My Ex-Boyfriend Taught Me How To Love Myself Again After The Trauma Of An Emotionally Abusive Relationship

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My Ex-Boyfriend Taught Me How To Love Again After The Trauma Of An Emotionally Abusive Relationship
Self, Heartbreak

Max came to my house and told me he wanted to break up. He told me he still loved and cared for me, but that our romantic relationship wasn’t working. He wanted me in his life, but thought we would be better as friends.

At the end of our conversation, I felt resolved and hopeful that we could have a strong, healthy friendship. That night, everything changed.

I couldn’t sleep. I stared at the ceiling for hours. I had night sweats, and I could barely eat or breathe normally. I was feeling the absolute worst I’ve ever felt, and I had no idea why. Sure, the breakup hit me hard, but something wasn’t adding up.

Let me start from the beginning.

Max was my first official boyfriend, but I didn't come into our relationship with a clean slate. Years before meeting Max, I was in an emotionally abusive relationship for four years.

RELATED: 7 Signs You're Being Quietly Abused (And Don't Even Know It)

We were never “together” officially, but Brooks was my first experience with “love.” He was someone I constantly thought about, always wanted to be around, and felt a true connection with. We met at the start of high school and instantly hit it off.

I had very strong feelings for Brooks, but they came at a time when I didn’t know how to express them. Even when I wanted to tell him I had feelings for him, I was too afraid of ruining our friendship, so I never directly expressed how I truly felt.

Instead, I would drop hints, such as sending hearts at the ends of all my messages to him, offering him rides to school or help with assignments, and being around him every chance I could.

One day, when he was at my house after school, we were watching some video on his phone, and I leaned on his shoulder. With a disgusted look on his face, he said, “What are you doing?” pushed me off, and left early. This memory still stings.

Clearly, my feelings for Brooks weren’t reciprocated, but this didn’t stop me from obsessing over him. We grew dangerously closer until I became toxically dependent on him as my only source of happiness.

If I didn’t have him, I had nothing. So every time he cut me out of his life, called me stupid, and blamed me for every minor disagreement we had, I became nothing.

Our relationship was a vicious cycle of emotional abuse, with him starting to ignore me, me wondering why, him blaming me and telling me he wanted nothing to do with me, me begging and pleading to get him back at any cost just so I could breathe again, us starting to talk again without ever addressing the conflict, him continuing to build resentment and disgust toward me, me trying so hard to not screw it up because I just couldn’t lose him again, and him, yet again, dropping me without warning the moment he could find even the smallest reason.

Brooks and I stopped talking once we both started college. Over the next few years, I poured myself into school and work, never addressing the underlying issues this relationship had left in its wake.

Three years later, as I was about to graduate college, I met Max. We instantly connected and grew close really fast. As our relationship progressed, familiar patterns started to pop up. I was once again becoming the person Brooks groomed me to be.

I grew emotionally dependent on Max as my only source of happiness, just as I had with Brooks. This, coupled with Max’s own struggles, made communication between us impossible.

Which brings me to our breakup. It hit me so hard — not because of anything Max said, but because being hit hard was all I’d ever known.

In the following days, I kept asking Max why he hated me so much, why he was disgusted and repelled by me, and what I did to deserve him cutting me out of his life completely. Max kept telling me none of that was true. And it wasn’t true, but I was too broken to see that.

I began to realize I was talking to the wrong person.

My questions were valid, but Max was not the one I needed to ask, because Max was not the one making me feel these awful feelings. Brooks was.

Because we were both so emotionally drained by this situation, Max and I agreed to stop talking for a while. During our no-contact period, I wanted so badly to reach out to Max, apologize profusely, and admit that everything was my fault, just as Brooks had conditioned me to do.

But I knew giving Max his space was the best thing I could do, for both of us.

Meanwhile, with the help of my therapist, I started examining my relationship with Brooks and realized how much it had affected me all these years later with a completely different person.

That’s the thing about emotional abuse. It sticks with you, and sometimes it becomes all you know.

RELATED: I Saved Myself From An Emotionally Abusive Man (And You Can, Too)

When Max and I reconnected about a month later, we discussed everything that went wrong in our relationship, agreed it was best that it ended, and decided to stay friends. Though Max continued to say he cared about me and wanted me in his life, a small part of me was still afraid he was either lying or manipulating me, just like Brooks used to.

To make matters more complicated, a few months later, I started to have romantic feelings for Max once again. I was both ashamed of having these feelings and afraid to bring them up. If I told Max how I felt, and he didn’t take it well, I risked ruining the friendship and losing someone I cared about.

But I had learned my lesson from Brooks that hiding my feelings wouldn't work out in the long run. I knew keeping my feelings for Max a secret would only drive a wedge between us. If I couldn’t be honest, I wouldn’t be able to let my guard down around him, and the weight of my secret would eventually crush me.

I decided I had to be fully honest and trust Max with my true feelings. I planned to bring everything up the next time we hung out at his house.

In the moments leading up to this conversation, I was so afraid of how Max would react. But after telling Max everything I was feeling, I wasn't shamed, screamed at, or thrown out of the house like my emotionally abused heart had been conditioned to expect.

What happened instead? He listened, explained why it wouldn’t work for him, said we were much stronger as friends, told me there was nothing wrong with me, and that he really valued me in his life, sat with me while I cried on and off for probably over an hour, and ate homemade cookies with me after I calmed down.

This is exactly how it should be.

I opened my heart to Max and felt respected and loved the entire way through, which is something I never experienced with Brooks. It was in these moments that I fully realized Max was someone I can trust, and that I'm so happy being his friend because we are both open, honest, caring, and respectful to one another.

I haven’t seen or spoken to Brooks in years, so I can’t tell you if he’s remorseful, or if he even has any idea how severely our relationship has affected me. And he may never know what I’ve been through, but it doesn’t even matter.

What he knows or thinks he knows about me means nothing. Brooks is out of my life, and I couldn’t be happier.

Meanwhile, Max remains a big part of my life to this day. That strong, healthy friendship I wanted? I have it now, and I’m grateful. Max and I have been through so much together, and we’re stronger as individuals and as friends because of it. I can’t wait to see what the next chapters have in store for both of us.

The first time I saw Max after our breakup, I asked him what we would say about each other years from now, if asked about one another by someone new in our life. In that moment, I wasn’t sure what the answer to this question would be. But now I am sure.

So, years from now, when my future children ask me about my first love, I’ll tell them everything. I’ll tell them how Brooks shattered my heart, and how Max helped me pick up the pieces.

I’ll tell them how scared I was after everything I went through with Brooks, and how Max eased these fears and restored my faith that love is possible.

I’ll tell them all the ways Max made me feel respected, valued, supported, and loved, and tell them to surround themselves with people who make them feel the same, because they deserve it.

I’ll tell them the whole story. And Max, whenever that day comes, you’ll be more than welcome to tell it with me.

RELATED: Verbally Abusive Relationships Are Far More Common Than Anyone Wants To Believe

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Alex Alexander is a pseudonym.

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