Don’t judge until you have walked in the shoes of an abused individual. It’s far more complex than you could ever imagine. Abusive behaviour typically shows up after the first three months of a relationship. Is this because no one can keep up a facade forever. Eventually, the mask will slip and the true Nature other person images. By this time, of course, emotions have grown and control becomes easier.
The emotional pain and chaos are all-consuming in a typical pattern of domestic abuse for the victim. Every moment of every day is spent focusing on keeping your partner happy. As the saying goes, ” misery loves company”. Your happiness depends on their happiness. If they aren’t happy you will suffer. You spend the majority of your time feeling anxious and unsafe, wondering when when they will will once again criticise you or belittle you. This is what emotional abuse consists of. Emotional abuse starts slowly and gains momentum over time. It’s a subtle progression from the odd negative comment to full-blown attacks on your character and your behaviour (and your appearance as well).
How Domestic abuse starts
Getting you ‘hooked’ emotionally
It is very subtle in the beginning and abuses are often incredibly charming and charismatic. They have an innate skill that pulls you in and gets you emotionally hooked as quickly as possible. They seem to know all the right things to say and they adjust themselves to be what you need. When it comes to reading people abusers can be incredibly adept and skilled. Being with someone who treats you with respect, shows consideration and generally makes you feel on top of the world is quite addictive. You find yourself wanting to spend more time with this person and loving the way they make you feel when you are with them.
This is exactly what the abuser is looking for. They want to get you emotionally ‘hooked’ because they then have more control once you are attached to them. It’s not a case of overt criticism initially because nobody would accept been told that they are stupid or unworthy at the beginning of a relationship. An abuser has to be clever and subtle and test the waters as they go. They will make mental notes about what you will accept and what you won’t accept… This is why one of the number one ways to prevent abuse in relationships is to enforce healthy boundaries.
What are healthy boundaries?
Healthy boundaries go hand-in-hand with high self-esteem. When you value yourself, you are less likely to accept unkind or unreasonable behaviour from somebody else. We all make mistakes but if another person continually ignores your boundaries, they are showing you that they have no problem in going after what they want instead of maintaining a balanced relationship.
Why domestic abuse confuses you
Abusers know how to manipulate others. They like to be in control and will use many tactics to stay on top of the situation. Gaslighting is a typical example of emotional abuse. Gaslighting is a form of crazy-making where your reality is denied, you begin to doubt yourself and your perceptions of reality become distorted over time. Abuse becomes normalised and victims engage in self-doubt.
An example of gaslighting: the abuser will swear that they have told you something that never happened. ” I told you that we are going to that party tomorrow” – this will never have happened and you will start to think you are losing your memory. It shakes your confidence in yourself and encourages further self-doubt.
You will begin thinking that if only you were more loving, dressed in a different way, spoke differently or actor differently – the relationship would be fine. Reality is the complete opposite. You will never be good enough for an abuser. Stop trying to please someone who puts themselves first and has no care or empathy for your lived experience.
The typical pattern of abuse
Incredibly charming and charismatic in the beginning, can’t do enough for you and make you feel important
You become emotionally attached and begin investing in the relationship
The abuse will begin in the form of subtle criticism, trying to change you in some way or they will become angrier and show their temper a little more than before. Subtle physical abuse may also emerge in the form of a slap, shouting or pushing and shoving.
Boundaries are tested and, generally, the victim will back away from conflict. Your emotional attachment also decreases your ability to enforce healthy boundaries. Self-doubt is an additional Factor that stops someone from enforcing their healthy boundaries.
Abusive behaviour will escalate to physical abuse, emotional abuse and/or mental abuse. Not all abusive behaviour is obvious and if there is a slow build-up, victim often does not even notice the abuse until it is pretty Severe.
Examples of abuse:
The underlying goal of emotional abuse is to control the victim by discrediting, isolating, and silencing.
Jealousy, possessiveness and control. You may be influenced to drop certain friends or family, report where you are going at all times, and stop your usual socialising to keep your partner happy. Isolation is key when it comes to effective control. They limit your access to money or other important resources. You may be expected to spend all your spare time with your partner – this is an unrealistic expectation.
