’m going back to my ex-girlfriend”. Who eventually, who wouldn’t have him back actually, but yeah, so. 

So how did that all leave you feeling?

Suicidal. Really. 
 

After having been in two abusive relationships, Stephanie found that she ‘almost conflated’ the two partners and still had nightmares about the abuse.

After having been in two abusive relationships, Stephanie found that she ‘almost conflated’ the two partners and still had nightmares about the abuse.

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Would you say you’re still experiencing impacts from the domestic abuse that you’ve had in…

Yes.

…these two relationships? 

I am, yeah.

What, what way would you say?

Nightmares. Still having nightmares about it. I’ve almost conflated the two people now. Like I said they looked very similar, they bought their clothes from the same clothes shop. It’s almost, it was almost, it was almost funny when I first… I went round to the most recent person’s apartment, saw all his clothes, saw the labels and I was just shocked [laughs] and this is going to sound very silly, but they even used the same facial moisturizer. 

[Laughs]

And men don’t often use facial moisturizer, but these two used it and they both smoked and they, they looked very similar. And yeah so I, I happened to see my the recent ex’s photograph the other day I feel quite, quite betrayed actually because we’ve got mutual friends who knew exactly what happened but have sided with him over me. Well I’m not so sided, but it’s they’ve not judged his behaviour in any way and they’re still friendly with him which I find quite difficult. And I happened to see his picture the other day on social media and that was it. Just had nightmares for the next few nights. And that happens occasionally. 
 

Stephanie experienced ‘gas-lighting’ from her partner, who lied and tried to manipulate her, and who told her that she had ‘psychological problems’.

Stephanie experienced ‘gas-lighting’ from her partner, who lied and tried to manipulate her, and who told her that she had ‘psychological problems’.

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And when you were in a relationship with this person what would you say the nature of the abuse was? Perhaps you can tell me about how it built up and how it developed and so on. 

It was, it was emotional abuse and he didn’t behave very well. He was actually living with somebody and we I wouldn’t have an affair with him. We both fell for each other in work, but I said, “Well, I’m here if you want me, but you have to, you know, I’m not going to have an affair”.

So he left his girlfriend eventually, but kept going back and forth between us and, and there was a lot of lying, a lot of manipulation a lot of sort of gas lighting where they say they told you something, but they clearly they know that they haven’t. A lot of blame, I think I reacted fairly normally to some very unpleasant situations but because I told him about this previous relationship that I’d had perhaps I’ve reacted a little bit worse than somebody else would have done. And then in the end when he decided he wanted to go back to his ex-girlfriend he blamed the breakdown of the relationship on the fact that I well, he said I needed psychological help. 

Which and I’d only reacted badly because he’d done things like ignored me with, with the silent treatment. So after building me up and saying he wanted all these things and then just completely switched off and then said, “No, it’s because you need psychological help and that’s why the relationship’s not worked out and I’m going back to my ex-girlfriend”. Who eventually, who wouldn’t have him back actually, but yeah, so. 

So how did that all leave you feeling?

Suicidal. Really. 

Really? Gosh.

Yup, yup, yup. I was not in a good place nine months ago. 
 

Stephanie was upset when her partner treated her roughly but his friends joked about couples having arguments.

Stephanie was upset when her partner treated her roughly but his friends joked about couples having arguments.

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There was only one occasion where, no, there were two, two occasions, one we were in a night club and he grabbed my arm and pulled me around on the dance floor and I ran over to his friends and said, “Can you get me home please?” I was hysterical. 

And they just said, “Oh, it’s a domestic and ran off”. 

Oh.

“They’ve both had too much to drink”. 

Oh.

Oh, and then one of them told me a story about they’d she and her boyfriend had, had a fight at university and he’d pulled her hair and she’d thrown his papers into next doors’ garden and oh how they laugh about it now and it’s things like that, that normalise abusive behaviour. 

So, and I have a dog and I was, my dog was at his apartment that night, my, I had no money, I had no keys, my car was in his, the carpark, it’s an apartment block. I was worried for my dog. I was worried he was going to go home and do something to my dog and I was hysterical. 

