Can you heal from abuse? What do I do after leaving my narcissist? What does a healthy relationship look like? These concerns cross the minds of over 20 people every minute; over 28,800 people every day. And the sad fact is, we still don’t talk about it enough. Healing from Emotional Abuse isn’t a bandaid situation. But it doesn’t have to take years either. Millions of other survivors around the worlds entire lives have been impacted by their narcissist. Yours doesn’t have to. To show you how to live a free, confident and peaceful life, your host and Founder of the Healing From Emotional Abuse Philosophy, Marissa F. Cohen.
Marissa: Welcome back to Healing From Emotional Abuse. Today I have the amazing pleasure of introducing Dr. Sheena Howard. Dr. Sheena Howard just recently put out an amazing fiction book about domestic violence in the LGBTQ community. And I’m so excited to talk about it. She is a game changer. She is so smart and such a champion. I’m so excited to talk to her today. Thank you so much, Sheena, for being here.
Sheena: Thank you, I’m excited to be here.
Marissa: Awesome. Okay, let’s get started. Tell us your truth.
Sheena: So, for me, I entered into a relationship with a woman and I had dated several women, before I ended up in an abusive relationship with a woman. But for this particular relationship, it was a time where like, I really wanted to be in a serious, committed relationship. And I was ready to kind of like, you know, settle down and stop playing around and just be and be in a serious relationship. And so, I met this woman. At the beginning, it was really amazing, you know, the whole honeymoon phase, everything’s great. And I remember one of our friends commented that, Oh, you guys never seem to argue. So, this was like, probably like seven months in to the relationship. And of course, I fell in love And I thought that this was, “my person.” And I had already to myself said, Okay, this is the person, you know, I’m going to try to make this relationship work because I hadn’t really had a long-term relationship with a woman before. Something that was serious. So, I committed to myself that I want to make this relationship work with this person. And at the beginning, you know, after emotions are already involved, and I was already in love with this person, I ignored like, small signs that I’m that now I know our signs of a narcissist. But you know, small things like putting rifts between my friends and I. Putting rifts between family members who I was closest to, and have strong relationships with. And then sowing seeds of doubt in my in my closest relationships is something that she would do. So, like I have an older brother, he’s four years older than me. So, when I was in high school, he was in college. It was basically just me and my mom in the house. And she would say, the more she got to know about me and my family, she kind of used those details to plant like negative seeds in my head. She would say, “Oh, so basically, you were raised, like an only child.” You know, that kind of like distancing that an abuser does to make you feel like you don’t have anybody close to you as a support system. So, she would sow those small seeds in my head, and those were little things that I didn’t I just, you know, I just oh, that’s something to consider. Maybe I was kind of raised like only childhood, because my brother is older. You know, things that you don’t kind of pay attention to that are actually, like, we’re kind of like weakening my sense of who I was, and my sense of identity and kind of making it so my world was only about her. Eventually, I started to feel like smothered. Like if I wanted to go to the outsides of the mailbox, she would say, where are you going? Why do you have to go to the mailbox now? I want to come with you those kinds of things. But I also started to feel like I needed to, like take care of her or protect her because she was having some family issues and some job issues and things like that. So, the relationship kind of became, I guess what people call codependent — where I felt like I had like, it was my responsibility to help her and take care of her because this is the person that I decided that I wanted to be with. And she would tell me things like, you know, we’re meant to be in our relationship just want to get better and better. And I believed those things I wanted to make the relationship work. But eventually, that emotional abuse turned into verbal abuse. Her calling me names telling me I had mental health disorders and on all types of things that she would just make up as a way to kind of chip away at my self-esteem. And as somebody in a relationship with someone you love, you don’t think that this person is doing anything sinister, right? You don’t you know, assume that somebody is attacking you or trying to abuse you in those ways. And for me, she began with physical abuse, things like trapping me in the house, not letting me leave standing in front of the door, tackling me those kinds of things. I didn’t even really see those things as domestic abuse. For me, I didn’t have like a mental template for that. One of the important things I learned in my experience is that, you know, we’re trained to think of abuse as men abuse women, right? That’s what we’re trained to believe and understand. So, when you’re in a relationship with someone of the same sex, for me, at least for me, it was, it was harder to identify that, “Wow, this is, you know, this is what abuse looks like.” And then couple that with feelings of shame and embarrassment. Like some of the things she was doing, I certainly didn’t want to tell people that were closest to me, I didn’t want to let anybody know. Part of it was trying to protect my relationship. Because if I think I want to be with this person, why would I tell my family members and friends these awful things that she’s doing to me, but also, I didn’t see those things as abusive. And this went on for years. And eventually, I had to call the police in an incident where I was trying to get out of the house and get away from her in a moment of her crazy rage. And it wasn’t until then that I really started to understand that this is what abuse looks like, you know, just because it’s a female abusing another female doesn’t mean that it isn’t abuse. And I ended up getting a restraining order, I ended up reaching out to one of the local domestic violence organizations here in Philadelphia, to help me get out of this situation. So, I used the resources available to me. Of course my family and friends were there with open arms to give me shelter, to help me get out of the relationship and away from this person. But it was a tough road. It was tough for me to understand that actually was a victim. You know, the word victim was really hard for me to wrap my head around. It’s also hard for me to even say, say that I’m a survivor. Those labels and identities for me were hard to wrap my head around because I didn’t want to see myself as a victim. But coming out of that relationship, now I just want to help people protect themselves from getting in an abusive relationship. And I also want to create awareness specifically for the LGBTQ community. Because there are research studies from the CDC and the HRC about abuse in lesbian and gay relationships. There are higher rates in the LGBTQ community than there are in the heterosexual community. As far as domestic violence and abuse, I feel like even within the community and outside of the community, this public health crisis is swept under the rug and ignored and particularly in the lesbian and gay community, they don’t want to talk about this issue. Yes, you know, we know the slogan is love and love. But within that there are people really dealing with some terrible things that could cost them their lives.
