relationships

I Didn't Realize I Was in an Abusive Relationship Until I Was Out of It

Irene Wakefield started an organization to help young New Zealanders avoid going through what she did.
August 3, 2017, 4:36am
Irene Wakefield. Image supplied

This article originally appeared on VICE New Zealand. Irene Wakefield runs Prepair NZ, a service that educates 15-19 year-olds about healthy relationships. This is her story, in her own words. I identified abusive relationships as being physically abusive. I had no clue throughout the relationship I was in that mental and emotional abuse existed. Physical abuse was my only boundary. There was never anything that made me think the behavior I was experiencing was serious.

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For my friends and I, It was really normal to have to get permission from our partners to go to parties. We never questioned why we were asking. We just did it.

I would never commit to plans with my friends because I wanted to revolve my schedule around my boyfriend.

Everything I did—even the way I dressed—revolved around keeping somebody else happy. I would never commit to plans with my friends because I wanted to revolve my schedule around my boyfriend. I didn't do anything for myself. You've probably heard someone say, "I am nothing without you." That was very true for me in that relationship; everything I did was for him.

A whole series of events happened that led me to realize that I needed to leave him, and after four years of being together, I did. One year later, I decided to go on my first overseas vacation—ten days alone on a tropical Island. I was waiting for the plane when I stumbled across a Facebook article. This was just a random blog post I was reading through, and it talked about the early signs of abuse in a relationship: control, isolation, possessiveness, and using alcohol as an excuse for behaviors. When I read through it, I realized that it was like seeing my own story reflected back at me. That was the moment I realized my relationship had been mentally and emotionally abusive for four years.

There was anger, there was shock, there was embarrassment.

I was angry. I just didn't understand how I was unable to identify it. There was anger, there was shock, and there was embarrassment. But there wasn't any negative feeling toward the relationship. It was more about what I can do about this now. I now have this knowledge that many other young women probably don't, so how can I get this information to the masses? To me, it honestly hurt to think there could be other young women putting their lives on hold for something they perceive to be love but actually isn't. I could have advanced myself and my life a lot more if I had this vital information earlier.

"If we are to try and prevent domestic violence in our country, then we have to get right down to the low-level forms of abuse and tackle that," says Irene.

A couple of years [after my trip], I was driving home from work. I manage a bank in Wellington, New Zealand. I'd had a rough day, and I was ready for something that was a bit more meaningful to me. I got home from work—it was Christmas Eve—and I was wrapping the presents. I said to my partner, "There's this thing that I want to do. I want to make sure young women across New Zealand are educated about abuse, and I want them to feel confident in themselves as a woman in a relationship." That night I launched an Instagram page and started a blog and Prepair NZ started there.

I can sit in a cafe for an hour and drink a coffee, and I don't need to talk to anyone. That's the difference. I do things for me.

What I learned from the three years in between that relationship and the one that I'm in today is how to be comfortable in my own company. I can sit in a cafe for an hour and drink a coffee alone, and I don't need to talk to anyone. That's the difference. I do things for me. I know full well if my current relationship was to end, I will be OK. Of course, I would be sad. But I am so comfortable now in who I am that I know that the world's not going to end. I have a lot going for me. I have a great circle of friends around me now. Back then, I didn't. When that relationship ended, so did every friendship that I had because they were not my friends. They were his.

We're almost two years in and obviously the blog has grown a lot. We use social media and other online resources quite actively to engage our audience, and I deliver talks and workshops all across New Zealand.

If we are to try and prevent domestic violence in our country, then we have to get right down to the low-level forms of abuse and tackle that. If you flick through a newspaper or watch the news, when you hear somebody talking about an abusive relationship, it's almost always physical. We don't talk about mental and emotional abuse enough yet. How will we ever change it if we can't go right back to the things that happen in the infancy of a relationship and tackle it there?

Abusive relationships are like a road block to the potential of many young women in our country. What I wanted to do was build some sort of organization that was instrumental in moving those road blocks out of the way so that young women could carry on and become whoever it is they're supposed to be and not put their lives on hold for a relationship. A core part of that is ensuring that they are educated about mental and emotional abuse, instilling a sense, a belief, and a desire to look from a self-loving place. We want to help prevent domestic violence in our country through education and radical self-love.

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