emotional abuse

Dig Boston Cover Story, 1/26/17: "Photo Feature: Invisible Fractures" by Rachel Tine

January 26, 2017 By RACHEL TINE Leave a Comment



A new exhibit reveals nonphysical bruises in healing light




Not all scars are visible on the surface. But as Boston-area photographer Rachel Tine reminds us, “many  domestic violence shelters require that a victim has sustained physical injuries in order to receive assistance.” Even though “emotional abuse has been shown to be equally if not more damaging to victims in the long term.”


Partnering with the Dorchester-based nonprofit Casa Myrna, which provides help to emotional abuse victims (as well as physical and sexual abuse victims) to raise money and awareness for their organization, Tine photographed nearly two dozen individuals for her latest series, “Invisible Fractures: The Enduring Trauma of Emotional Abuse,” which opens at the Piano Craft Gallery on Feb 3.

“All of the series participants are deeply impacted by the emotional abuse to this day,” Tine says. “But by sharing their history through this series, participants have been able to utilize their own suffering to benefit others, which has helped to empower survivors who were previously nervous about coming forward with their experiences. It’s been really moving to see how transformative participation in this series has been for people.”


In one case, the photographer says there has been impact even before the opening reception.


“One woman actually left her emotionally abusive relationship when she read one of my posts about the series and realized that she was being emotionally abused,” Tine says. “She knew she would end up suffering like the participants in my series if she didn’t get out.”


Below we have included excerpts from the difficult and moving interviews that Tine did with her subjects, along with photographs (please note that pictures do not correspond to specific quotations). Those who have suffered from relationship abuse may want to consider the troubling nature of the experiences described herein before reading further.  




What, if anything, made you fearful, sad, question your own self-worth or intuition, etc.?

My relationship made me fear for the life of my family. Often while trying to escape this relationship, [he] would threaten to go to my house and hurt my family. He swore time and time again that if I left him, when I was married with my own family in the future, that he would find me and first kill my child, then my husband, all in front of me. As a teen, nothing was more scary than this. I questioned my self-worth every time I went back … Every time I found myself on my knees begging for him to stop what he was doing to me.


Can you succinctly describe some of the most damaging things that were said or done to you over the course of the relationship?


He would tell me he loved me more than anything or anyone in the world; he even drunkenly proposed to me one night. But the next day would be completely different—he said that he’d never really felt anything for me, that he was just confused and now he understood how little I really meant, that he didn’t want to see me anymore. This happened several times. In the course of our relationship, he broke up with me three times, and each time it devastated me. We’d end up getting back together because he’d come back to me and apologize with that cliche “you don’t know what you have ’till it’s gone” line. The emotional yo-yoing really damaged my self-worth.


What, if anything, made you fearful, sad, question your own self-worth or intuition, etc.?


I was subjected to brutal debates on any topic, and, over time, began to live in terror, afraid to say anything that might provoke him. He argued to win no matter what and said that it was “fun” even when these “fun” and “friendly” arguments would reduce me to tears, and sometimes would continue even when I pleaded with him to stop. This occurred fairly often, but was unpredictable, so I felt on edge most of the time. He derived tremendous pleasure from dominating me and crushing any attempt at disagreement.




How does the image of you in this series represent your experience in an emotionally abusive relationship?


Because of how painful life was for me when he wasn’t getting exactly what he wanted, it became ingrained in me to, without realizing it, second guess every word and action before they came out of me, always aware that I would be punished in some way, big or small, if I didn’t behave in exactly the “right” way. For this image, I chose to be photographed with my tongue taped down, because my abuser cleverly manipulated my ability to ever feel safe to speak freely.

What was the “last straw” that allowed you to leave for good?


He used to work some nights over night, and one night he went out to work and then I decided to go with some friends to a party, and then I got back and there he was. I’m pretty sure he set me up because he thought I was going to go out, and I came home and there he was on the couch and it was dark and he was looking crazy and then he pulled out a gun on me and pointed it right at my face, and then he was acting like he was going to shoot me. And I don’t know how I kept my cool, but I was like “do it, go for it,” but in my head I was losing it, and then he just popped out the clip and just emptied the clip of bullets right in my face, like flicked them at me. And I stayed. I think the last straw for me . . . was I threatened to leave and then he threatened to hurt my dog and then sleep around with a bunch of my friends, and that’s what made me leave. But then I got mad at myself later, I realized I got more upset that he threatened to hurt my dog and sleep with my friends than shoot me with a gun. I think that’s when I realized it wasn’t a normal relationship at all.




How does the abuse still affect you today?


