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It’s crazy isn’t it.
People don’t know if they’re in an emotionally abusive relationship or not.
Why is that?
It seems so obvious to those on the outside.
But it’s not always that easy for those of us on the inside.
It’s not like physical abuse which is pretty clear, because, well generally it’s visible to one and all.
Many of us downplay or even outright dismiss the idea that our relationship is an emotionally abusive one.
And some of use never realized there was such a thing. And that was me…back in the day.
Back in the day before it was a well-recognized thing.
In fact I never even thought about it until I came to America and watched a made for t.v movie depicting the very things I’d experienced for more years than I care to remember.
And wow. It had a name. Emotional abuse.
An emotional abusive relationship has major consequences for those of us who’ve suffered through it.
It can affect our health and well-being (it did mine) diminish our sense of worth and self-esteem (it did mine) and lead to a sort of brainwashing where we think this behaviour is a normal part of a relationship.
It. Is. Not.
I recently wrote about the happy, healthy relationship I’d been in for the past twenty years, so I thought it would only be fair to speak about the other side of the coin. A totally unhealthy emotionally abusive relationship, that I’ve also encountered in my lifetime.
So that if you think this might be where you are right now, being aware and able to recognize this kind of behaviour can hopefully save you from many more months or years of the same.
And maybe empower you to do something about it.
If it does feel as though you are struggling with a manipulative, emotionally abusive person in your relationship right now please know you are not alone. You don’t have to carry that weight all alone.
There are so many of us who have been there or who are standing with you right now.
Stay strong. May you be inspired to protect yourself from behaviour that is not only not normal, but totally unhealthy, demeaning and toxic.
Bearing in mind that the emotional abuser knows no gender. It can be man or woman.
Here’s some of my own experiences that you might recognize.
1. You walk on eggshells
To avoid yet another scene, or anger or whatever detrimental response your partner might have.
This is a sure sign you’ve internalized the emotionally abusive behaviour so you won’t have to deal with it out in the open.
Let’s be honest, it’s exhausting.
But your appeasement will never work for long before the next emotionally abusive pattern emerges.
2. You feel sorry for your partner
I know this sounds really cuckoo. But truth be told emotional abusers are also master manipulators. Able to hurt you whilst all the time persuading you that they are the hurt ones.
And you end up feeling sorry for them.
Don’t do this. However empathetic a spirit you have, overly relating to the hurt of the abuser causes even more damage to your heart and soul.
3. Your partner shakes a fist at you or makes threatening gestures
This can be really scary. I had the incredibly frightening experience of having a fist heading towards my face, only to be punched into a wall at the last minute.
And yes…it left a big, gaping hole in the wall…leaving me shaking at the thought of what all that power might have done to me. I might not even be here today, had he followed through with his original intention.
4.Emotionally abusive relationships often lead to your partner being overly possessive
He or she doesn’t want to share you with others. Not even old friends and sometimes not even family.
No matter how innocent your relationships, you partner has a way of making them out to be wrong, or selfish and acts out with jealous tantrums.
It reached the point for me when I would walk around with my head looking at my feet just in case he thought I was looking at someone, because even that could send him into a jealous rage.
Can you believe I did this? Me neither. But I was young and foolish and by this time somewhat scared.
Mind you, don’t think this just happens to the young and foolish. It can happen at any age.
5. Your time and where you go is monitored
If you weren’t sure you were being controlled or dominated by another…this one is a huge red flag.
Having someone monitor you constantly, checking up on where you are and what you’re doing feels more like imprisonment than a relationship. Because it is.
Working a little later than usual and having your partner come by your office “To see if you were okay” is not okay.
I was going to a baby shower that happened to be in the evening and since it was clear I wasn’t going to be guilted into staying home, my emotionally abusive partner took the outfit I’d planned to wear, laid it out in front of me and cut it up with a pair of scissors.
But this time, I wasn’t going to fall into the trap of telling myself, it’s not that bad. I must have been waking up from the hypnotized state that master manipulators often create in their victims.
