Is My Relationship Abusive?
However, answering it might take a little bit of time
Today, I’m going to walk you through the 5 parts of emotional abuse and how you can take action now.
In relatively recent years, more attention has been paid to emotional abuse. Insightful, informative books have been written and an increasing number of resources are available to those who have endured emotional abuse or who are still suffering at the hands of the abuser.
These resources are invaluable in terms of the support they can offer victims of emotional abuse.
However, this assumes that those in emotionally abusive relationships can identify that the dynamic is in fact abusive, and can therefore utilize the resources available to them.
But, what if we haven’t identified that our relationship is abusive?
What if it’s not?
ow do we know if what we are experiencing is normal or not?
Because abuse is such a strong word, most of us shy away from it, even those who have been physically hurt by their partners.
This needs to change.
We need to start looking objectively at unhealthy patterns, even the ones that are difficult to quantify, so that we can better understand the dynamics that are making us feel badly in our relationship.
Subtle abuse is a type of emotional abuse that is typically not so easy to see and if it is, it seems too insignificant to realize that it is part of a bigger, more destructive pattern.
Subtle abuse is the indirect use of threat, force, intimidation, or aggression, through humor, manipulation, criticism, or punishment in attempt to control or dominate another, occurring on its own or in between verbally, physically, or sexually abusive episodes.
There is a broad spectrum of abuse. We can gain the most insight into an abusive pattern if we look at the dynamic in between the overtly abusive episodes.
This behavior is responsible for the confusion and attachment that often prevents an abuser’s partner from leaving the relationship.
It is the dynamic that is responsible for an abuser’s partner losing their self-confidence and self-respect, causing self-esteem to plummet.
So, let’s break it down.
After years of listening to women share their stories about aggressive and controlling relationships, it has occurred to me that we have got to throw out our old misconceptions of abuse and start paying attention to the reality of abusive patterns.
Most importantly, abuse is not just physical violence or verbal lashings.
Emotional abuse is every bit as destructive to our psyche as other forms of abuse, but it often goes unrecognized since we are left without bruises.
Psychological and emotional abuse always exist within physically, verbally or sexually abusive relationships. However, there are many victims of abuse who have never been touched physically, leaving them to question themselves rather than identifying the abusive dynamic in their relationship.
In addition, it is not simply the insecure, meek woman who finds herself in the throes of an aggressive relationship; it’s the woman who graduated magna cum laude from her ivy-league school, the selfless housewife who dedicates her life to her children or the kind-hearted man who just wants to make his partner happy.
There is no way of telling if the person sitting next to you is being severely mistreated and manipulated by their partner. However, there are some defining characteristics that make us more vulnerable to being abused.
Those who have not dated much or who have not had many romantic relationships are more likely to end up in a controlling relationship, simply because they don’t have other relationships with which to compare.
They believe what they are experiencing in their relationship is normal even if it doesn’t feel right. The widely believed notion that only women who grew up in abusive families seek what is familiar and end up with abusive partners, gives too many people a false sense of security believing that if they have not grown up in an abusive home, they will be equipped to know what to look out for when selecting a partner.
While women who have grown up in abusive homes are more likely to overlook abusive behavior in their partners, this is only part of the story… a very small part which has left many falling unsuspectingly into the hands of abusive partners.
Because all abuse begins gradually, many people find themselves committed to their partners before they even have an inkling that something is amiss.
It is therefore critical to not only know the early warning signs of an aggressive or controlling relationship, but also to know how to protect yourself if you find that you fit the profile of someone who is at a higher risk for being abused.
Those who take on more than their fair share of the responsibility, be it bearing the brunt of the financial burden, investing more into the family or to the home, or carrying the emotional weight in the relationship, tend to be more likely to end up with partners who are willing to exploit their sense of responsibility and work ethic.
It is not uncommon for someone to find that they are doing the majority of the heavy lifting in the relationship while their abuser sits back and watches, completely unconcerned.
In addition, those who tend to apologize even when they don’t think they’ve done something out of line are, in fact, taking responsibility for whatever mishap has taken place. While it is lovely to have the humility to apologize and “own up” if you’ve done something wrong, it also makes it easier for an abuser to take advantage of you and your kindness if you constantly apologize when you truly have not done anything wrong.
