12 Subtle Signs You’re Being Psychologically Abused by Your Partner


By Nicole Yi

According to psychotherapist Avery Neal, over 50 percent of Americans, both men and women, have been in a psychologically abusive relationship — and that statistic only includes those who report it. Psychological abuse is often carried out through manipulation and control tactics. Though it doesn’t leave any visible scars, it can be just as traumatizing as physical abuse. And because it may not seem as extreme as physical violence, many people overlook the warning signs and suffer in silence. Any degree of an abusive relationship is still an abusive relationship, and should not be ignored. If you can relate to some or all of the questions below, it could be a sign that you’re being “subtly abused,” according to Neal.

  1. Does your partner use humor to put you down?
  2. Does he or she make you feel bad for being overly sensitive?
  3. Does your partner play devil’s advocate, leaving you feeling defensive and unsupported?
  4. Is your partner evasive, not answering your questions or concerns directly? And does he or she get defensive or imply that you’re crazy or jealous when you ask for transparency?
  5. Does your partner seem really loving, but is intense and overinvolved (calling or texting incessantly)?
  6. Does your partner lack empathy for you and/or others?
  7. Did your partner come on really strong in the beginning, wanting to get too serious too quickly? Or was your partner charismatic and charming and overly engaged, especially in the beginning?
  8. Do you have to work hard in your relationship to please your partner, feeling that it’s harder and harder to get warmth and approval?
  9. Does it feel as if your partner works against anything you need or want?
  10. Do you feel like you’re going crazy or do you feel guilty for having negative feelings about your partner, especially because they seem so logical and has a reason for everything?
  11. Do you trust your partner to make the decisions even when you’re not there?
  12. Do you feel unheard, invalidated, missed, put down, made fun of, like you’re always apologizing?

Just because the signs aren’t glaringly “abusive” doesn’t mean they should go ignored. “Some of these behaviors are really hard to identify because they’re not as obvious as with physical abuse,” Neal told POPSUGAR. “That’s why I think it’s so important to look at some of the behavioral patterns of the abuser, but also how you feel in a relationship.”

It’s also important to note the consequences of staying in such an unhealthy situation for a long period of time. In addition to having self-doubt and low self-esteem, the effects of staying can range to more severe damage: anxiety, depression, substance abuse, self-harming behaviors, and suicidal thoughts.

“Depression and anxiety are the most common psychological effects; anxiety being probably the predominant one because when you feel like you are trying to manage someone else’s reaction on an ongoing basis — that’s a lot of work,” Neal said. “Having that sense that you’ve got to walk on eggshells and being in that sort of hyperaroused state for a prolonged period of time causes anxiety.”


Neal also mentioned that another common effect from staying in a psychologically abusive partnership is loss of self. You begin to lose interest in things you used to love, you become isolated from friends and family, and because this tends to happen so gradually, you don’t even realize that it’s happening, until things seem beyond repair.

Although Neal has had some success cases in her profession where the abuser was receptive to their partner’s feedback, she says they were exceptions. “Usually when somebody fits these patterns of behavior, one of the defining characteristics is an unwillingness to take responsibility for themselves,” she said. “That very characteristic often means that an abuser won’t be accountable for their actions, and that makes it really hard to change.”

If your partner doesn’t change their ways, Neal says to find as much support as possible when leaving an abusive situation. Not only would that provide you with emotional support, but an abuser is also less likely to act out violently while others are with you since most want to remain hidden.

“There really is safety in numbers,” Neal said. “In terms of leaving, which is the most vulnerable time, that support is really, really important.”

Published February 14, 2018 by POPSUGAR.


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In addition, I am referring to the abusive partner as “he” and you, the reader, as “she.” However, many men find themselves in abusive relationships and experience difficulty in standing up to their partners, though the reasons for staying in an abusive relationship often differ between the sexes. The behavioral patterns described here can apply to men or to anyone who finds themselves in an abusive dynamic.

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From the political arena to gym showers, it seems it has become sociably acceptable to bash other individuals, especially women. Even with more women in the public eye, this pattern has not changed. Women have always been seen and treated as the weaker sex, and are still fighting for equality at work, in the government and even in the home.

“It is harder for women to be assertive and speak up for themselves because of their desire to accommodate others. Men are conditioned to go after what they want unapologetically, while women who do the same are seen in a negative way,” said Avery Neal, a practicing psychotherapist at The Women’s Therapy Clinic in The Woodlands, Texas.

The rise of narcissism in our culture is becoming more prevalent, as we see technology and social media used in such a way that facilitates a “look at me” attitude.

“This cultural norm where we put ourselves on stage for everyone’s view not only on social media, but also in our daily lives, is giving rise to an epidemic that has spread to the culture as a whole. Some of the key components of narcissism are a preoccupation with appearance, a lack of empathy and respect for the humanity of others, entitlement, and a lack of accountability or responsibility,” said Neal. “Sadly, these attributes describe more and more individuals and our culture at large. Individuals feed culture and culture feeds individuals.”

Like a disease, narcissism has become pervasive in our society. Recognizing the epidemic is the first step toward stopping it. Neal gives some tips on how we might halt the narcissistic epidemic.

·         Be present – Slow down and pay attention. Be present in the moment. Have awareness of what is going on around you, but focus your energy on what you want to achieve. Foster better relationships by turning off the phone or put it away altogether when you are spending time with loved ones. Be mindful of the time you do set aside for technology so that it doesn’t creep into every aspect of your life. Engage in activities that soothe your spirit, like learning to play a musical instrument or planting a garden. Doing things that require attention, skill and nuanced responses can interrupt the routine distancing that has become our habit.

·         Interact with the people around you – With the rise of technology and social media, it has become normal to talk by text, email or chats. We hide behind our screens, only connecting on a superficial level, portraying our “perfect” lives. Instead of joining this societal norm of disrespectful bashing and egocentric thinking, engage in intelligent conversations with the people around you. Remember that relationships are reciprocal. You need to be an active listener instead of just sitting back waiting for your turn to speak. Seek quality relationships.

·         Respect each other and yourself – Make a conscious effort to cultivate relationships with people you respect and who respect you in return. Don’t abandon your integrity just because someone pushes your buttons. Understand that, while other people’s experiences and opinions will differ from yours, they still deserve respect.

·         Practice Gratitude and Empathy – Be grateful for experiences that benefit not just you as an individual, but that increase the happiness of others. Make a contribution to the community instead of constantly striving for personal success. Don’t be immune to other people’s suffering and pain by increasing your receptivity to them and to others.

Adopting these habits can provide a sense of perspective that counterbalance the “me, me, me” mentality of the narcissist. “Ask yourself what is going on in your life that is making you so detached and be aware of the messages you receive through the media that promote a narcissistic view,” said Neal. “Narcissism may be the way things are in America in this moment, but it’s not necessarily the way things have to be, either on a personal or societal level.”

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