Marissa: I’m so happy that you brought that up, that was going to be something that I really wanted to touch on. So, the LGBTQAI+ community actually has the highest rate for both sexual assault and domestic violence. For a lot of reasons. Do you know any of those reasons?
Sheena: You know, one of the ways that I wanted to create awareness coming out of my situation to help people protect themselves, is to write a book, right? To show that this happens to same sex couples. And one of the things that I learned is that, you know, abuse is abuse, whether it’s heterosexual, or emotional abuse in lesbian relationships and gay couples. But there are some different aspects and layers within a gay relationship that needs to be discussed and taken into account. So, some of the things that an abuser might use as leverage in a gay relationship might be, you know, telling their partner that, you know, I’m going to out you. I’m going to tell people that you’re lesbian or gay if you tell them about this narcissism. You can tell them about this abuse, or the high rates of homelessness in the LGBTQ community is also another factor that might keep a victim in a relationship with an abuser, because they may feel like they don’t have anywhere else to go. And then also, I think, just that social script of abuse is male to female is really hard for a lesbian or gay person to wrap their head around when they’re in a relationship with a narcissist who is the same sex.
Marissa: Thank you for all that. Honestly. I feel like it’s so dumb that in 2020, we’re still under the impression and still forwarding the narrative that abuse is male to female and it’s only abuse if you get hit. That’s not true. I think that’s such crap. I’m so glad that you brought that up. Anyone can be a narcissist, and anyone can be a survivor. And I think it’s really important to really push that narrative and make people know that it doesn’t matter who you are, you can be a victim, you can be a survivor.
Sheena: Right. And when I when I was really trying to, you know, understand more about emotional abuse after I got out of my situation, I realized that I was in relationships with people that were abusive before. I didn’t stay in those relationships. I got out like, as soon as I saw the signs of a toxic relationship. There’s so many things that I took for granted as a lesbian, that I just kind of let it slide. Like abuse looks like somebody’s not wanting you to hang out with your friends. Abuse looks like a person that doesn’t allow you to hang out with your friends without them. Abuse looks like jealousy. Like, I feel like, for at least for me, dating women, I kind of let those things slide. Oh, she doesn’t really love me and just really into me, that’s why she always has to go everywhere with me. But no, that is a form of emotional abuse and control, because abuse is about power and control, not necessarily about the gender of the person.
Marissa: Absolutely. Abuse also looks like somebody’s calling you incessantly over and over and over again. If you have 13 missed calls from your significant other because you didn’t answer but they know you’re with your family or friends, That’s abusive. If you have insane numbers of text messages, if you’re getting text after text after text. And it can all be mean; it could be mixed. It could be I hate you, you’re awful, go die, I’m sorry, I love you. You know, it just follows the cycle.
Sheena: Exactly. And some of those more subtle, I guess I can call them subtle, forms of abuse are the ones that may be hard to notice early on in a relationship or as a relationship goes on. But they’re they are very impact and damaging to one’s self esteem, self-worth sense of self. I know for me, when I was in my abusive relationship, I didn’t catch on to what she was doing for a while. I would say, okay, Saturday, I’m going to go visit my mother at say 10am. And it would be like 9:45am, and she still be in the bed and I would be up dressed. “Hey, come on, let’s go. You know I said I was going to go visit my mother.” And since I couldn’t go anywhere by myself, she had to come, too. And every single time or when it was time for me to go visit family, she would create an argument over something. So that she could get me in a place where I was so upset where I would just not go visit my family. Or she would purposely you know, make me late. So, it’s 9:45am we’re supposed to meet my family at 10am. And you’re still in the bed and now you’re creating an argument with me over, why am I rushing you? I didn’t realize that those things were part of the cycle of abuse that she had me in until later on. Yeah, and so it was crazy situation where I wasn’t able to go visit family because she was sabotaging my plans to go visit family. And then the times where I would say you know what, I’m leaving you stay here and you’re not dressed, then she would Gaslight me and say what type of person would just leave their significant other home when they’re going to visit family? Just that whole crazy, crazy making. Whereas a person who is self-critical, right? You care about your partner’s feelings. You do self-reflect and say, okay, maybe that wasn’t right, then you start feeling guilty. Year of that whole cycle. That because I was in it. I couldn’t tell you that that was narcissism. Because particularly at the beginning, I wasn’t like being hit.
