The singer has penned a powerful, personal essay for Lena Dunham’s Lenny newsletter, in which she reflects on what happened and how she dealt with it.
She tells about the time that he finally scared her into leaving – backing her up against a wall during an argument, and slamming his hand repeatedly on the surface above her head. “When I broke down in shock, he said, ‘Oh, don’t act like I hit you.’ That moment was the final wake-up call I shouldn’t have needed,” Mayberry writes.
Before that, she says, he’d pull her by the arms and wrists when he thought she wasn’t listening. Or slam doors on her. Or, once, grab the steering wheel while she was driving to try and force her to pull over.
But Mayberry’s experience – like that of many victims of abusive relationships – inhabits that sticky area in which the abuse is invisible: emotionally manipulative and intimidating rather than physically violent. Because of this, she says, even as a smart person who’s always identified as feminist, she didn’t recognise the abuse.
“I would have been the first person to tell a friend she needed to end that relationship if the roles had been reversed, but I always made excuses and didn’t view what was happening to me as ‘abuse’ because he had never physically hurt me — only those few times where it seemed like he was hinting at it but then took it back.”
Although most women probably feel confident that they would recognise an act of physical violence as crossing the line, often it’s the invisible violence that conditions women to reach a point where they can’t simply walk away if (or when) it turns physical. And without the “20/20 vision” of hindsight, it can be extremely tough to recognise that emotional violence and treat it seriously.
Mayberry admits she “must have known on some level that the situation wasn’t right”, but says “After being immersed in that situation for so long, I began to question my own competence and distrust my own opinions, and my physical and mental health deteriorated to a point that caused friends and family to intervene.”
She’s has learnt and grown from her experience – which is why, she says, she’s willing to write publicly about it. The lessons she’s taken from it are about recognising when someone is doing you damage, and knowing that you deserve your boundaries to be respected.
“A relationship can be deeply damaging without anyone leaving marks on you. So many people — especially young women — end up trying to maintain those emotionally abusive relationships because we don’t think it’s that bad and that we are really some of the lucky ones because we haven’t experienced ‘real’ abuse.” And that’s a lesson all of us can take.
“I know that the boundaries I create deserve to be respected. That self-care is not the same as selfishness. That this is my life, my voice, my body, my rules, and that no one gets to determine my narrative apart from me.”