Physical abuse is easy to identify because it is tangible. Unlike the indefinite phenomenon of being systematically torn down that is emotional abuse. Physical abuse is an easily knowable thing. That is not what I am here to discuss. I want to talk about the more covert examples of emotional abuse. I want to acknowledge the jealousy and possessiveness that rob survivors of autonomy.
You know that emotional abuse exists, but do you really know what it looks like? Do you know what to look out for? Would you be able to recognize it if you found yourself in an emotionally abusive relationship?
If emotions give us information, than the best red flags can be our own emotional responses. We need to know both what those nuanced abusive actions are, and what to look out for in our own responses.
The perpetrator of abuse will try to convince you that you are the one that needs to look at yourself and change. But, instead of automatically accepting that there is something wrong with feeling insecure, have you considered that you might be feeling that way for a good reason? Perhaps, your emotional state is trying to tell you something. Here are some signs from within you that this relationship might be emotionally abusive.
You Are Afraid of Your Partner.
This can be difficult to admit, but think, are those butterflies actually a fear response? How does your body feel when your partner gets moody or starts getting irritated about something? In healthy relationships, partner’s moods don’t send us into flight or fight mode (barring extreme trauma history on our part). If you find that you get dizzy, can’t think straight, begin to hyperventilate, get sweaty palms, start mumbling, or shaking when your partner gets upset, your body may be trying to tell you that this person is not safe.
You Feel Crazy.
You could have sworn that he insulted you, but now he is telling you, with fervor, that you misinterpreted what he said. You begin to doubt your perception of the situation. This is gaslighting. It can be applied to a number of situations. The formula is that the abusive person did something to hurt you and then later denies it. As a result, you begin to doubt your sense of reality.
You Approach Conversations Like It’s a Game of Chess.
You have to think 3 moves ahead to ensure not to set him off. You placate your partner. You dilute your needs and your message. Your partner still gets angry. This is part of the cycle of power and control that is abuse.
No matter how hard you try, you will never be able to get small enough to please the abuser in your life. It is important to accept that it is not about changing yourself. You must realize that the point of the abusive person’s complaints are to get you to walk on eggshells, not to get you to be more considerate.
You Feel Nervous When You Go Out with Friends.
You worry that you are doing something wrong even though you aren’t. It is easier not to hang out with your friends than to fight about it later. You find yourself constantly reassuring your partner that you are not cheating, want to be with no one else, and are where you said you were. None of it matters. After a while, you begin to feel guilty and nervous even though you are not lying, cheating, or doing anything to hurt your partner. This is not a sign that you should give up your friends. It is a sign that you are being manipulated and emotionally harmed.
You Question Whether You Might Be Abusive.
Abusive people are very good at shifting the blame from themselves. A common scenario is that the abuser accuses the survivor of being the abuser, and seems to completely believe it. The abuser says that the survivor does things the survivor knows to be triggering until the abuser has no choice but to react in “self-defense.” There are many problems with this line of logic. Typically the thing the abuser claims to be reacting to is already a reaction from the survivor.
Secondly, abuse is not the behaviors of yelling at someone, calling them names, or insisting they listen to you divorced from any larger cycle of cause and effect. Abuse is systematic. It is a cycle of power and control. Only the one who is asserting power over the other is the abusive one. Abusive partners will claim that anything the survivor does that is not angelic is abuse. Some abusive partners may admit they are abusive, but insist that they are not the only one in the relationship. This is another misnomer. There is only one abusive partner in an abusive relationship. There is no such thing as mutual abuse.
Abusers rarely examine their own actions and take responsibility for changing. If you are contemplating how to change your behaviors to improve this relationship, ask yourself if that is something you can see your partner doing. Rarely are abusers actually willing to admit they are abusive. Paradoxically, survivors are often willing to take on this label and the responsibility for being the agent of change in the relationship.
It Feels Like It Is the Two of You Against the World.
You know that no one else could understand you like this person does, and no one understands the bond the two of you have. Your partner knows you better than anyone else does. This is called trauma bonding. It’s the unfortunate paradox of how going through abuse with someone can create an even stronger bond. They may be the cause of the abuse, but that actually makes the bond feel stronger. It is often seen in cases of child abuse where the child is more attached to the abusive parent than to the non-abusive one.
You Feel Confused.
Anyone would after living in a relationship where their perception of reality is denied, they have to walk on eggshells, and they are accused of doing the very thing that are being done to them. If you feel confused about what is really going on in your relationship, get an outside perspective from a professional.