Because all the time while he’d been pulling me around he was screaming obscenities in my ear and telling me I was this and I was that and I can’t even remember what sparked it off. And I don’t know. 

Hmm. OK.

He would just flip like that. And these friends were so unhelpful because of course he was their friend. They were more his friends than mine…

Yes.

…and they didn’t want to believe…

Yes.

…that he would behave like that. 
 

Stephanie felt ‘betrayed’ by mutual friends but eventually found help from her own friends once she had left her abusive partner.

Stephanie felt ‘betrayed’ by mutual friends but eventually found help from her own friends once she had left her abusive partner.

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And I’ve had one friend who’s been just absolutely unbelievable and like if I, yeah, if it wasn’t for her, I don’t know what I would have done, she, we e-mail each other every day just to check how we’re doing and we see each other quite a bit and she’s been absolutely brilliant, she’s the only person who’s really understood. I have another friend who works with victims of domestic abuse, she supports them through the court system and she didn’t get it either.

She doesn’t get it?

She didn’t get it.

Right? 

No, she, she just kept saying things like, “I don’t have anything more to say on the matter”. She completely romanticised the recent relationship. I didn’t know her with the first one. I only met her afterwards, but we became very close and with the second one I think she just completely romanticised it and just said, “Well, who knows what happened to make him change his mind”. 

And when I said, “Well I think he’s quite narcissistic”. Well I don’t think it helps to put a label on things. Which felt very invalidating. So I was trying to explain my experiences to her and she just didn’t understand and all. 

The friend who you describe as being empathetic that you e-mail every day and so on…

Yup.

…has she got any knowledge or experience of what you’ve been through or?

She had a relationship with an alcoholic when she was much younger. I think it was a little different. She’s just been very empathetic, sympathetic, and just listens as well.

Because people after, after a while people think oh it was just a break-up, get over it. But when it’s something, when you’ve been abused and you don’t quite understand what’s happened you feel like the carpet’s been pulled out from under your feet. And you’re trying to understand it and I’m one, one of those people who likes to understand why something happened. 

Yes, yes.

Why someone did what they did. Then I can make some sense of it. Then I can move on and I think people just get fed up with you and, and if you’re depressed as well you’re not much of a fun friend and people don’t particularly want to be around someone who’s depressed it’s not much fun. So I think a lot of people just lose patience as well. So this, and this one friend has just been patient and even now if I have a nightmare I’ll e-mail her and say, “I had a horrible nightmare again last night” “triggered off by this”. And she’ll say, “I’m really sorry to hear that”. And just having someone say…

Yes.

…“I’m sorry to hear that”. Is like… 
 

Stephanie’s family were not emotionally supportive but would ‘do anything’ to help her in a practical way, such as helping her to move house to another city.

Stephanie’s family were not emotionally supportive but would ‘do anything’ to help her in a practical way, such as helping her to move house to another city.

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And how about family? Do you think that you’ve had any support from your family through any of these experiences? 

Not particularly, no. My family aren’t particularly emotionally supportive. 

Right.

My parents help me out in very practical ways.

Yes.

So, if I need things do around the house, again, I don’t live near to them. 

Right.

They live a few hours away. 

Right.

And they would come up they would do anything so when I moved down to [name of city] they helped me move. But in terms of emotional supp, no, I mean right after the first break-up my mum called me every day just to say, “How are you”? But if I was to try and talk about the relationship and how I was feeling she would change the subject. Try and jolly me along. And even now, if I mention anything about either of them she just says, “Well, choose not to be upset about it”. That’s what she said to me last week. “You can choose to be upset about something and you can choose not to be. So choose not to be upset”. And that’s what she says to me. 
 

Stephanie provided support for another woman going through a difficult divorce.

Stephanie provided support for another woman going through a difficult divorce.

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Are there any other people at work that you’ve confided in about this? 

I’ve only told one person a member of my team and that’s because she’s divorcing her husband at the moment and he’s being quite manipulative. 

Right.

