Just a few months into her new life in a new state with her boyfriend of three years, Lauren was nearing the breaking point. “I go back and forth between thinking I have to break up with him,” she told a friend, “and thinking that I don't want to be without him.”
She Gchatted a different friend to say her boyfriend had called her at work to complain that a box of her crafting supplies had fallen off the kitchen table and dented the floor. Lauren began to see the way he treated her wasn’t okay. She devised a move-out plan: She would return to her hometown for a while and find a new job.
Ultimately, “... I couldn’t do it,” she wrote to another friend. She had invested so much time. Being single again would leave her adrift. So, she stayed.
She now says the relationship made her doubt her worth as a person and scarred her emotionally for years. To Lauren, her years with her ex now reverberate with the telltale notes of emotional abuse.
Lauren might seem an unlikely target of emotional manipulation. She grew up with happily married, supportive parents. She has an Ivy-League education, a black belt in tae kwon do, and experience working with domestic-violence survivors. She was financially independent. Lauren believes she fell prey to a common cycle: Abuse shatters self-esteem, and poor self-esteem keeps people in toxic relationships. “I would never have wished for violence,” she told me, “but it would have been easier to recognize if he had hit me.”