Before I met my ex, I believed many myths about domestic abuse and these myths played a role in my failure to recognize it. This is what I learned from the experience.
Success won't protect you from abuse
For the two years I spent in an abusive relationship, my career thrived. Despite the emotional, psychological and sexual abuse I faced at home, I was promoted, gave talks and appeared on recruiting panels.
My ability to compartmentalize and cope with stress allowed me to hide what was going on for a long time. By the end of our relationship, I couldn’t sustain the lie and worried I would be discovered as I cried in the bathroom at 200 West from the pain of my physical and emotional injuries.
Look out for warning signs
When my ex approached me at a nightclub, he was polite and charming as many abusive men are at first. They deploy a range of tactics to gain control of their victims. Here’s what I overlooked:
- Love bombing. My accomplishments made me a prize in my ex’s view. He showered me with compliments and showed me off to his friends. He called his dad in front of me and told his father he had met The One–within a week of our meeting.
- Manipulation. “Men from my background get loud,” he told me. “If you have a problem with that, you’re racist.” Soon he was screaming at me, and I had no ground to complain.
- Past relationships. He told me he had been physically abused by his ex-girlfriend. I felt sorry for him and extended more leeway than I normally would because of it. I now believe she was his victim.
No one in my life ever suspected I was in danger. Even as my private life disintegrated into a nightmare, in public my fiancé was still the man I fell in love with: charming and creative and fun. This discrepancy made me feel like I was the one who had done something wrong.
Keep your independence
As things escalated, I would spend the weekend afraid to leave my apartment because of what he might do. On weekdays, work gave me a permissible excuse to get away. My ex felt threatened by my job, but not because I made more money than him. As the abuse escalated, he began pressuring me to quit so that he could “provide” for me, though I interpreted that as a desire for more control over me.
His suspicions of my job were accurate. Keeping my career on track played a major role in giving me the resources to get away and preserving my connection to others so that I had the support to leave as well. I am grateful it was possible for me to do this and recognize it may be a challenge for other victims to do safely.
Don't be afraid to ask for help and advice
I had a small window to get away: my fiancé left our apartment for three days. I knew I had to take action, and came clean to some colleagues so I could get out of town. I’d been planning for weeks and had accepted a new job so I would be in a new place, away from him and people who knew I’d been engaged. My colleagues showed me so much kindness and compassion, offering me places to stay, resources for getting a restraining order, and advice from the office of global security to ensure my safety.
You can get your life back after abuse
I haven't seen my ex since the day he left on his trip, though he still writes to me about how much he loves and misses me.
Some days, I don’t think about him at all. The best gift is knowing every time I come home, I will find peace and safety in my own space. That’s something I didn’t have before.
I don’t know if it’s possible to completely prevent abuse, but I know that the support and understanding I received from my colleagues gave me the strength to get away. My career was a reminder that I had once been able to do difficult things, and that I would be able to again.
Krystian Cousins is a pseudonym
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