Do NOT miss these signals.
As the founder of a nonprofit that serves domestic abuse victims, I get a ton of emails from women who are reaching out for help — not because they are abused, but because they aren’t sure if they are being abused at all.
And as a domestic violence survivor myself who was married to an abuser for eight years, I’m going to let you in on a little secret here: If you’re wondering if you’re being abused, there’s a good chance that you are.
Sure, I could listen to your story and give you my opinion, but the first person that’s going to know if you’re being abused is you. Because you will see the things that no one else sees, and surprisingly, the first signs of abuse aren’t anything you can even see at all.
They aren’t the big red warning flags we are taught in school or on PSAs on TV. They come long before a hand is ever laid on you or a police report could be filed. These signs are subtle, quiet, and only known to you. These are the alarms that go off in your gut instincts, and they can only be heard by you.
Here are eight early signs of domestic abuse that are only apparent to you:
1. You Fear Your Partner’s Reaction to a Situation More Than the Situation Itself.
I was at a local festival when I got back to my car, and saw that someone had clearly backed into my bumper and then drove away. Standing there looking at the peeling paint and slightly indented corner, my first reaction was not one of frustration over the situation, but rather to fear going home and telling my husband, because I knew that he was going to flip out.
Sure enough, when I got home and he got a good look at my car, he began to scream, yell, rant and rave. It wasn’t my fault, yet to him it was always my fault, and all of his anger was directed at me.
If you spend your days in fear of how your partner is going to react to the world around them, you aren’t in a place where you feel safe with your partner. If getting stuck in traffic and being late to dinner is the lesser problem than to how your partner will react to it, you might be heading towards abuse.
2. It Doesn’t Upset You to Argue with Your Partner — It Scares You.
When I argue with the man I’m dating, it upsets me. It upsets me that the person I love is either angry at me or that I’m angry with him. It upsets me because I love him and I don’t like having tension in our relationship, but what it doesn’t do is scare me.
I’m not scared that he might hit me in anger. I’m not scared that he’s going to run off and cheat on me just because he’s angry at me, or do something else that would be just as emotionally damaging. Fighting, while unpleasant, doesn’t scare me. If fighting scares you, you might have something to actually be scared about.
3. When You Get into a Fight, You Look for the Nearest Exit.
This may seem self-explanatory, but it’s not. Many people don’t even consciously realize that they are doing it. And even if they do realize it, they often try to convince themselves that they are just being irrational, because if their partner has never hit them before, then why are they on edge during an argument?
This is your gut instinct telling you that you aren’t safe. This is the warning sign that too many people miss, and the one they need to be paying attention to the most. If you find yourself getting into arguments with your partner, and in the back of your mind you’re already planning your escape, don’t brush it off — that little alarm bell may be warning you of a danger that you just haven’t seen yet.
4. You Don’t Trust Them.
Trust is earned, and easily lost. Many relationships fail because of trust issues, but what many people don’t realize is that the repeated betrayal of trust is a form of abuse.
If the person you’re dating is demanding your trust or making you feel guilty if you don’t trust them — and hasn’t given you reasons not to trust them — you may be getting manipulated or emotionally abused. No one knows how you feel about your partner except for you, and if you can’t trust them then you have a problem.
5. They Make You Feel Crazy.
Have you ever had a conversation with someone where they were trying to convince you of something that you said, and you were pretty sure you did NOT say what they swore you said? You know how crazy that makes you feel? It’s utterly maddening.
Gaslighting is a form of abuse where one person tries to manipulate the other person by bending or twisting the truth to support their viewpoint and their own agenda. It can be as blatant as them flat out lying to you, but it can be as subtle as them trying to get you to believe that you’re wrong in situations where you’re right.
Since outsiders can’t see the inner workings of your relationship, it’s up to you to realize that if you’re beginning to feel like you’re going crazy, it may be your partner is who is making you feel that way on purpose.
6. You Feel Like You Always Need Their Opinion.
When I make a big decision, I want to run it past the man I’m dating to see what he thinks of my choice. I do this because I value his opinion, and I respect it. But at the end of the day, I’m going to weigh my feelings along with his, and I’m still going to do what’s best for me.
But if you’re feeling like you need to get your partner’s opinion on everything, because they will be angry with you if you don’t, then something is wrong. It could be as “simple” as a self-esteem issue or some co-dependency problems, but if you’re basing your life choices, career options, clothing attire, and lifestyle values around what your partner expects from you or even demands from you, you’re being controlled. And that control may very well turn into abuse.
7. You Don’t Want to be Around Anyone BUT Them.
We’ve all been there: you meet someone, fall madly in love, and want to spend every single second with that person. But usually, we emerge from our little love cocoon and back into the real world. Or, at least, we are supposed to.
In some cases, one person is ready to start branching out and the other person isn’t ready to let them. For instance, in my situation, I wanted to hang out with my friends, but my soon-to-be husband threw such a fit about how he would miss me and “why would you leave me all alone on a Friday night?” that I didn’t go.
Just as I hadn’t gone out with them on Monday for dinner or Wednesday for drinks. The same as why I hadn’t gone out with them the weekend before that one, or the weekend before that. And he wasn’t telling me that I couldn’t go, he was just making me feel so guilty that I was choosing not to go. So it wasn’t abuse, because I was making the choice, right? Wrong. That in and of itself wasn’t abuse, but it was a big hint as to what was to come.
If your partner feels secure enough in your relationship that they can respect and support you having a life outside of just them, you’re good to go. But if you find yourself slowly cutting off ties to your friends and family, you need to worry that your partner is isolating you.
8. You Feel Guilty. All the time.
This is a big missed sign for a lot of domestic violence victims, yet it’s often the single most telling sign that abuse may be in the future. If you’re spending the majority of your relationship feeling guilty, you may have a big problem.
The first tool an abuser often uses is to control your feelings by making their victims feel as if everything is their fault. If they are unhappy? It’s the victim’s fault. If life isn’t going the way they want it to be going? It’s the victim’s fault. If they are “settling” for someone who is less than what they deserve? It’s the victim’s fault for not being more perfect or “good enough” for them.
Because if everything is the victim’s fault, then it’s never the abuser’s fault. And the abuser doesn’t need to feel as if they are doing anything wrong…like abusing you.
We have been taught for years that if someone hits you, you’re being abused. But the problem is that by the time someone actually does hit their victim, they have been abused for so long that they are no longer able to see a clear way out.
By then, an abuser has already stolen so much or their victim’s self-esteem, taken control over their lives, and separated them from the people who could have helped them, that “just leaving” is no longer as simple as “just” leaving. It’s why, if we want to protect ourselves, we need to learn to see the warning signs of abuse before they ever become as visible as a black eye.
This guest article originally appeared on YourTango.com: If You Feel ANY Of These 8 Things, It May Be Silent Domestic Abuse.