Calling a relationship abusive is pretty strong language. Many people in abusive relationships would never use that term, because it connotes physical violence and overt bullying.
But the truth is, relationships can become abusive through insidious emotional control and wreak just as much havoc, if not more so, than physical violence.
Emotional abuse can be defined as any act or treatment which diminishes a person’s sense of identity, dignity and self-worth.
This sounds straightforward, but it can be super easy to miss the tactics that tear you down because often they are subconsciously motivated. Abusive partners don’t always recognize or admit their agenda.
And partners who are susceptible to emotional abuse tend to seek alignment of their version of reality to their partners–in other words attempt to see it from their point of view. They do this to maintain connection, but the cost is very high.
So what should you look for? Here are some things you may notice if you are in an abusive relationship.
Abusive Relationship Signs: What Happens to You
You constantly question your reality. By this I don’t mean you pause to self-reflect, but rather you feel like your view on things is never shared. You think you are crazy or “too sensitive.”
You focus on potential, not reality. This means you spend more time imaging how things could be, rather than how they really are. This keeps you in a situation which is currently not viable. You hope that it will change, even though your partner gives you little reason to believe it will.
You feel misunderstood a lot. You don’t feel “seen,” in fact you feel as though your partner is reacting to something that isn’t even you–just a projection of their fears.
You fear your partner’s reactions. Anticipation of judgment or negative responses cause you to adjust yourself and limit your honest expressions. You believe that if you keep things to yourself, things will be fine.
You believe you are the problem. You feel responsible for every problem in the relationship. The illusion is that everything would be just fine if you could only…(fill in the blank). They put you down, criticize you and consistently make negative judgments on your character.
Abusive Relationship Signs: How they do it
How does your partner do this? Here are some common ways to control somebody through emotional abuse:
Withholding approval or affection as punishment. You may experience this as a chronic lack of generosity, or withholding of appreciation. Does your partner pull back from you every time you do something they don’t like? Do you “pay” for going against their wishes?
Threatening to leave. Your partner holds a break up over your head in order to get you to change things they don’t like. The effect of this is very damaging to trust and safety in the relationship.
Shouting. This is self-explanatory. Yelling, raising their voice, or speaking in an intimidating manner creates fear and that sense of “walking on eggshells,” even when there is no physical abuse.
Teasing about sensitive subjects. Does your partner hit below the belt? Do they use areas of sensitivity against you, or just “joke” in ways that feel bad, even though you have already told them how it makes you feel?
Talking smack about you to your peeps. You may feel that your safe haven and community has been infiltrated by your partner’s stories about you. You begin to fear what those closest to you think about you.
Name calling. This includes not just nouns but adjectives/labels such as selfish, stupid, lazy etc. This is never ok.
Isolating. Does your partner make you feel guilty when you spend time with others? Do they accuse you of being too dependent on friends and family? You probably get tons of texts while with you are out with others, and your friends don’t like your partner. In the end, you find it’s easier to avoid friends and family to avoid the hassle.
Denial of the abuse. Your partner consistently fails to acknowledge your feelings, deflects responsibility, and refuses to apologize. If they do apologize, it is usually not for what they did or said, but for how you took it.
Smashing things or damaging property. Even if they aren’t hitting you, this destructive behavior creates fear of what they are capable of and is very intimidating.
Criticizing you. They spend a lot of time talking about YOU and what your problem is. They may make fun of you or tell jokes at your expense, later saying “I was just kidding!”
Degrading you in private but being charming in public. Many emotional abusers charm the pants off everyone around them. That way, when you complain about the relationship, nobody will see what you are talking about.
If you can relate to these patterns, the most important thing you can do is build your connections with trusted friends. Find a safe person, even if only one, to share what is really going on. Keeping things to yourself will prevent you from getting your reality back and staying sane.
Remember one thing if nothing else: You are not crazy. Even if you have “issues” and past hurts that make you sensitive, you deserve to be honored and respected.
Let me know your comments below, I’d love to hear from you.