I was spending time with one of my oldest friends, and the doorbell rang. Not thinking much of it, I didn’t look through the peephole and opened the door.
When I opened the door, it was my emotionally abusive ex. They looked tattered and particularly worn down, and they asked if they could come in.
I prioritized their seemingly bad condition and not what it could mean for my emotional health if I opened the door. I let them in.
They started to tell me about how horrible their life had become. To the obvious discomfort of my friend, I listened and started to feel sorry for them despite all they had done to me.
My friend left the room, and a family member entered, watching the same routine happen.
Suddenly, when they had come pretty far into my friend’s home, I realized they were stealing from me and my friend. Although I was angry at them for stealing from my friend’s home, I was equally angry with myself for falling for it.
I told them they had to leave. They didn’t acknowledge my request and kept trying to change the subject. They ignored me and kept trying to talk to my friend. My family member had left the room at this point, and I didn’t think they were coming back.
When my friend and I finally got the ex out of the door, we had a moment of temporarily relief. Then, the ex turned hostile. Instead of knocking, they barged in. They started berating me and yelling at me and my friend.
My friend yelled that they had to leave, and even when the ex would leave for a moment, they would barge back in.
Finally, my friend and I got them outside and closed the door. My ex continued to yell at me and come on and off of my friend’s lawn until they started violently shoving my friend. My friend pushed back. I begged them to stop pushing each other because I was afraid my friend would get in trouble, and I felt I had caused everyone enough pain.
Suddenly, the ex’s whole demeanor changed. They got really quiet and started acting as if they really respected my friend and me. They apologized and started to leave for good.
It was as they were leaving that I realized they were stealing my name badge from my new job. They were leaving for good, and I was so exhausted with them and the situation that I just let them take the name badge without any objection.
Then, I woke up. This was the dream I had last night.
I’m not surprised I had it. The farther away I am from that ex, the more my mind seems to need to unpack the weight of how they treated me.
So much of this dream speaks to my experience with emotional abuse:
1. Many times, emotional abusers portray themselves as victims of the people they are victimizing. No matter what they’ve done and who they’ve done it to, they will be the hero of a story. They will use this cycle of self-victimization to excuse any poor behavior they exhibit and will change the subject to how you hurt them if you try to talk about how they hurt you.
2. By the time one realizes how much an emotional abuser is impacting them, the abuser is usually already pretty entrenched in your life. In fact, emotional abusers need to appear especially interested in one’s family and friends at first so their attempt to alienate the abused person from their loved ones later doesn’t appear as obvious.
3. It’s fitting that in the end of this dream, this person literally “took my name.” Emotional abusers seek to get people in a pattern of seeking constant approval and instruction from them, and if the victim disagrees with the abuser or goes their own way, the emotional abuser lashes out, making the abused question themselves and their reality. And if the abused person tries to leave for good, the emotional abuser attempts to destroy the victim’s character publicly, which is especially easy to do if they’ve succeeded in isolating the person.
I think this dream was triggered by seeing a friend interact with this ex on social media. I have told this friend about my ex’s behavior, and they treated my escape from that relationship as a messy breakup, not as a traumatic experience.
That’s why emotional abusers can keep their emotionally abusive behavior continuing so long. Without physical bruises, people don’t believe that what I experienced was abuse, not just a dramatic relationship. They won’t hold that ex accountable like they would if I said they had physically hurt me.
But the difference between dream me and the real me is that no one will take my name away from me. I’m reclaiming my self-love and self-esteem, one day at a time. I know who I am, and that relationship taught me not to let anyone convince me otherwise.
And to the other people out there who have experienced emotional abuse–you are not alone.
I see you and you matter. Your experience was real, and I believe you.