Every time someone raises their voice near me, there’s a part of me that shuts down immediately, and I can do nothing but cry and hold myself until the feeling passes. In relationships following … my significant others have often felt offended that I could ever fear them or think they would belittle me in the way he did. They have gotten angry at times for immediately assuming the worst to happen.

How does the abuse still affect you today?


I have lost all of my self-confidence and hope for the future. For the first time in my life I am really insecure about my appearance. I have nightmares. I am too fragile to form new relationships. I am plagued by all of the physical symptoms of PTSD. But mostly, I struggle still with cognitive dissonance—after years of being told that my essential basic human needs for intimacy, security, fairness, respect, were invalid, were due to my “wrong thinking,” because I am inherently flawed. In time, I came to believe it. As a result of years of gaslighting, I lost my sense of agency and came to accept the reality that was manufactured for me; I began to doubt my own mind. This persists even when I know now, empirically, that I was emotionally abused.

Check out the Invisible Fractures opening reception at the Piano Craft Gallery on Fri 2.3 from 7–10pm. After-party to follow at Hojoko. For more information visit casamyrna.org/racheltine

My First SOLO Gallery Show by Rachel Tine

Ever since I was little, I've always wanted to help people. When I was younger, this desire took the form of carrying a medicine bag with me everywhere to help anyone in pain, being listed as the class or bunk "psychiatrist" in multiple yearbooks, etc. By the age of 9, I was determined to be a child psychologist, and although I went on to earn a degree in psychology, I realized soon afterward that I wanted to help enact social change on a larger scale than my degree would readily facilitate. I had recently gotten back into photography after nearly a decade away, and although I was thrilled as one of my biggest passions soon became my career, I felt that something was missing. I spent the better part of three years trying to figure out the best way to use my photography as a tool for positive social change.

Although I had many powerful ideas for photo series addressing various social justice issues, I have always had trouble with art that capitalizes on an issue without helping to ameliorate said issue in a meaningful way. I was thrilled when I finally came up with a framework for photographic series that give back: photographing people impacted by an issue, using their input to help shape how they and the issue are portrayed, and utilizing partnerships with related organizations in conjunction with gallery openings, media features, etc., to raise money and awareness to help combat the issue.

For my first photo series utilizing this framework, I decided to address a topic that I am all too familiar with: Emotionally abusive romantic relationships. For nearly all of my life, I have been in emotionally abusive relationships with family members, romantic partners, and even occasionally friends. Of course I never thought that I was entering into yet another toxic relationship; one of the hallmarks of emotional abusers is that they are almost always extremely loving and promise you the world when they're trying to win your love, and then start putting you down and threatening to rescind their love once they see that they've gained your trust, adoration, and have managed to control you in some way, which is all part of a power play that temporarily shores up their low self-confidence. The cycle continues, with extreme highs and lows of overwhelming love and cruelty, until you feel your grip on reality slipping, and you start believing the bad things that are being said to/about you, you fear your abuser and also fear losing the person who convinces you that you would be lost without them, and you believe your abuser when they say that the way they treat you and any failings in your relationship are entirely your fault. Although emotional abuse doesn't leave physical scars, its deep, transformational, and lasting emotional scars silently impact an immeasurable number of people every day; this series is for them.

The goals of this series are to give closure and a voice to victims of emotional abuse, to offer hope and help to people currently in emotionally abusive relationships, to raise awareness about emotional abuse, and to raise money for organization(s) dedicated to assisting victims of emotional abuse. Although there has been a huge outpouring of support and excitement as people have heard about the series, I spent months writing to hundreds of galleries, many of which didn't even respond to my emails. I started to think that there wasn't currently a place in the art world for this kind of exhibit, but because I feel indebted to the series' participants and dedicated to helping as many people as possible with this series (and because I can be quite stubborn when I'm passionate about something), I decided to write to a few more galleries (after which I was planning on applying for grants and just building a temporary space myself).

When the Piano Craft Gallery expressed interest and arranged a meeting to discuss a potential exhibition, I was so used to hearing "no" or nothing at all that I wasn't expecting much. However, within a few minutes of walking through the door, Pares Mallis (the gallery manager at Piano Craft) said that she'd be thrilled to host my exhibition, and we spent the next two hours discussing exciting possibilities for the show. (As a side note, it is very fitting for the Piano Craft Gallery to be the home of my first official solo gallery show, as the adjacent Piano Craft Guild was the home of my first photo gig of note, back when I was 16 years old and photographing the Dresden Dolls).

