'How My Perfect Boyfriend Turned My Life Into A Living Nightmare'
The Debrief: Stina Sanders was living the dream with her boyfriend until he started making tiny digs at her. Tiny digs which turned into something life-threateningly violent…
'I’ve never really spoken to many people about what happened to me four years ago. I kept it quiet as I felt ashamed.
For a year and a half, my friends and family tried to pull me away from the man who I thought loved me, but I didn’t listen – I was too intent on pleasing him. And he took advantage of that. Well, no longer.
I met Adam* around Valentine’s Day. He took me abroad and spoilt me to death, saying he’d never felt this way about a girl before. He complimented me daily and said we’d get married. It was amazing – we loved each other and that was all that mattered. We were inseparable and, as far as I was concerned, life was perfect with him in it.
After four months of pure bliss, Adam asked me to move in with him. I was so excited and happy to take our relationship further and would do anything to keep him happy. Little did I know that keeping him happy would be a continual challenge.
About six months into our relationship, when he had me in the palm of his hand – I now know that smothering can be a method of control – he would pick at my quirks and faults, gentle reminders I wasn’t perfect. I let the comments go over my head, thinking that he was only joking. But he started to dig deeper: ‘I don’t understand why you’re at uni – it’s not like you’re going to have a good career.’
He complimented me daily and said we’d get married.
One day, he told me that I was fat and I should consider going on a diet. Hurt, but determined, I started to watch what I ate – but this upset him further, and he would ask if I was trying to impress someone else.
Working as a model, other people would tell me I was beautiful, but Adam wanted to put a stop to that. He wouldn’t let me work, even on a shoot for a Nintendo Wii which would’ve featured me entirely clothed. In retrospect, I know that he was with me because he thought I looked good on his arm and dating me went with his image of Mr Perfect.
But I was forever unsure of who I was waking up to. I was in second year of uni and needed to get to lectures and study harder so I moved back to my flat at uni in Bath with five other students. But Adam didn’t like me being out of sight. He’d text me every single hour asking what I was doing. He’d enabled ‘Find my iPhone’ without my knowledge so he could track my every move. It was only when he kept asking me why I’d gone to places I hadn’t mentioned to him that it clicked. I removed the app but he went mad, asking what I was hiding from him. I then had to FaceTime him throughout the day or whenever he didn’t believe me. He’d use it to check my gym clothes were appropriate and not seductive. Christ, who knew my sweaty gym kit could be so sexy?
He’d enabled ‘Find my iPhone’ without my knowledge so he could track my every move. I had to FaceTime him at the gym so he could check my clothes were appropriate
He would call me on nights out and quiz me on who I’d seen, and whether anyone had flirted with me. Despite my efforts to make him feel less insecure, he only ever got more controlling. I knew it was wrong but I made excuses for him, telling worried friends: ‘He only does these things because he loves me.’
One night with my flatmates we had a ‘house photo’ taken all together. Within seconds of putting it on Facebook, Adam called me. He was screaming. Apparently I had ‘disrespected’ him by being pictured with two boys (and three girls – all of whom were my flatmates). I argued with him – I couldn’t see his logic, he was regularly going out with women draped all over him. He called me a disgrace.
The next day I woke up feeling awful that I’d upset the person I loved. So I booked a train to London to see him. He told me things had to change. I had to give him my Twitter, Instagram and Facebook passwords or delete them. Reluctant and confused, I eventually told him my passwords and watched as he deleted ‘good-looking’ men off my friends list. It didn’t end there. Anything I did do online would be scrutinised, from photos of me to articles I’d 'liked', he would pick on me every single day.
I was like a zombie – Adam was exhausting me. My friends noticed a huge change, and my family worried I was depressed. If I ever did fight back, he would break me more. ‘How dare you speak to me like that?’ he’d scream whenever I questioned him. There wasn’t an option to talk things through – it was his way or no way.
It’s so easy for an outsider to question why people stay with their abuser and even now I get annoyed that I didn’t leave. Deep down I knew what he was doing was wrong but I kept excusing him because upsetting him was the worst feeling for me - and I felt responsible for his happiness. I felt like I’d rather take it on the chin than risk losing him.
A week before Christmas, I was back from uni and we’d just been out at a friend’s birthday. He was drunk and it was the first time I’d seen him ‘loose’. But he wasn’t relaxed.
He cornered me, asking about my exes, which celebrity I fancied and out of all my boyfriends who was the best ‘shag’. I told him to stop, yelling: ‘Fuck off and grow up!’
But this didn’t calm him. He asked why I’d done a shoot with Ultimo – a lingerie brand – and I explained: ‘Because they’re a great company and my images were on billboards across the UK – of course I wasn’t going to turn down a well-paid job.’
His response? ‘You’re a slut.’
