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I kept thinking of ways that I could really help young women, and today’s post exemplifies that for me.
I know that there are some who may not agree with me, but I’m a firm believer that past trauma can be a large contributing factor to our current physical pain. And this just isn’t my personal opinion. There’s research that supports this idea.
Exposure to toxic stress can have a direct impact on the way our brains process information in the long term, and that is one reason why I really wanted to write this post.
I knew that this topic was something I really wanted to write about on my blog, and here’s why.
It’s very hard for me to admit that I was in an emotionally and psychologically abusive relationship for over 5 years.
One of the biggest reasons for this is because it took me so long to recognize that my relationship was even abusive.
For years after I escaped that relationship, I still didn’t understand what I had suffered through. And that’s why I’m writing this today.
If I can help even one single girl from suffering as much as I did at the hands of an emotional abuser, then I feel like all of the work I have put into this blog will be worth it.
By the end of this post, I hope that you are able to recognize the signs of an emotionally abusive relationship and the resources available for those who may be in stuck in one.
This will be a long post – but the information included in it is really vital.
*As a disclaimer, I am not a professional and domestic abuse can be extremely dangerous. If you are fearful for your life and safety, you should contact law enforcement or a trusted resource immediately. I am posting links to national resources at the bottom of this post.
What is Domestic Violence?
According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, “Domestic violence (also called intimate partner violence (IPV), domestic abuse or relationship abuse) is a pattern of behaviors used by one partner to maintain power and control over another partner in an intimate relationship.”
This can include many different types of abuse including physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, financial abuse, and digital abuse.
I really would like to stress that it is not always easy to tell at the beginning of a relationship if it will be abusive.
In fact, many abusive partners may seem absolutely perfect in the early stages of a relationship.
Possessive and controlling behaviors don’t always appear overnight, but rather emerge and intensify as the relationship grows.
Every abusive relationship can look different, but many will show some of the same signs and patterns.
What is Emotional Abuse?
While many of us have learned how to spot and recognize physical abuse, emotional and psychological abuse is not always as easy to decipher.
HealthyPlace defines emotional abuse as “any act including confinement, isolation, verbal assault, humiliation, intimidation, infantilization, or any other treatment which may diminish the sense of identity, dignity, and self-worth.”
Emotional abuse can be hard to spot because unlike physical abuse, it leaves no tangible “proof.”
However, it is just as valid and as damaging as physical abuse.
Emotional abuse doesn’t just “go away.” Emotional abuse gets worse over time as it erodes a person’s self-esteem, confidence, and trust in their own judgment. It is similar to brainwashing – it can cause a victim to question reality and their own sanity, which leaves them at the mercy of relying on the very person who is abusing themvia Band Back Together
Why are Emotionally Abusive Relationships So Hard to Recognize?
I want to stress that absolutely anyone can be a victim of domestic abuse – physical, emotional, or otherwise. It is never the victims fault!
I do find it important to note that many people who find themselves in emotionally abusive relationships were also emotionally abused as children. This was my own experience.
People who were emotionally abused in childhood did not learn how to develop their own standards, viewpoints, or validate their feelings as children, so as adults, the controlling/defining stance of an emotional abuser is familiar.
It is key to recognize and understand this.
While finding myself in an abusive relationship was not my fault, part of the reason I didn’t recognize it as abusive for such a long time is because I was used to that sort of treatment and considered it normal.
To be able to heal in the long term, understanding relationship patterns and emotional barriers is so important and therapy can be an extremely powerful resource to help with this.
It didn’t start out as abusive
Another reason emotional abuse can be so hard to detect is because they weren’t always like this.
Some abusers may start out behaving normally and then begin abuse after a relationship is established.
Some abusers may purposefully give a lot of love and attention -including compliments and requests to see you often- in the beginning of a relationship.
Often, the abuser tries to make the other person feel strongly bonded to them, as though it is the two of them “against the world.”
Does this sound familiar?
This is a phenomenon known as love bombing, which I encourage you to read more about here.
Many emotionally abusive partners will flood their victims with endless love and praise in the beginning of a relationship.
This is a manipulation tactic that is meant to cause the victim to become addicted to the love and caring actions – though they are meaningless.