So, if you tend to be the “super responsible” type, both in practice and emotionally speaking, be sure to find a partner who contributes equally to the relationship.
Highly empathetic people are more likely to fall for someone who plays the role of the victim, a common personality trait in most abusers.
A person with a great deal of empathy is more understanding when their abuser talks about past childhood trauma being the reason for mistreating you, which simply can’t be helped. An empathetic person is also more likely to cave after standing up for themselves when their abuser cries, apologizes, or begs them not to leave.
Our greatest strength can also be our greatest weakness and this is certainly the case with empathy.
If you are an empathetic person by nature, be aware that abusers know that if they can just appeal to your empathy and compassion, they are likely to get what they want.
You must learn to protect yourself from being manipulated by someone who does not have your best interest at heart and focus on relationships with people who do not exploit your empathy, coercing you into tolerating behavior that you should not have to withstand.
Those who are willing to suppress their feelings in an attempt to prevent others from getting mad at them, are more likely to end up getting abused. People who are conflict-avoidant experience extreme discomfort if they believe someone is mad at them.
Their fear of disapproval or discord is so uncomfortable that they prefer to give up their needs in order to avoid confrontation.
These people typically describe themselves as a peacekeepers and are far more likely to end up with an abuser because they make it easy for them to get what they want without putting up a fight.
This personality type takes pride in their diplomatic nature and feels settled when harmony is restored, keeping them working harder and harder to keep their abuser happy.
The problem is that no matter how hard someone works at a relationship, they alone cannot change an abusive dynamic and more often than not, their sense of self is completely lost in the process.
There are tremendous benefits to being a peacekeeper. However, the problem arises when you are willing to completely sacrifice yourself in order to keep your partner happy. It is important to practice asserting yourself and your needs, and to have a partner
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Far too many people suffer in silence because they are embarrassed to admit that they have ended up in an unhealthy relationship.
I want to emphasize again that abuse is gradual, making it all the more difficult to see objectively. We convince ourselves that if the relationship could just go back to what it was, everything would be all right.
This is not the case.
Not only does abuse escalate over time, but abusers do not go back to their original state because for them, that would signify a loss of power and control.
It is important for us to know what personality traits make us more susceptible to being manipulated and abused, so that we can begin to protect ourselves.
I want to encourage people to trust their intuition and to listen if something doesn’t feel right in their relationship.
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Equally important to knowing what characteristics make you more vulnerable to being abused, is being able to identify the behavioral patterns of an abuser.
This important for two reasons.
One, if you know what characteristics to look out for before you enter into a relationship and while you can still be relatively objective, you are far less likely to commit yourself further. You will also know what attributes to look for that are healthy in another person.
Two, if you are in an unhealthy relationship, you are more likely to pull yourself away from the topic at hand and observe the patterns. This takes you out of the confusing cycle of self-blame and shame, and puts you in a stronger position to tackle the bigger issue in the relationship…aggression and control.
Please click here to order and learn how abuse is a game for the abuser.
Does Your Partner Take Responsibility for Him/Herself?
If I had to point out the most obvious, defining characteristic of abusers it would be the lack of accountability and responsibility for themselves. They blame their behavior and anything that happens on everyone and everything else but themselves, in order to escape the repercussions of their hurtful and damaging behavior.
Abusers often play the part of the victim, hoping to gain your sympathy, enabling them do what they want. If you refuse or if you set a boundary of any kind, their aggression increases.
For more on lack of responsibility or for a complete profile of an abuser, please click here.
Is Your Partner Empathetic?
A defining characteristic of most abusers is a blatant lack of empathy. Victims of abuse often describe it as “an on/off switch,” like there is no emotion behind the eyes, an evasiveness or callousness, or simply a disconnection when it comes to how others might feel.
Often abusers get meaner when their partners are more vulnerable (like if they’re sick and need extra attention), sometimes lashing out and resenting their partners for needing more care. A lack of empathy allows abusers to abuse, without their conscience getting in the way.
This combined with their lack of accountability, allows abusers to feel quite justified in their behavior, no matter how hurtful it may be to their partner.
For more on lack of empathy or for a complete profile of an abuser, please click here.
Is Your Partner Controlling?
Abusers not only want to be in control, but they want to control you.