He opened my laptop to look at the pictures, as if he was rubbing my nose in the mess I’d made. I said the photos were ‘hardly distasteful’, but this struck a nerve with Adam. He broke my laptop in two, kicking my screen and keyboard across the floor. I yelped as it skidded across the floor – it had all my uni work on it (thank god for hard drives). But before I could speak, he grabbed my hair and dragged me around his apartment.
He cornered me, asking about my exes, which celebrity I fancied and out of all my boyfriends who was the best ‘shag’
I can still feel the sharp pain of each strand of hair being stretched. He then pressed himself against me and began to strangle me. After what felt like hours I managed to kick him off me and ran to the bathroom, locked the door and hid. After an hour Adam had fallen asleep. I quietly escaped, spent the night in a hotel and told myself I had to leave him.
But I didn’t. Shocked and confused by what had happened, the easiest way to deal with it was to say to he hurt me because he was passionate about me. Besides, he’d knocked my confidence so low that I just couldn’t imagine what I’d do without him.
Weekly, I’d be tugged by my hair, given clips round the ear and slaps to the face. Once one of Adam’s punches left me with a massive bruise on my back. To protect him, I refused to go to a friend’s pool party because I knew she would ask why I had a huge bruise. I felt it was easier to hide away than to lie to her.
He’d knocked my confidence so low that I just couldn’t imagine what I’d do without him.
To this day, I can’t work out why I stayed. Sometimes I wonder if I was unwell, if I had Stockholm Syndrome. He would always blame me, slap me and then say I’d made him so angry I’d driven him to breaking point.
But after a year and a half, my own breaking point came; a friend told me they’d heard he’d been cheating on me. After all his controlling and worries about me being unfaithful he was the one who was sleeping around. Maybe it was just a rumour, but it was enough for me to realise he was a bully, and perhaps strangely, I always knew where I’d stand with a cheater.
I waited until he had left for work and quickly packed all of my belongings and headed back to Bath, where I was still meant to be studying. Once I was on the motorway, I called him. ‘I’m leaving you!’ I cackled with glee. He didn’t believe me – I’d made similar threats before – but he soon drove from London to try to get me back.
It was too late – I was done with him and his abuse. I received daily texts and emails calling me every name under the sun. But by this point, it didn’t bother me. I had escaped and I was out of his control. It was liberating and I could enjoy my last year of uni out of Adam’s grasp. I was finally free.
But getting over Adam hasn’t been easy. I wish I’d seen a therapist and would advise anyone else experiencing domestic abuse to do the same. What has worked for me is reading loads of psychology articles to understand both mine and Adam’s behaviour, surrounding myself with family and friends and throwing myself into the things I love. I went back to work as a model and set myself goals to make myself happy, like running a marathon. I went through so many emotions but after about six months I’d released the negative thoughts he’d stained me with and despite my past experiences, I’ve learned to be able to trust again and I’ve got a wonderful boyfriend now.
Getting over Adam hasn’t been easy. I wish I’d seen a therapist and would advise anyone else experiencing domestic abuse to do the same.
I’ve never gone to the police about Adam, though. I just wanted to forget about what happened without the added pressure of the police in my life. I also – misguidedly – felt embarrassed. Plus, he was a family friend so out of respect for them, I let the water go under the bridge.
I appreciate a lot of women – and men - experience different types of abuse. Domestic violence doesn’t have to be physical, it can be emotional, too, but whatever you’re suffering, you can get help and you can leave.
If you are a victim of abuse, please know that it's never your fault, nor should you feel embarrassed by it. Talk to as many people as you can and get support. I promise you that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.'
What do the experts say about emotional abuse?
The Debrief spoke to Women’s Aid about Stina’s story, and their Chief Executive Polly Neate said: ‘Emotional abuse is at the heart of coercive control, and coercive control – a sustained pattern of abusive behaviour – is at the heart of domestic violence. It is vital that we recognise that domestic violence is not just physical. Physical violence often comes at a later stage of an abusive relationship – and emotional abuse comes first. Women’s Aid have fought to have emotional abuse and coercive control recognised in law as a key element of domestic violence, and we were successful.’ ‘However, there now needs to be a cultural change around the understanding of what constitutes domestic violence. If you are frightened of your partner, if he is repeatedly belittling you, if you know in your gut that the way he treats you is not right – even if he has not been physically violent – call the National Domestic Violence Helpline, run in partnership between Women’s Aid and Refuge, for help and advice.’
What is Emotional Abuse?
Emotional abuse can include such tactics such as:
● destructive criticism, name calling, sulking
● pressure tactics
● lying to you, or to your friends and family about you
● persistently putting you down in front of other people
● never listening or responding when you talk
● isolating you from friends and family, monitoring your phone calls, emails, texts and letters
● checking up on you, following you, not letting you go out alone
*Names have been changed. An unedited version of this piece was originally posted on Stina's own blog.
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Follow Stina on Twitter @StinaSanders
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