How do I know if I am in an abusive relationship?
Other titles by Cindy
Red flags to look out for
There are many different kinds of abuse, some subtle and some not so subtle. It's the not so subtle kinds of abuse that we are most familiar with and more easily able to identify. We have seen the movies, where Jennifer Lopez gets beaten black and blue in 'Enough' and heard people verbally abusing others around us. The signs of that kind of abuse is so obvious, we can't miss it, and we feel sorry for those people who have to put up with it. However, it's the subtle kinds of abuse that is far more damaging. Many of us face it every day - by our children, partners, bosses, people at work, and we don't even realise it is happening to us until it is too late and our self-esteem has taken a large knock.
Remember, nothing but nothing excuses selfish, disrespectful behaviour towards another human being. To show disrespect for another is to show disrespect for one's self.
So, what exactly is abuse and how do we know we are being abused?
It doesn't matter whether you are being physically, emotionally or verbally abused, the bottom line is that abuse is always about control. It is about one partner using strategies and techniques to control the other. It is about your partner's behaviours changing your personality, and you losing your self-esteem and your feeling of self-worth. It is about someone using your fears to manipulate you to do what they want and be what they want. They make you afraid to be yourself, afraid to control yourself, so therefore you will be available to be controlled by them.
Some red flags to look out for.
If you are faced with any of these red flags, you could be in an abusive relationship of some kind. I am not going to list the obvious signs of abuse as we're all familiar with those already.
- Your partner controls your time by making you wait - it could be waiting for them to do something after they've watched just one more TV programme or played just one more game, or even by not giving you a direct answer to your question and replying with a “We'll have to wait and see” or “We'll talk about it later”, and later never comes. If the person who has to wait complains, they are criticised for not having enough patience, or of trying to start a fight. Either way, they are being manipulated. This type of control is two-fold: Their time is controlled and then they are blamed for it!
- Your partner controls your time by timing you whenever you go out somewhere without them. If you take longer than they mentally calculated you'd take, they lay a guilt trip on you to make you feel bad.
- Your partner withholds information from you, and you either have to beg for it, or are forced to try to act on your own. This means that you'll either take longer or will have a greater chance of failure. This form of control makes the abuser feel superior as they know more than you do.
- Your partner withholds needed money, and you are forced to beg, plead or do without. The situation is then turned around that it was your 'trying to be a martyr' or your begging which forced them to withhold the money.
- Your partner controls all the finances, gives you an allowance that isn't enough and deprives you of necessities, while they buy whatever they want and spend money like there's no tomorrow. They don't ask your permission before they buy something, but because they control your finances, you have to ask their permission if you want to buy something.
- Your partner controls your emotions by using body language and gestures. These can be - sulking, giving you the silent treatment, turning their back on you and walking away while you're still talking to them, stomping out of the room and hitting or kicking something as they leave, rolling their eyes in disgust while you are talking or doing something, sighing deeply, refusing to look you in the eye, making a big show of crossing their arms with a bored look on their faces, withholding affection or sex, ignoring you in company and talking animatedly to others.
- Your partner controls you by defining your reality. They discount your experiences and replace it with their truth and reality which is actually a lie. For example, “That's not what happened,” “That's not what I said,” “That's not what you saw or felt,” or the best one of all “I know you better than you know yourself!”
- Your partner controls you by making you responsible for their behaviour, and in doing this avoids all accountability. It will be your fault because you didn't remind them, or set a good example, or stop them soon enough when you saw they were doing the wrong thing. You might ask your partner for their input, they reply, “Whatever,” and then when you go ahead and do it, it's all your fault if it doesn't work.
- Your partner controls you by putting you down all the time, in public and in private. They play down your successes and talents, belittle you and then praise you for trivial things you do, thus saying that you are best suited for doing trivial things. They might make offensive jokes about you in public, mimic you, laugh or smirk at you, patronise you, insult you or make rude sounds while you talk.
- Your partner controls you by talking about you in company in front of you as if you weren't there. They can bring up private moments that you might not want to be general knowledge, and turn it around so that you come out as the fool and they come out as the hero. This way they can make you the brunt of jokes and a laughingstock among your friends.
A healthy relationship is a partnership and consists of giving and taking. Each partner knows that sacrifices and concessions they make will eventually be returned. They are also able to accept themselves for who they are with all warts and imperfections, and also to accept their partner for who they are and with all their blemishes and imperfections.
Unfortunately, an abusive relationship is one-sided. The abusive partner can't give and take, and takes any criticism personally as a personal assault on their character. The abusive partner needs to win in order to feel in control. That's all that makes them feel okay and there is intense pressure for them to hold onto control and thereby preserve that 'winning feeling'. It is unacceptable and never crosses their minds to be wrong, give in, or place another's needs above their own.
The terrible reality, is that you can't change an abusive partner. I once thought, if I loved my ex-husband enough I could change him, but I was wrong. You can't change another person, unless you use abusive tactics. Change has to come from within.
Excerpt from my book on how to break the pattern of abusive relationships in your life, Fear, Phobias and Frozen Feet.
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