Emotionally abusive relationships cause untold pain and stress on both our bodies and our minds. But how do we know what one looks like?
“It is not the the bruises on the body that hurt. It is the wounds of the heart and the scars on the mind.”
Emotional abuse doesn't start from day one. There is that lovely first stage when they are wonderful, everything you have ever wanted. It seems you both want the same things out of life and yes, things move fast, but when it's right it's right. Right?
Sadly, that initial rush of excitement is often a chemical response and once you settle into a steady relationship, those exciting chemicals are replaced with calmer but more long lasting ones such as Oxycontin - the love drug.
Healthy relationships can thrive with this change. Both parties feel secure and comfortable and are excited by the future.
Emotionally abusive relationships however can flounder at this point because the abuser craves the high of the start of the relationship and so they can change almost overnight.
Sometimes the arrival of a child can be the catalyst. Suddenly they aren't the centre of attention any more and this creates anxiety in them and they feel rejected. Or they can become obsessed with the child and push you away. This can result in anger, resentment and even a breakup.
In both cases the other party, you, is left wondering where the great person they originally met went to.
For those who stick at the relationship, an insidious type of abuse can emerge. Physical abuse is more overt and victims recognise it as unhealthy even when they aren't in a position to leave. But covert, emotional and psychological abuse is less easy to recognise and victims can stay for years before the realisation occurs.
This article will provide you with 11 signs of an emotionally abusive relationship with the hope to at least give you the awareness of what is going on.
11 Signs of a Emotional Abuse
- There is a lack of an emotional connection
You never turn to each other for emotional support. You look to other people first. Or you have to mind read their emotions and put yours in a box. Certain personality types, including narcissists, are emotionally unavailable and can struggle with not just their own but also with their partners emotions. This can lead to outbursts of either rage or silence as they become overwhelmed. They will also belittle or ignore your emotions and your emotional needs leaving you feeling lonely and unheard
- One person is dominant in the relationship
They control everything. The money. The decisions. The child care. And they refuse to listen to your opinion. They send a very clear message that they know best and a subtle message that you are unable/incapable of doing anything.
Or they set you up to fail by giving you all the control but constantly belittling you for your "mistakes". They refuse to do anything and you often feel like you are parenting them. Either way, their personality is dominant and everyone knows where the power lies.
In family systems theory this is known as differentiation of self and all family members lose their own identity and become almost cult like in their following of the leader.
- You don’t have a sense of relationship security
All relationships go through tough times but healthy individuals stay and work things out or end it to work on themselves. Emotionally insecure people threaten to leave regularly so you feel like you have a noose around your neck all the time. This is another aspect of control and power over you.
They want you to know the consequences of disagreeing with them or not adhering to their requests in any way.
- You are experiencing physical symptoms of anxiety, depression, chronic pain, PTSD or substance abuse issues. It is toxic stress and can be really damaging to your whole body
- Your partner is defining your reality by saying one thing and then denying it. This is known as gaslighting and is psychological manipulation, a tactic often used by narcissists.
- They are extremely jealous and want to know where you are and who you are with constantly. They don’t trust you to go to the shops and make constant accusations, some subtly, some outright. This is designed to isolate you and for them to maintain control of you
- They “surprise” you with changes to plans you already made under the guise of it being special, or better. Really this is coercive and covert control.
- You feel sorry for them even though they are hurting you. You blame it on stress, money, work - anything you can think of. The reality is you care more about them than you do about yourself.
- They keep mentioning another person's name but claims they are just friends
Triangulation is a very powerful tool in creating jealousy and maintaining power. They also do it to test boundaries and show how omnipotent they are. They get a kick out of seeing you uncomfortable and now knowing how to react. If you question them you may get mocked or even accused of being abusive for not letting them have friends. They will say you are paranoid and so you will second guess everything.
- You are walking on eggshells
Sometimes you don't even want to go home because you don't know what to expect and haven't got the energy to manage it. So you find yourself sat in the car in the car park or lingering in the shop just to delay walking into uncertainty. You even jump for joy when they aren't in!
- You are questioning your sanity
One of the biggest signs is when you start to think that you must be the problem. You have been repeatedly told you are crazy, paranoid, miserable and they are so convincing that they are innocent, projecting it all onto you, that you begin to wonder if they are right. This isolates you and prevents you from opening up to anyone else for fear of being judged and it also provides a strong narrative for them to recruit family and friends to make you feel worse and imply you have problems. This deflects all blame from them and no matter what you tell anyone, they have already stabbed you in the back and created their own version of the truth.
All of these signs are recognised in abuse models. This is known as the Duluth power and control wheel and is used to "diagnose" abusive relationships.
If you recognise all of these signs, you are definitely in an emotionally abusive relationship and may even be in a relationship with a narcissist. That may be the first time you have heard that. Take a minute. It's not easy to hear. It's also up to you what you do with that.
I also understand that it isn't easy to label the person you love as a narcissist. You see all the good in them and believe that deep down they are a good person. I believe that too. But right now you are suffering. You wouldn't be here if you weren't. And so something for you to consider is do you love them more than you love yourself?
I understand that what you want more than anything is for things to go back to how they were at the start. For them to be the loving, fun and attentive person they were. Sadly we don't have a time machine. And you can't unknow what you know. But you can make some conscious choices. The first of which is
- A) Do nothing, store this information away in your brain to perhaps recall at a later date but just get on with things
- B) Learn more. Find out the reality of where you are at. Find out whether they are narcissistic.
If you choose B, we can help. You can read through our blogs for more information. We also have a quiz to help you know whether or not you are dealing with a narcissist. It's totally free.