If you notice your partner is active working to gain or sustain power and control in a relationship, you might be getting emotionally abused. Unlike the easily recognizable physical abuse patterns, emotional abuse is often easy to hide from your closest loved ones or even yourself.
Lisa Ferentz, LCSW, a trauma specialist states “Unlike physical or sexual abuse, there is a subtlety to emotional abuse. It’s a lot more confusing to victims, as it typically is couched in behaviors that can initially be perceived as ‘caring.’” At the onset of the romance the abuser may seem caring and kind. This serves to disarm a person and allow them to begin to trust and become confident in the relationship.
Emotional abuse is all about power and control. Abusers may do, but are limited to some of the following behaviors: slander, demoralizing, threatening, intimidating, swearing, lying, belittling, and stonewalling. They may seek to control with whom a person can be in contact, or where they are allowed to go. Although the scars are deeply hidden, emotional abuse trauma causes long lasting ramifications including anxiety, depression, chronic pain, PTSD, need for adrenaline and addictive behaviors. If you think someone you love is in an emotionally abusive relationship, here are eleven things to which you should pay close attention.
- Being on eggshells
Health love never involves habitual second-guessing or extensive self-editing.
- Feeling gaslit
Your partner should never create your reality or work to distort life to adhere to a perception they deem appropriate. Being gaslighted can manifest in phrases like “You aren’t remembering that properly,” “That’s not how it happened,” or “I never did that.” An abuser might tell you that you are acting “crazy” or “stupid” when in fact you are thinking quite rationally. Over time, statements like these, build self-doubt and a tendency to align with your partner’s process. This makes you more vulnerable to their desire to control you and the situation.
- Constantly having to “check-in”
At first this will seem like sincere concern. A partner wants to know their love is safe and with wonderful people. But this pattern of keeping tabs of your schedule can quickly become obtrusive and harassing. Healthy relationships balance concern, curiosity and trust.
- Consistent hurtful “jokes”
Remember there is always a grain of truth in every “joke.” Never tolerate anyone who bases their humor on meanness, sarcasm and mockery.
- Endless cycle of unnecessary apologies
Emotional abusers frequently tell their partner about their faults, act inconsiderately or openly mock them with hurtful comments.
- Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
It doesn’t seem like your partner is consistent with patterns. One day they are hot and loving, the next day cold and distant. They avoid answering why they are not engaged with you and this causes you anxiety and turmoil about how to regain their affection. As they continue to deny any wrongdoing you start to blame yourself for not being good enough. With time this pattern turns a fairly autonomous person into a anxious codependent partner, which is the goal of your abuser.
- Quick to point out flaws, and slow to highlight accomplishments
Although everyone can’t be perfect all the time, in a loving relationship a couple is each other’s biggest cheerleader and supporter. In emotional abusive relationships negative comments seems to be the norm and often focus on areas where you might be strong while your partner is deficient. This serves to shift the power and control back in the hands of the abuser. If you worry someone you love is being abused, pay attention to how accomplishments are handled. Do they get discussed, honor or ignored? Perhaps there might even be back-handed jokes being made to minimize the success. Notice if the tone is proud, shaming, celebratory, or criticized. As time goes on, people exposed to ample negative responses experience a erosion of self-value, motivation and health.
- Punishment of limiting affection or resources
Relationships should never be transactional. You should never have to feel like affection is contingent upon pleasing a mate’s ego. When you withhold affection, support or enjoyment you hold back a person from the essence of love.
- Being sexual distant
Especially with women, sex and intimacy is rooted in trust. If a woman feels fear, anger or anxiety with her partner, she will not feel safe to be receptive to them either mentally and especially physically.
- Feeling the pain is YOUR fault
Emotional abusers are gifted manipulators. They can inflict boundless pain while making their partner feel concern for the abusers. The abuser is acting out because of external forces perhaps a bad childhood, past relationship or even something you accidentally did. Feeling sorry for the abuser is a key aspect of emotional abuse in a relationship. The focus is on the helping the innocent abusers through feeling lost, abandoned or traumatized.
- Changing plans is meant to “surprise you”
Emotional abuse is a means to exert control and power. This includes suddenly shifting focus or making demands without discussion. By suddenly “surprising” their partner that the planned brunch is now a trip to their mothers, or having the boys come over unexpectedly during your staycation only serving to fuel their narcissistic needs and minimizing your concern or interests.