Criticism. You might find that the compliments decrease and judgmental comments increase. ” Are you really going to wear that?” or ” Why are you doing it that way?” or “No one else will ever love you”. Name-calling and verbal abuse will 100% erode your identity . Criticism includes negative comments about your behaviour, your appearance, or how you behave in life in general. Abusers do this to undermine your confidence and establish superiority in the relationship. They treat you with contempt. The more downtrodden you are, more likely you are to be manipulated and controlled.
Explosive anger. The nice person that you met may transform into someone you do not know anymore. They will react angrily to situations or have drastic mood changes because somewhere along the line, they have learned that anger shuts down communication. Most people tend to shy away from conflict with someone who is overly angry. It’s a clever tactic because an angry individual is rarely challenged.
Whilst you would not want to challenge your partner when there are in the midst of an angry outburst, it is vital to talk about this later on and to make it clear that you will not accept this kind of behaviour as a regular occurrence. Sure, everyone gets angry from time to time that is completely normal but when the anger is used as a way to manipulate and control you, you need to make a clear that needs to stop. How many couples shout in relationships, it isn’t the best way to communicate. Take a break and agreed to resume the conversation when you are both calm and reasonable.
Dismissive behaviour. Instead of approaching you and being abusive, an individual will make you feel unworthy by ignoring you. Stonewalling sends a message that you are unimportant and not even worth the effort of communicating with. This type of abusive behaviour can be just as devastating as insults and criticism. Being ignored triggers feelings of low self-esteem, abandonment, and ideas of not being good enough. These are typical reactions to emotional abuse. Ultimately it is all about control.
Testing your boundaries/reactions in the relationship. Your partner will be skilled at testing you constantly. They will progressively test your limits to see when you break. You may not even realise that this is happening because it is so subtle and insidious. I might continually be busy and unable to see you, they might consistently criticise you or some other negative type of behaviour in order to test how far they can take you before you crack. Be aware that by being passive, you are still unwittingly providing a response to your abuser. Passivity in abusive relationships is detrimental and will destroy your sense of self.
Invalidation. Invalidation occurs on many levels. Your feelings and opinions and wishes will be dismissed as unimportant. Abusers are often hypocritical – an example: they will be unfaithful and they will flirt but if you ever dared to do the same, you will be in big trouble. You might be labelled as ” too sensitive” or you might be told that you are just too serious and should get a sense of humour. A decent partner would be upset if they had mistakenly upset you, they would not dismiss your feelings in this way.
You might make a few small requests that will be denied by your partner. It would not be a big deal to meet these requests but again, it is a subtle message to you that your needs do not matter. Take note!
Another example of invalidation: “I can’t believe you can’t understand this? I thought you were intelligent”. Yep – more invalidation. Over time invalidation chips away at your very core. You begin to lose your self-confidence and become even more passive and accepting.
It is a slow process, but if you find yourself doubting yourself more than normal, feeling that you need to walk on eggshells constantly and if you spend a lot of time in your head trying to work out what just happened – you are definitely experiencing emotional abuse. When in doubt, speak to people who really care about you and have your best interests at heart. They will be more able to give you an objective opinion and valuable feedback.
When I was in an emotionally abusive relationship, invalidation was a regular part of our communication. Over time it had become normalised and I did not see it for what it was. I would spend enormous amounts of energy and time thinking over incidents and wondering who was to blame and what I could have done to improve what happened. It was mental torture. I was accused of being selfish, needy, and materialistic because the expectation was that I should not have any wants or needs. Rather I was expected to be a faithful admirer, not an equal partner. I can see this now but at the time, I cared for my partner and wanted to stay with him. (This was partly due to my childhood trauma but that’s a long story for another time).
Maintain those boundaries and express your feelings regularly!! If they are unable to empathize and see your point of view, then that should act as a filter and make you seriously reassess whether this is the right relationship for you. Being assertive is a strong weapon when it comes to abusive relationships. A decent healthy partner will respect your feelings, and abusive partner won’t.