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

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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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If you’ve been in any type of abusive relationship and successfully gotten out, at some point in your recovery, you are likely to experience feelings of reticence, caution, cynicism and even paranoia about others. This is particularly the case in regard to romantic partners. Once you’ve been burned, it’s not so easy to risk getting close to fire again, right?

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Early Warning Signs of an Abusive Relationship

Early Warning Signs of an Abusive Relationship

When it comes to abuse, the most important thing we can do to help ourselves and our children is to educate ourselves on the early warning signs of abuse. We need to know what to look for beyond name-calling, lying, and hitting. We also need to know how to spot an aggressive and controlling relationship, because while there are no physical scars, psychologically abusive relationships can slowly strip away a person’s self- esteem, self-worth, and quality of life.

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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.

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