Ask The Therapist: “My significant other tried to tarnish my image and spread false rumors…”

In 2016, the number of people estimated to be suffering from mental health issues like depression and anxiety amounted to roughly 1.1 billion. Since then, numbers have likely continued to rise. Moreover, studies have also shown women especially on average are a) more likely to suffer from mental health issues, and b) less likely to talk about them. The taboo in Pakistan surrounding depression and anxiety disorders only serve to aggravate the individuals suffering even more. For the women who cannot seek out full time therapy, or simply need advice about their problems, we’ve enlisted the help of a trained counsellor. You sent us in your questions – here are the answers!

“My significant other hurt me very badly, by that I mean tried to tarnish my public image and spread false rumors. Obviously after that, I ended the relationship and was badly hurt but now this person wants to get back into my life. He tries to get in touch with my family and friends, calls and harasses me to talk and threatens to commit suicide if I don’t. What should I do? This is causing a lot of stress in my life as I have other commitments and my career to focus on.”

Haya’s Response

Dear Anonymous,

What you are describing sounds like an emotionally abusive relationship. Relationship abuse can be defined as a pattern of behavior in any relationship that is used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner. Abuse is physical, sexual, emotional, economic or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person. This includes any behaviors that frightens, intimidates, terrorizes, manipulates, hurts, humiliates, blames, injures or wounds someone.

You are in an emotionally abusive relationship if your partner:

  • Calls you names, insults you or continually criticizes you
  • Humiliates you in public
  • Does not trust you and acts jealous or possessive
  • Tries to isolate you from family or friends
  • Constantly checks up on you, monitoring where you go, who you call and who you spend time with
  • Blames you for problems in the relationship
  • Does not want you to work
  • Controls finances or refuses to share money
  • Punishes you by withholding affection
  • Threatens to disclose a secret
  • Threatens suicide if you assert independence or try to leave the relationship
  • Threatens to hurt you, your family or your pets

Your previous relationship with your partner was abusive. Him reaching out by harassing you, your friends and family, and threatening to commit suicide is abuse. In your case, abuse is NOT your fault. You need to get out and protect yourself, no matter how much he nags you.

If you are being abused (which you had been and are), remember:

  • You are not to blame for being battered or mistreated
  • You are not the cause of your partner’s abusive behavior
  • You deserve to be treated with respect
  • You deserve a safe and happy life
  • Your children deserve a safe and happy life
  • You are not alone. There are people waiting to help

You need your support structure more than ever and you need to be able to discuss this with them and come up with a strategy. Perhaps you need to inform his family of what is going on and what all he is doing not only with you, but with your friends and family too.

Permanently leaving is the only way out for you. For that, your boundaries need to be strong. Healthy boundaries are a crucial element of self-care. You may be wondering, what are boundaries and how does that impact my situation in anyway?

Setting good personal boundaries is critical to creating healthy relationships, increasing self-esteem and reducing stress, anxiety and depression. A lack of boundaries opens the door for others to determine your thoughts, feelings, and needs. Defining boundaries is a process of determining what behavior you will accept from others and what you will not.

Boundaries include physical boundaries, as well as, emotional boundaries. Physical boundaries include your body, personal space, and privacy. Violations include standing too close, inappropriate touching, even looking through your personal files or your phone. Emotional boundaries involve separating your feelings from another’s feelings. Violations include, taking responsibility for another’s feelings, letting another’s feelings dictate your own, sacrificing your own needs to please another, blaming others for your problems, and accepting responsibility for theirs. Strong boundaries protect your self-esteem and your identity as an individual, with the right to make your own choices. Many people have difficulty setting healthy boundaries. At times it is difficult to identify when our boundaries are being crossed. We may even fear the consequences to our relationships if we set them.

To identify when your boundaries are being crossed, stay tuned into your feelings. Red flags include, discomfort, resentment, stress, anxiety, guilt and fear (all of which you have been feeling). These feelings stem from being taken advantage of or not feeling appreciated. Do the following statements ring true for you: I can’t make my own decisions, I can’t ask for what I need, I can’t say no, I feel criticized, I feel responsible for their feelings, I seem to take on their moods, and I am often nervous, anxious or resentful around them.

Unhealthy boundaries are often characterized by a weak sense of your own identity and your own feelings of disempowerment. This leads you to rely on your partner for happiness and decision making responsibilities thereby losing important parts of your own identity. An inability to set boundaries also stems from fear; fear of abandonment or losing the relationship, fear of being judged or fear of hurting others feelings.

Make a commitment to yourself to put your own identity, needs, feelings and goals first. Healthy emotional boundaries come from believing that you are okay just the way you are. Commit to letting go of fixing others (your ex), taking responsibility for the outcomes of his choices, saving or rescuing others, needing to be needed, changing yourself to be liked, or depending on others approval.

Make a list of boundaries you would like to strengthen. Write them down. Visualize yourself setting them and finally, assertively communicate with others what your boundaries are and when they’ve crossed them. Remember, this is a process. Start with a small, non-threatening boundary and once successful, take on more challenging boundaries.

This means you don’t take the abuser back and don’t allow him to make excuses. Do whatever you must to keep the abuser away from you, including blocking them on social media, changing your phone number. Remember — this person has hurt you over and over. They intentionally hurt someone they supposedly love. They’re not going to stop. They’re not going to change. And if you let it, the abuse will continue getting worse. Abuse leaves a deep psychological mark, but that mark doesn’t have to become a debilitating scar. If you’ve recently left an abusive relationship, seek help. See a counselor, and draw your loved ones close. Don’t dwell on the past, but work to ensure your success in the present and use that to focus on YOU, your future and your career.

Above all, remember that you are valuable, and that your experience has in no way depreciated your value.

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