As time goes on, the abuser slowly tests your boundaries and discovers qualities about you that they can exploit.
This behavior means that “they’re not only zooming in on your vulnerability, they’re also preying on your resilience and empathy – your ability to bounce back and your capacity to sympathize with their excuses for bad behavior.”
The abusers mix in silent treatments, insults, and blame with small moments of the person you are fighting for – the person who showed you so much love in the beginning.
Victims are overjoyed at receiving crumbs of attention (known as intermittent reinforcement) from their abusers – only to be devastated by blow after blow.
So of course it is hard to recognize.
Abusers prey on empathetic, loving victims who only want to see the good in them. However, this good likely does not exist.
Recognizing an Emotionally Abusive Relationship – What to Look Out For
Below are some warning signs of emotional abuse, compiled from various different resources, many of which I am listing below.
One of the most important things I hope that you take away from this comes from Band Back Together, where they say, “Even if your partner only does a handful of these things, you are still in an emotionally abusive relationship. Do not fall into the trap of telling yourself ‘it’s not that bad’ and minimizing their behavior. Remember, everyone deserves to be treated with kindness and respect.”
You deserve to be with someone who makes you feel loved, respected, and valued on your best and worst days.
They are hyper critical or judgmental towards you
This includes behavior such as: putting you down (in front of others or in private), humiliating or embarrassing you, using sarcasm or “teasing” you to make you feel badly about yourself,
They ignore boundaries or invade your privacy
This includes behavior such as: wants to move in a relationship faster than you are comfortable with (emotionally or physically); checking your text messages, social media, or email without permission.
They are possessive or controlling
This includes behavior such as: constantly calling or texting; getting upset when you want to hang out with friends alone; isolating you from other people; accusing you of cheating and being jealous of outside relationships; taking or hiding your car keys; demanding to know where you are at all times or using GPS to track your every move; treating you like a possession or property; criticizing or making fun of your friends, family, and coworkers; using jealousy and envy as a sign of love and to keep you from being with others; controlling the finances
They are manipulative
This includes behavior such as: withdrawing affection when you’ve done something “wrong”; ignoring or excluding you; guilt trips, making you doubt yourself; denying something you know is true
They often dismiss you and your feelings
This includes behavior such as: making fun of your achievements or dreams; refusing to talk about or take responsibility; always blaming others or you; undermining, dismissing, or distorting your perceptions or reality; requiring you to explain and explain how you feel; calling you “too sensitive,” “too emotional,” or “crazy” when you share your feelings; dismissing your wants, needs, requests as “ridiculous”; suggesting that your feelings are wrong or that you cannot be trusted by saying things like “you’re blowing this out of proportion” or “you exaggerate”; accusing you of being selfish, needy or materialistic if you express your wants or needs.
Using emotional blackmail
This includes behavior such as: manipulating and controlling you by making you feel guilty; humiliating you in public or in private; using your fears, values, compassion or other hot buttons to control you or the situation; exaggerating your flaws or pointing them out in order to deflect attention or to avoid taking responsibility for their poor choices or mistakes; denying that an event took place or lying about it
Acting superior and entitled
This includes behavior such as: treating you like you are inferior, blaming you for their mistakes and shortcomings; doubting everything you say and attempting to prove you wrong; making jokes at your expense; telling you that your opinions, ideas, values, and thoughts are stupid, illogical or “do not make sense”; talking down to you or being condescending
This includes behavior such as: starting arguments for the sake of arguing; making confusing and contradictory statements (sometimes called “crazy-making”); having drastic mood changes or sudden emotional outbursts; nitpicking at your clothes, your hair, your work, and more; behaving so erratically and unpredictably that you feel like you are “walking on eggshells”
Engaging in gaslighting:
When an abuser makes you feel as though you are crazy or as if an event never happened.
This can be through various tactics such as denying an event happened, calling you crazy or overly sensitive, or describing an event as completely different from how you remember it.
Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse that abusers use to maintain power and control.
When a victim is questioning her memories or her mind, she may be more likely to feel dependent on the abuser and stay in the relationship.
If any of these behaviors sound familiar to you at all, I truly encourage you to seek help from any of the resources below.
I promise you that you are not the things your abuser is claiming.
You are not crazy, weak, selfish, a bitch, a whore, worthless, useless, and whatever else they want you to believe.
