Abuse is a subject not discussed frequently enough, and if it’s depicted in television or in books, it’s done so in its most obvious incarnations. Or, assuming it’s depicted, it is romanticized by the narration (such as in 50 Shades of Grey). Abuse is not something always inflicted knowingly and it is not something always received knowingly, and that reality is why many abuse victims remain with their abusers for long periods of time. This is especially true for emotional abuse. Emotional abuse is used by the abuser to subjugate and control the abused through verbal bullying, humiliation, and threats. However, the abuse isn’t constant and rarely is it consistent. An abuser can be loving and emotionally supportive one moment, only to lash out the next. That is part of what makes emotional abuse so insidious. Recognizing abuse is the first step to healing from it, and so here are 7 red flags to be aware of:
- Your accomplishments upset them. If you feel the need to hide your accomplishments, or if your accomplishments are met with visible distress, then they are placing their insecurities before your happiness and that is not okay. They should celebrate your achievements, just as you should theirs.
- They isolate you. This can come in the form of trying to occupy all of your time, but sometimes it may come in the form of anger and jealousy. If they’re rude to your friends, or if they try to actively keep you from your friends, that’s a massive issue.
- They expect you to tend to them with very little help or very little in return. To bring in a personal example: I was in a relationship in which I was expected to cook, clean, and supply most of the emotional labor. Oftentimes my partner would frame this as him being needy and cute, but it’s anything but. When individuals demand this much of you, and you willingly supply it, that’s a sign of codependence.
- They rely on substance abuse. Substance abuse may worsen the emotional abuse, and substance abuse implies a lack of healthy coping mechanisms (which is a root cause of abuse). Not all emotional abuse is accompanied by substance abuse, but the two often correlate.
- They guilt you. The abuser will try to control you through your emotions- if they sulk or act personally victimized whenever you try to bring up something important or something you need discussed, then they are silencing you through guilt. That is controlling, and it is a form of emotional abuse.
- They threaten you. The threats can be subtle and implicit (such as claiming their mental instability whenever you try to hold them accountable for poor behavior), or they can be explicit (such as physically or financially threatening you). Either way, they are using fear in order to subjugate.
- They disregard your boundaries. If your partner consistently does things to you that you are uncomfortable with, especially if you have voiced this discomfort or if they are aware of the discomfort, then they are disregarding your boundaries. If they are doing things to you in bed that you do not want and that you have not consented to (or if they guilt you into doing things you do not want or would not normally consent to), then that is sexual abuse. There is no excuse for this.
Abuse is oftentimes subtle and cyclical. Because of this it’s hard to spot, but not impossible. The most important things to remember: abuse is never your fault; abuse can happen in opposite and same sex relationships; women can be abusers; and mental illness is never an excuse for abuse. If you believe you may be in an abusive relationship, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), or you can call a local hotline for support and crisis intervention.