Marissa: Right? I’ve said that before. If you get into a relationship with a person, and the first thing they do is punch you in the face, chances are you’re going to leave.
Sheena: Exactly. I saw a really good example, when I was doing the research for my book, where if you put a frog in boiling water, the frog’s gonna jump right out and never come back. But if you put a frog in water, that’s the perfect temperature, and you slightly turn it up every day, then the frog, she’s going to get used to that temperature until it burns to death. And it’s like that saying it that’s exactly what it is.
Marissa: That’s such a good example. I’ve never heard that before. I love it. So, I really liked how you touched on yellow flags and red flags. Abuse is it’s a cycle. And it’s a cycle of pushing boundaries, right. So, like you just said, with a frog, if you turn it all the way up at the beginning, the frog is going to leave. It’s a small step by step pushing boundaries. And so, it’s really important to set boundaries at the beginning and you know, obviously, when you’re starting a new relationship, you’re in the honeymoon phase and everything is great. You don’t see the subtle jabs, right.
Sheena: Yeah, the boundary thing is so important. And like you said, it’s so difficult because at the beginning, you let a couple of things slide. Oh, yeah, I wanted to go hang out with my friends, but she wants to come. We’ve only been dating for like six months. That’s cute. She wants to come. You don’t think that — No, that’s a form of control because if you tell her that she can’t come, she’s going to have a fit and it’s going to be an argument so you don’t even that anxiety that you’re feeling to tell your partner that you want to go hang out with friends, that’s that mental that that cycle that you’re that you’re getting into. Which is really tough to recognize when you’re in that honeymoon phase.
Marissa: I will maintain this for Ever I think physical abuse is awful, you know, getting punched, getting hit, anything, the whole thing is awful. The psychological abuse and verbal abuse stay with you. Well, it’s the little tinge of anxiety you get, because you don’t want to piss them off, you want to go hang out with your friend, but you don’t want to make them angry, so where I’m with. And you don’t realize that that’s pushing your boundary but it’s also emotional abuse there in your head. And so those I call those yellow flags. You know, that gut feeling that it’s not right, it doesn’t feel right, but you don’t know why. And maybe you’re doubting yourself, you’re so used to being wrong and told that what you’re saying and feeling and doing is wrong, that you doubt yourself. And those yellow flags are so easy to ignore.
Sheena: Yeah. And that’s why it’s so important. When you’re in a relationship, let the people closest to you know what’s going on, because they can validate your reality. At the beginning, if I had told friends or people that are closest to me, like my mother, maybe they would have been able to just validate like, no, that’s not right. That’s not cool. No, that’s not normal. But instead, you know, we keep our relationship behind closed doors, because we feel embarrassed, or you don’t want to make this person look bad. And so, they’re the ones that get to validate the narrative, and they’re validating a narrative that is totally outside of reality.
Marissa: Right! I’m so glad you said that. Thank you. So, tell us about your book. I’m so excited to hear about it.
Sheena: Thank you so much. Yes. So, you know, I guess a lot of people when they come out of an emotionally abusive relationship, we want to help, we want to help protect people from going through what we went through. And so, for me, I just realized that particularly in the lesbian community, we don’t talk about emotional abuse in lesbian relationships; we don’t talk about these yellow and red flags that seem to be normal in same sex relationships that are actually forms of abuse. And so, for me, I wrote the fiction novel, Nina’s Whisper to bring awareness to same sex domestic abuse and emotional abuse in lesbian relationships, because it’s a story about one woman’s journey to triumph over domestic abuse at the hands of another woman. There’s a little bit of physical abuse, but the focus of the book is on emotional and mental abuse. And also understanding the narrator’s thought process in trying to dissect all of these instances of a narcissist that she’s facing, but that she doesn’t know is abuse. For someone who’s come out of an abusive relationship, you know, you understand kind of the cycle. So, you can you can understand, Nina is the main character’s name, you can understand Nina’s self-reflection, how her self-esteem is being broken down. But ultimately at the end you’re rooting for Nina to save herself. Without giving away too much of the book that came out in April this past April 2020 And I’m also doing a graphic novel adaptation of the book, which will be out April 2021. Because I think it’s so important to show we need a visual representation of lesbian emotional abuse right? If we can see it, then we’re closer to understanding that this is a public health crisis for LGBTQ people, as well as heterosexual people. If we don’t see it, it’s harder for us to recognize when we are in these types of abusive situations.