Your other relationships are a support system, strengthening your confidence and increasing the likelihood that you will have the strength to leave at some point. In addition, any decision you make independently of an abuser represents power in their mind, and since the ultimate goal is total control, they do everything they can to prevent anything they see as giving you power.
The more meek you become, the easier you are to dominate, giving the abuser power that he/she unyieldingly seeks.
For more on controlling patterns and the complete profile of an abuser, please click here.
Early indications of an abusive relationship are hard to spot, unless you know what to look for.
An abuser comes on very strong in the beginning, making their prey all the more unsuspecting.
An abuser is often attentive, charismatic, complementary, helpful and affectionate in the beginning.
Abusers also get intense quickly, wanting things to move fast, claiming that it is a reflection of how strongly they feel for you. You may fall equally hard or you may talk yourself into how great the person is, ignoring your intuition and allowing them to set the pace of the relationship.
Either way, things are typically great in the beginning and it is only after the groundwork has been meticulously laid and they think they have you (marriage, children, financial dependence, emotional dependence, etc.) that the more aggressive and controlling behavior surfaces.
Just as we have learned about the dangers of sexual predators, we need to know the early warning signs of aggressive and controlling relationships.
Here are some things to consider early on in a relationship:
If you’ve been in an aggressive or controlling relationship, your expectations of what a relationship should look like are likely to be quite skewed.
Even if you had healthy relationships modeled to you and you went into the relationship feeling assertive and confident, your continual attempts to accommodate your abuser to keep the peace and your acquiescence to various demands, means that at some point you convinced yourself that your abuser’s behavior was justified (or at the very least okay) in order to keep the relationship alive.
Rewiring your brain to see things from a whole new perspective and confronting the unhealthy dynamic in the relationship can be so scary and uncomfortable, that many people ease these feelings by staying in the relationship.
Since your compass may be pointing in the wrong direction, it is imperative to know what you should expect in a healthy relationship.
Though these things may seem unrealistic, they are not. They are basic characteristics of healthy relationships.
You can, and need to, expect these things from your future relationships.
Both people are free to speak up and voice their opinions and feelings without fearing punishment.
The relationship is based on mutual respect and support for one another.
Both people are comfortable communicating their needs, knowing that they will be heard and not criticized, put down, or hurt.
Each person is allowed to be an individual, is encouraged in their successes, and is supported in their other relationships.
Both people are willing to listen to one another and give each other the space to speak up about their feelings.
Even if a person does not agree with their partner, they respect that their feelings and opinions may differ from their own and that their partner has a right to them.
Both people work to try to find a solution to problems.
There are no personal attacks, name-calling, belittling remarks, threats, manipulation, or physical aggression of any kind.
Both people are responsible for their own behavior.
Blame is not placed on one person for the other one’s actions, nor are excuses made for inflicting pain on one another (e.g., “I’m mad so I have the right to make you pay for it”).
Both people should feel encouraged and supported, not like there is competition between the two of you or that either of you is being sabotaged.
Both people should feel equally encouraged, supported, valued, and loved. It should not be lopsided.
Both people’s voices, opinions, thoughts and ideas should carry the same weight.
Although sometimes adjustments need to be made, neither one of you should have to sacrifice too much to give the other one what they want.
Both people genuinely want what is best for each other, recognizing how they can both benefit from one another’s successes.
Each person builds each other up; there is no tearing one another down.
Each person seeks to make the other happy.
Both people support one another in their dreams.
Both people have the sense that they have a real partner, a teammate with whom they can go through life.
There is real intimacy in the relationship.
Both people have the sense that they are seen for who they truly are.
If this sounds too good to be true, it isn’t.
This is what you should be prepared to offer in a relationship, and it is what you should expect in return.
There are so many incredible resources available to those in abusive relationships, but the first step is recognizing and identifying a destructive dynamic.
Knowledge is power.
If any of this resonates with you, I urge you to educate yourself further.
I believe the hardest part is identifying when we are in an abusive relationship if the obvious markers of abuse are not being met. We want to give our partner the benefit of the doubt, we take on more than our fair share of the responsibility, we continue to accommodate our partner hoping to make things better, or we override and ignore our intuition.
Once we actually confront the true dynamic in our relationship, change is possible.
Healing is possible.