I chose another outfit and went out to see my friends despite the threats, cajoling and anger, and it wasn’t easy, but I’d begun to empower myself a little.
6. Subtle and not so subtle threats are a sure sign of an emotionally abusive relationship
They might say. If you leave no-one else will ever want you. And since your self-esteem is pretty shot…there’s a big chance you’ll believe them.
They want you to feel unlovable. Don’t fall for it my darlings.
Or if you have kids, they might threaten to take the children away so you’ll never see them again.
I used to have to deal with the threat that “If you ever leave, I’ll kill myself.”
And one day he went so far as to stagger into our living room with blood pouring from his neck. Only it turned out to be tomato ketchup!
Dealing with emotionally abusive partners isn’t easy.
Often it’s like dealing with a child on steroids. But without awareness that you’re experiencing emotional abuse, nothing is going to change. Period.
7. You go along to get along
By the time you reach the stage where you have decided it’s best to ‘go along to get along’ or there will be more unpleasantness or anger directed your way, you’re in a bad place.
And yes, I was there.
When your partner doesn’t really care about your needs and continues to coerce and control all you do and you go along with it, then dear one, you really have given away any personal power you might have had.
And should you press the issue, or stand up for yourself you will likely be intimidated to shut up through any one of the issues above.
This is when I really want you to realize:
You can’t fix the emotionally abusive person. No matter how hard you try. Only they can fix themselves.
You are not to blame.
You must make your health and wellness a priority. And those of your children if you have them.
Having the attention of someone isn’t the same as having love.
Seek help if you can’t deal with this on your own.
Last words on experiencing an emotionally abusive relationship
Create an exit plan.
You can’t and shouldn’t consign your life to living with an emotionally abusive partner forever.
People will tell you that it’s hard to leave, and it is…but it will be harder on you and your family if you stay.
Whatever stops you from leaving, be it finances, or children or some other reason that prevents you from making that move right now, let that be okay for now.
Don’t make life harder on yourself. Simply begin making plans in your mind.
For those of us who’ve spent months, maybe even years minimizing, denying, and hiding an emotionally abusive relationship, this can be a frighteningly difficult first step.
And it is hard to stand up to an abuser who has over a period of time stripped you of your self-esteem, dignity, and confidence.
But If you would begin to believe, even a little, that this is a possibility for you then you really have taken the first step towards turning the invisible possibility into the visible experience, because at least in your mind’s eye you’ve already decided that you are not going to stay where you are.
And the truth of the matter is that you deserve someone who will lift you up, not put you down. Someone who will treat you with kindness, love and respect.
Encourage one another.
PS If you’re concerned about emotional abuse in your relationship here’s a link to a crisis center where you can get help. (Click here)
This is an incredibly important post. Thanks for sharing so honestly with us, Elle. I hope that people who read this will really take these signs to heart and get out of bad situations. They deserve more.
Thanks Sandra…I too hope this helps others see the things in relationships that can only hurt them and recognize that they deserve better. Learning from someone else’s mistakes can save us a lot of heartache. 🙂
I could relate to ever one of these having been in an emotionally abusive marriage for 18 years. Like you, I did not know it had a name and thought it was “normal” until I learned that it’s not. Thank you for this post and your example of healing.
Oh wow Debbie, I’m sorry to hear that. I know how crazy-making that can be. Huge congrats to you for your awareness of what genuine love relationships are. 🙂
Elle, another one of your stellar supportive posts! Most people don’t even realize they are in an abusive relationship….till its gets really really bad. This is a wake up call for most. Thank you for shedding light on this topic.
Hi Zeenat…you are so right about people not realizing when a relationship is abusive, strange as that may sound. Perhaps because for the most part we tend to think the best of those we love…until the time comes when there’s no escaping the fact that it isn’t normal.
I am grateful I’ve never been in an abusive relationship but I have seen friends suffer in them. You advice them to walk away but they make excuses for their abusers. One walked away, then secretly went back, she eventually committed suicide. She was a very young soul it broke my heart.It was pretty sad.