And I’ve given her some support and just told her a little bit about my experiences and I think she’s found that very helpful. Because I’ve heard a lot of people say, “Well, how on earth did she get into this situation? And why did she stay in it so long”? And then it, it I’ve said, “Well, this is how it happened to me and that’s possibly why it’s happened to her as well”. So I’ve just told a couple of people…

Right.

…but generally I find people don’t particularly understand.

Yes.

And I don’t like talking about these things at the workplace anyway. 

Right.

If I can help it.
 

After confronting her partner, Stephanie fell into a pattern of self-blame but got support to leave him by joining an internet forum.

After confronting her partner, Stephanie fell into a pattern of self-blame but got support to leave him by joining an internet forum.

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And then one night we were due to fly to Spain, it was about three o’clock in the morning and I, he, I’d found out he’d lied to me yet again and I kicked him out and that was it. I never saw him again, but then, even then we, we were supposed to fly to Spain, we were so we’d got up early to catch our flight and I just said, and I just, a switch went off in my mind and I just said, “Right, just go, just get out and if you don’t leave now I’m calling the police”. Because he was doing another one of his rants and I’m like this and you’re, you’re like this, and you’re like this. And this is all your fault and I just said, “Get out”. Because I just I think at that point I thought he’s never going to change. I was absolutely devastated. He then said, “Well, I can’t go to work without going away”. So he then booked himself a short trip to Spain anyway. And I was so and then I spoke to a friend of mine who said, that I’d over reacted so I ended up phoning him in Spain and saying, “I’m really sorry”. Thinking again it’s all my fault and, but then it was actually that particular weekend when I hadn’t gone away when I should have done when I googled his behaviour and that’s when I found the internet forum. 

Oh, right. Right.

And I thought, right well I’ll wait and see what he does when he gets back and when he got back I got a text message saying, “I’m back home”. That was it. No apology. Nothing. For the way that he’d been. And that was it. I just thought right you’ve just told me everything I need to know.

And I never spoke to him again. He did try and contact me a few more times, but I wouldn’t speak to him.
 

Stephanie stresses that life is better out of an abusive relationship but she needed someone to help her ‘find the strength’ to leave, in her case her GP.

Stephanie stresses that life is better out of an abusive relationship but she needed someone to help her ‘find the strength’ to leave, in her case her GP.

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And what is one piece of advice that you might want to give another woman who was in an abusive relationship? 

Oh gosh, that’s difficult. It’s really difficult…

Yes.

…because when you’re in it, you don’t know really…

Yes. 

…first of all to get out…

Yes.

…Get out. Get out [laughs].

Yes, yes.

Run far away. Block them from every aspect of social media that you can. And get, get help. Go and get help because, because at the time you think that’s you almost think that’s the only person you’re ever going go, you’re so in love with them that you might not get anybody else and you will. You will survive. You will be fine without them. At the time you think you just cannot possibly live without this person because they’ve brainwashed you but you will be OK, you just need to get the right help. You’ll be better off without them. Life will be better.

You used the term brainwashing, that’s how it felt?

Yup, yup, you do feel totally brainwashed that you can’t live without this person that you’d be nothing without them. That you’d never get anybody else anyway. So one you, you feel that you’re totally in love with this person anyway and you wouldn’t want to lose them, but two you’d never get anybody else because you’re so useless, and you’re so awful and your self-esteem is just shot to bits that you think well I’ll never get anybody else anyway and I want this person and, and why can’t he just be nice and you just spend your whole time trying to please them. And, and actually you there’s nothing you can do to please them, nothing you do will ever be right. So, it’s very difficult. I want, I want to be able to say to people, I think the main thing that would have helped me is not normalising the behaviour. Because I normalised it quite quickly. But I don’t know how you stop doing that other than getting help. So I guess your first port of call is the GP and hopefully your GP can then sign post you to other services.

Yes. 

Who can then help you to recognise the situation that you’re in and give you…

Yup.

…the strength to, to leave because it is very, very hard thing to do. To walk away from somebody who you think you’re in love with…

Yes.

I mean, you, you might not even know that person they might be, you might be in love with a, an image of them. But, it’s not actually them.

Yeah, yeah.

That person might not actually exist.
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