Are You Being Subtly Abused?

Are You Being Subtly Abused?

When most people hear the word “abuse,” they think of classic domestic violence, where the man beats his wife. Some abusers are blatant in their aggression, and their rage is clear to everyone. However, there is an insidious kind of abuse that is harder to identify. Subtle abusers can be loving, funny, warm and engaging when they want to be, which makes you all the more unsuspecting.

This type of abuser wants to look like the “good guy” while at the same time manipulating, intimidating and threatening you into doing what he wants. His covert aggression allows him to have power and control without you even realizing it. Your gut probably tells you something is wrong, but you have no objective evidence, which means you are left continually questioning yourself.

Here are six red flags:

The Hurtful Comments Start Gradually
A subtle abuser does not begin the relationship by making critical statements or poking fun at you. Obviously, if he did that too early, you would have no trouble severing ties. His behavior is carefully disguised in the beginning; he conceals the anger and insecurities that boil beneath the surface.

Slowly, over time, he will throw in a cutting comment or make a joke at your expense. He might make demeaning or off-color remarks about the opposite sex. The comments are not specifically about you, but the put-down obviously extends to you or your family and friends, making you uneasy. He monitors your reaction to see if he has gotten away with it. If you become defensive and confront him, he is likely to turn things around on you, claiming that you are “too sensitive.” You begin to question yourself…”Maybe I did overreact?”

He Has a Negligible Level of Empathy
Your needs are inconvenient for him. If you get sick, or you’re going through something difficult, he thinks less of you. He is put off by your “weakness” and makes his disapproval and disgust known. He resents the fact that you’re not available to serve him. If he helps at all, it is so that you can hurry up and get back to taking care of him.

He Is Domineering
He believes that “he knows best.” At his core, he is extremely insecure, and he compensates for this by righteously and consistently undermining you, telling you what to think and do.

Playing “devil’s advocate” is a common tactic. Not everyone who challenges you by taking the opposite stance is abusive, but if you feel that you are often trying to prove yourself, get permission or gain approval, there is a clear power imbalance. And if you often feel as if you are in a courtroom pleading your case, you are undoubtedly in a controlling relationship.

He Is Highly Defensive and Manipulative
Whenever you confront him about something that’s bothering you, you come away feeling like you are in the wrong. Even when you try your best to assert yourself, you end up giving in. That’s because in any dispute, he uses little shreds of truth to make himself seem more credible, and he embellishes your infractions. He undermines your account of the situation, and you are left, yet again, questioning yourself.

He Is Never Responsible for Problems
When something goes wrong, he invariably points the finger at someone or something other than himself. This pattern typically extends beyond your relationship. If he continually blames others for every misfortune, it is important to take a closer look.

He Uses Humor as a Weapon
Some of the most cutting abuse is disguised with humor. Why? Because it enables the abuser to get away with saying awful and cruel things, scot-free. A subtle abuser will make fun of your appearance, physical traits, body parts, personality features, likes, dislikes, finances, background, family members, friends and co-workers. By coating the barbs in humor, he is able to say he was “just kidding.”

Often, he’ll put you down in a “funny” way in front of others. It’s awkward for the audience, but they may begrudgingly chuckle, making you feel embarrassed and alone. If you confront him then and there, he accuses you of making a scene. If you tell him later how it made you feel, he tells you that you’re overreacting, that everyone else found it funny, and asks, “Why can’t you?”

Bottom line: Relationships are not supposed to be this hard. You should feel that your partner is looking to understand you, not to disprove or humiliate you. You deserve to feel like your partner is truly a partner, someone to go through life with, not against.

If He's So Great, Why Do I Feel So Bad?: From the book If He’s So Great, Why Do I Feel So Bad? by Avery Neal. Copyright © 2018 by Avery Jordan Neal. Reprinted by arrangement with Kensington Publishing Corp

Published March, 2018 by 

Photo credit: Neil Webb/Getty Images

Read more:

Read More

Healing and the Inner Child

Healing and the Inner Child

Inner child work is something that is typically explored in therapy, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be. Some of the most powerful “soul work” comes from looking at our inner child, or ourselves at various stages in childhood. It is particularly profound when we explore ourselves at a time when we may have experienced trauma of some kind. Trauma evokes such a strong, visceral and emotional reaction within, that it often stays with us for years afterwards and perhaps for an entire lifetime. Trauma doesn’t necessarily have to be a specific event. In fact, a chronic low-grade trauma in childhood such as a neglectful, dismissive or critical parent can yield a similar stress response.

Read More

Abuse: Where to Draw the Line

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, so I thought it was an appropriate time to address the common question as to where to draw the line between problems in a relationship versus abuse. Most people discount the term “abuse” if they have not been physically assaulted. This is unfortunate because many are threatened and intimidated by their partners, but do not realize that it fits an abusive pattern and therefore, they do not seek help. If it feels more comfortable to replace the word “abuse” with “bullying,” go right ahead. What is important is to understand and to digest the information, not the word you choose to use.

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.

Read More

Thoughts, Feelings and Relationships

“So, how does that make you feel?” This simple question routinely asked by most therapists makes the majority of people cringe. This is because most of us are conditioned to override our feelings and go straight to our thoughts. It’s uncomfortable to talk about feelings because it means being vulnerable, which most of us tend to avoid. This is especially true if we have grown up in families where feelings were not discussed. However, thoughts and feelings are two very different things and it is important to understand the distinction between the two.

What is the difference between a thought and a feeling? A thought is an opinion or idea that is produced by thinking. As I type the words on this page, I am thinking about how I want to construct these sentences. A feeling is an emotion, a reaction or our emotional state. As I type the words on this page, I am feeling productive.

Read More


I am beginning this blog because I want to share relevant and relatable information on subjects that impact the quality of our lives. My goal is for you to not feel quite so alone in your experiences. I want to provide you with valuable and substantial information, so that you have something to hold on to, especially during difficult times.

Read More