A relationship that makes you feel as though you are on a rollercoaster of emotions is not one that you deserve and there are absolutely better things out there for you.
I guarantee it.
But I’m Not Perfect Either!
I’m including this section because I think it’s really important and something that doesn’t get addressed enough.
When I was deep in the middle of an abusive relationship and even for years after, I truly believed that I contributed to the problem.
I acted in ways that I am ashamed of and that seem unreal to me looking back because I know deep down that is not who I am as a person.
So this is the section for you, the girl who is questioning if maybe her abuser is right and she really is the problem.
Being in an emotionally abusive relationship is a hell I would not wish on my worst enemy.
The mind games, manipulation, and gaslighting are enough to make someone seriously question their own sanity.
Your partner or ex may continuously point out all the things you have done wrong, and maybe you really did do things that weren’t that great.
But I really want you to read this excerpt from a book that I will talk more about below, because I think it truly sums it up:
“When you’re in the grip of these emotions, it is natural to wonder what is wrong with you. You might even think you’re going crazy. Well, [abusers] want you to believe you’re crazy because it makes you seem more unstable to the rest of the world. But you’ll find that once they’re gone from your life, everything starts to make sense again. If you went from normal to ‘crazy’ to normal again, that’s not crazy. That’s someone provoking you.”– Jason MacKenzie, Psychopath Free
Understanding that your behavior was reactions, not actions, is so essential in healing from this type of relationship.
There is only so much that one person can handle.
Having a [justified] reaction to relentless abuse does not make you a bad person or deserving of bad treatment.
People who respect and love you will not push you to that point.
You are not crazy for having justified reactions to endless torment.
I Might Be In An Emotionally Abusive Relationship…. What Do I Do?
If you’ve made it this far….. thank you. I’m truly sorry. This is not something that anyone deserves to suffer through.
I do want to say congratulations, though, because this means you are taking the hardest step – the first one!
Below are some wonderful resources that you can reach out to, as well as some tips that have helped me in this journey.
Educate yourself about emotional abuse and its impact
Start educating yourself, and do not stop.
Read everything you can, connect with other survivors, and learn.
Learning about and understanding what happened is the most important thing to not falling back into the trap.
Some resources that I found especially helpful:
Listen, I know the title of this book is kind of daunting and when I first started it I felt extremely overdramatic.
I really encourage you to read the excerpt on Amazon of 30 traits of toxic people and if it resonates with you (as pretty much all 30 did for me), then give it a try.
Something he says in the beginning that I think is true is: “When you feel those things after a relationship, does it really matter if your ex was a psychopath, a sociopath, a narcissist, or a garden-variety jerk? The label does not make your feelings any more or less valid.”
This book truly saved my life and helped me realize that I was in an abusive relationship.
Healing from Hidden Abuse by Shannon Thomas
Reach out to any of the following resources
Call 911 for all emergencies
The National Domestic Violence Hotline: Call 1.800.799.SAFE (7233)
Love is Respect Peer Advocate: Call 1-866-331-9474 or Text* loveis (capitalization does not matter) to 22522
Crisis Text Line: Text HELLO to 741741 to connect with a Crisis Counselor
Seek professional help
Seek out the help of a therapist or counselor – emotionally abusive relationships can have long lasting impacts that are hard to deal with
Make sure that the therapist you are meeting with is right for you. If they aren’t helping you address your issues or it just doesn’t feel “right” – it might not be the right fit!
Consider going “no contact”
This is something I completely recommend, but can be very difficult and so I am going to address it in another post (you can read it here) next week.
I thoroughly recommend researching this before making the final decision, as it can often lead to consequences that are very difficult to deal with.
Let’s sum this up:
This is an extreme amount of information to take in, and this journey is not a short one.
Emotional abuse can be hard to recognize and therefore can go undetected to even the victim for a really long time.
This means that even when someone finally escapes it, they may be left feeling completely lost and confused and not even understanding what truly happened.
I promise that you will make it through.
There is a light at the end of this tunnel, and you are strong enough to get there.
You’ve survived the toughest part already!
Please consider reaching out to any of the resources listed above, or a trusted loved one.
I hope that this information can help you start the journey towards a happier and healthier life.