Marissa: I agree. It humanizes it when you put a face to it.
Sheena: Exactly. Also, I hope the book shows that abuse is abuse, whether it’s male to female, female to female, male to male. Abuse is abuse, you know that the playbook that abusers use is the same,
Marissa: Right! 100% Thank you. So where can we where can we buy your book?
Sheena: So, Nina’s whisper is available pretty much wherever they sell books, the easiest might be Amazon. It’s available on Audible, so you can listen to it if you prefer audio books. It’s available as an e-book if you prefer Kindle and reading on your tablet. And it’s available as a paperback if you still like those hard copies. And you can get it on websites like Barnes and Noble and Books a Million, but the easiest place will probably be Amazon and sometimes I run deals on Amazon, too with price drops.
Marissa: Oh, that’s awesome. Do you have any social media pages that we could follow?
Sheena: I sure do. So, I have a Facebook fan page that is Dr. Sheena Howard. I have a Twitter account. That is Dr. Sheena Howard. And I have an Instagram page that is Dr. Sheena Howard. I really like Twitter. That’s my favorite medium. So please interact with me on Twitter. Then my website is www.SheenaCHoward.com.
Marissa: Perfect. Thank you so much. Do you have any advice for members of the LGBTQ community that might have found themselves in narcissistic relationship?
Sheena: So, if you feel like you’re in an abusive relationship right now, or if you if something’s just not sitting right with you in this relationship — you know, one of the things that I think is important is if you feel like you’re starting to dislike yourself, you’re in a relationship and you’re starting to dislike yourself, you feel like you’re, you’re being smothered; You feel like your close relationships with people have deteriorated since you’ve been in this relationship — the first thing, I would recommend is to talk to somebody. Whether it is the National Domestic Abuse hot-line, or it’s a close family, friend or family member, talk to someone Have someone else validate your experience, and what you’re going through. Of course, if there’s physical abuse, reach out to your local domestic abuse organization in your county in your city, or the National Domestic Violence Hot-line. Just know that you’re not alone. And there are resources and there are people that love you and care about you that you can talk to. Do not feel embarrassed.
Marissa: And what about people who are just out of abusive relationships?
Sheena: Yeah, if you’re just coming out of an abusive relationship:
1) Come to terms with the fact that you’re a survivor, right? You were a victim. And now you’re a survivor. I think that’s a really important step to moving on and getting back to a healthy place.
2) Definitely go to therapy, right? Talk to somebody.
3) If you need to get an order protection from your city, go get your order protection or your restraining order.
4) And reach back out to the people that you may be neglected during that relationship, right? build a community with a blanket of people around you, that can help you.
Marissa: Chances are when you share your story people are going to share back.
Marissa: Abuse is so common. When I first started sharing my story, I had tons of people telling me theirs. So, don’t be afraid to speak out, especially in a community like the LGBTQ community where it is so common, and so not talked about.
Sheena: That’s so true. Once I started sharing my stories amazing, like some of my closest friends were telling me about things that they had been through with their relationships. I’m like, oh, my goodness, I’ve known you for all these years and you know, we’ve never talked about this. So, I think that’s so true. Once you start sharing your story, I think people will share their story with you. And you’ll build that blanket, that community around you.
Marissa: Thank you so, so much for joining us today. Sheena. Oh my gosh, you’re a wealth of amazing information. And I cannot wait to read your book.
Sheena: I really appreciate that. And let me know what you think about it.
Marissa: One more great, big thank you to Dr. Sheena, for being here today and talking to us about abuse in the LGBTQ plus community. It is so commonly overlooked because like Dr. Sheena said, the depiction of abuse is usually a male hurting a female. We want to change that we’re both working to change that. That’s not the narrative. the LGBTQ community is the highest risk for being in an abusive relationship or in a sexual assault. So, help us change the narrative Check out her book on Amazon, Barnes and Noble anywhere that books can be bought and educate yourself about how important it is to support every survivor and that it’s not just a female male problem. This is an everybody problem. There’s no one demographic that is more susceptible to abuse. Thank you so much for joining us today and I will talk to you guys next week.
If you enjoyed this podcast, you have to check out www.MarissaFayeCohen.com/Private-Coaching. Marissa would love to develop a made-for-you healing plan to heal from emotional abuse. She does all the work, and you just show up. Stop feeling stuck, alone, and hurt, and live a free, confident, and peaceful life. Don’t forget to subscribe to the Healing From Emotional Abuse podcast, and follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/marissafcohen, and instagram @Marissa.Faye.Cohen. We’d love to see you there!
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