Since my goal for this project is for it to reach as many people as possible, hopefully ending up in multiple cities (and possibly countries),  I am aiming to pack the 2/3/17 opening (which might stretch into a second night) with lots of good people. Thankfully Lord Hobo Brewing Company and Emma's Pizza (which has been my home to my favorite pizzas in the world since I was 16) have agreed to sponsor the event with their delicious wares, which I'm sure won't hurt attendance. :)

I received yet more amazing sponsorship news yesterday: Casa Myrna, Boston’s largest provider of shelter and supportive services to survivors of domestic violence (including emotional abuse) has enthusiastically agreed to sponsor this exhibition! Casa Myrna will be celebrating their 40th anniversary next year, and as their organization was founded by an artist/abuse victim, this partnership couldn't be more fitting. There will be multiple opportunities at the gallery opening to donate to Casa Myrna in order to provide real assistance to victims of emotional abuse (and other kinds of domestic violence). I am super stoked about this partnership and all of the awesome ideas that we already have in store for the opening!

Now that I'm officially partnered with an anti-domestic violence organization and food and drink are covered, it's time to focus on filling the massive, beautiful walls of the Piano Craft Gallery by February! I already have many images and audio recordings of emotional abuse survivors for this series, but I'm aiming to create many, many more, and I'd especially like to include men, trans people, and middle-aged and elderly individuals (if you don't fit into one of these categories but have been in an emotionally abusive relationship, please still contact me!!). If you're interested in being a part of this empowering project, please be sure to shoot me a message at racheltine@gmail.com, and know that identifying features and voices can be masked and names will never be used unless adamantly requested by you.

I hope that you'll join me on 2/3/17 at the Piano Craft Gallery for an emotional, charitable, and tasty evening; don't forget to mark your calendar!

Much Love,


My First Photo Series (and first blog post!) by Rachel Tine

I love photography. I am fortunate to be passionate about and good at what I do. However, I have felt for a while now that something was missing, that I was craving more purpose for my art than simply hanging on a wall or passing through a social media feed.

After shooting down many of my own ideas for how I could potentially help others through photography, I began to turn inward for inspiration. Having spent most of my life in abusive relationships of one variety or another, I decided to give a voice to victims of one of the least discussed and most insidious forms of abuse that I have experienced: emotional abuse.

In emotionally abusive relationships, the perpetrator of abuse maintains their power in the relationship through various means, such as isolation, possessiveness, controlling money and resources, intense criticism, threats, invalidating feelings, etc. In the absence of any physical proof of abuse, and with frequent insistence by the abuser that the victim is inferior and/or is to blame, emotional abuse creates a vicious cycle of eroding the victim's self-worth and causing the victim to question if they aren't somehow imagining or causing the abuse, which frequently results in staying in an abusive relationship out of a flawed belief of not being worthy of better treatment and frequently causes the victim to end up in future relationships with people who will further take advantage of low self-esteem and a heavily skewed power dynamic. Abusers, who frequently feel powerless or inferior internally and thus subconsciously seek to control their romantic partners in some way, also frequently couple their abusive words and actions with bouts of intense love and affection, leading their victims to feel committed to their abusers and to doubt their own assessments of the situation (“he really does love me”, “he needs me”, "maybe it really is all my fault"). 

Many victims of various forms of relationship abuse, myself included, feel that emotional abuse is the most destructive form of abuse that they have experienced, with the resulting mental scars running very deep and lasting for a very long time. However, just as victims of emotional abuse tend to discount their own experiences, society is largely unaware of the significant damage done by emotionally abusive relationships, and even shelters for victims of domestic abuse frequently won’t accept anyone who hasn’t suffered some form of physical abuse. It is frequently much easier for a victim of emotional abuse to try to see the good in their partner and to question the validity of their own experiences rather than to receive the outside support that could validate the victim’s experiences and help them to escape an extremely toxic situation.

The goals of this series are threefold:

·         To provide catharsis and an outlet to people who have experienced severely emotionally abusive romantic relationships.

·         To generate awareness and dialogue, and ideally problem solving, in regards to the prevalence and intensely destructive force of emotionally abusive relationships.

·         To help people who are currently in emotionally abusive relationships by validating their experiences, providing them with hope that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and by donating any proceeds from the series to organizations dedicated to helping victims of abuse.

The response to this series has been profound. I have photographed and heard the disturbing and powerful stories of many victims, and I look forward to collaborating with many more individuals on this project. I have some really exciting ideas for how to create an especially powerful and beneficial exhibition of this series, and look forward to sharing the images and final concept with you once I decide on the best venue. I hope to eventually take this exhibition on the road, so if you know of any gallery spaces that would be interested in participating or any people with a history of emotional abuse who would be interested in being photographed, please have them shoot me an email at racheltine@gmail.com. And as always, thanks for accompanying me on my photographic journey; it’s been one heck of a ride so far!

Much love,