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Most of us have watched scenes of domestic abuse on TV and in movies. Often there’s screaming, throwing things, punching walls, slapping, etc. However, most abuse isn’t this upfront, and there are many different types of abuse.
According to the CDC, 48% of people have suffered emotional and verbal abuse in a relationship. In this article, I’ll take you through the different signs of an abusive relationship.
It can be hard sometimes to identify the early signs of abuse. We’ve all lost our cool or said things we regret. But how do you know if it could lead to more? A great quote I heard recently is “If you’re looking at the world through rose-colored glasses, red flags just look like flags.” So it can be hard to see things through our emotions, especially at the beginning. But here are a few things to look out for.
How they treat others is the best preview of future actions. Do they have road rage? Do they yell at and demean waiters? Are they mean to animals?
Many abusers feel that they’re above social norms. They may put others down to bring themselves up.
They may feel entitled or that regular rules don’t apply to them. It could be that they’re very sensitive to criticism and want to get payback for perceived slights.
Trust your gut. Relationships should feel good. There are always ups and downs, but there shouldn’t be a power imbalance. If you’re constantly walking on eggshells or can never seem to please them, it could be an early warning sign.
Emotional abuse can start so slowly that you don’t even realize it is happening until it gets so bad that you don’t know what to do about it. It can make you start to question your own emotions.
Pet names are supposed to be cute like “honey” or “sweetheart.” They’re not supposed to make you feel bad about yourself. No one should be referred to as “My Own Forrest Gump,” a “Chubby Pumpkin,” or “Minimus Dickus.”
Every couple fights. My last, very small fight was about the correct way to cut a sandwich in half. But you need to fight fair.
You should only argue about the issue at hand. Abusers will try to bring up old issues to deflect the argument away from them and what’s going on at the moment. Try to stay on topic.
I actually hear about this situation a lot. One party will simply get up and leave the room/car/house to escape the argument. I understand that sometimes we need to step away and clear our heads. But saying “This conversation is over” or simply walking out completely delegitimizes your partner’s feelings and is honestly a very childish thing to do. We are adults; we need to be able to talk about tough things.
Physical abuse is what most people associate with abuse, in general. Hurting each other is so far beyond the pale that I’m not even going to use that as an example. That should be evident. All unwanted physical contact is a form of abuse, but there are other types of physical abuse as well.
Abusers don’t want anyone else being able to help or influence their partners. They may try and ban you from seeing other friends, many times of the opposite sex. It could be about forbidding you to see your family or even actively turning them against you or you against them. Maybe they want to move to another town away from everything you know or try and deny you getting your driver’s license.
If someone can’t control their emotions to such a degree that the only way to alleviate them is to hit or break things, this is a huge red flag. No one starts by hitting their significant other. Otherwise, that person would be out in a heartbeat. Physical abuse starts incrementally.
First, it’s throwing or breaking things, then threatening, then shoving, then, well, worse. Don’t buy into those emotional rollercoaster relationships that you may see in movies that start with breaking plates and end with hot sex. Breaking shit isn’t OK.
I remember listening in shock to a woman telling me (while laughing) about how she threw a full glass of red wine up against the wall next to her man because he talked to another woman. “I mean, that’ll show him, right?!” 😮
Love, both physical and emotional, shouldn’t be contingent on acting appropriately or well-behaved. If someone is trying to withhold sex to get you to comply with their wishes, that’s not OK. When you try and hug or snuggle and they respond with “Not until you apologize,” your feelings are being manipulated. Likewise, forcing, blackmailing, or berating someone into physical intimacy is an abuse bordering on rape.
Mental abuse can be the most insidious type of abuse as it makes you question your own mind, memories, and emotions, which is exactly what the perpetrator wants.
I really hate this phrase. It’s also in the same vein as “It’s just a prank, bro!” The person will say something mean or hurtful. If they get any pushback or anyone questions their motives, they brush it off by saying it’s just a joke. Then they may comment that you don’t know how to take a joke.
Winston Churchill said, “A joke is a very serious thing.” Jokes are meant to make you laugh. If someone is trying this to hurt, get out.
Gaslighting is a psychological ploy to make others question their sanity and memories. If you remember a situation going X, Y, Z, a gaslighter will tell you that you’re crazy, and in fact, it went Z, Y, X. If a lie is repeated often enough, people start to believe it. Case in point: Our President’s latest comments after his intelligence agencies’ Senate testimonies.
Abusers want you to feel like you need them and that you would be incapable of existing without them. “Oh, you know you can’t fix anything in the house. You’re too clumsy. You need me for that.”
Shouting and yelling are the easiest signs to spot, but there are many more.
They especially do this in front of your friends and colleagues. They keep trying to take you down a notch. If you tell a story and your partner contradicts you and tells you that you’re wrong, take note. Also, try to avoid name calling when fighting.
Or they minimize your accomplishments and repeatedly tell you that you’re worthless or a failure.
Similar to the warning sign above, any time you accomplish something, the abuser may feel that it in some way takes away from them. So, they try to minimize anything good in your life.
These threats can be anything from “If you keep this up, I’m just going to pack my bags and move back with my family” to “If you leave me, I swear that I will kill myself.”
While not as straightforward as other types of abuse, financial abuse can be just as limiting and can keep you from feeling like you have an option of leaving.
Examples of interfering with your job can be pressuring you to quit, telling you where you can and cannot work, making last-minute changes to child care, or showing up and harassing you at work.
If you make a budget or agree to certain spending limits, both sides need to follow what’s been laid out.
This can easily spiral into credit card debt, lying, and hiding expenditures.
No one should be in the dark about their finances. Sure, one person can handle it if they want, but both sides should be able to have money, see the finances, know where money is going, and what sort of debt the family or couple have.
The National Domestic Abuse Hotline, StopRelationshipAbuse.org, Loveisrespect, and RAINN have a number of links and phone numbers with information for people suffering in abusive relationships, including resources specifically for LGBTQ issues.
According to the National Domestic Abuse Hotline: “Domestic violence and abuse stem from a desire to gain and maintain power and control over an intimate partner. Abusive people believe that they have the right to control and restrict their partners, and they may enjoy the feeling that exerting power gives them. They often believe that their own feelings and needs should be the priority in their relationships, so they use abusive tactics to dismantle equality and make their partners feel less valuable and deserving of respect in the relationship.”
Here are numerous statistics from the National Domestic Abuse Hotline that delve deeper into abuse and gender:
Sometimes it can seem like you can’t help someone, especially if they don’t realize they’re in an abusive relationship. But the best ways to help them are simple.
Be there for them, and let them know you’ll continue to be there for them. Listen to them, and try not to tell them what to do. Be supportive, and suggest they talk to someone. Offer to go with them if they want. Reach out. If you think something is wrong, ask them if there’s anything they want to talk about.
Believe them. The fear of the abused is that no one will believe them, and, in fact, their abuser may tell them that directly. Check in with them. Just continue to let them know you are there.
Abuse is always a tinged topic and invites a lot of high emotions. We need to be better at not blaming the victim and not minimizing the abuse. I know a lot of men especially won’t report abuse for fear of being shamed, made fun of, disbelieved, or emasculated. I was raped by a woman in college, and, while I wasn’t overly affected by it, I was laughed at and even congratulated for it. At the end of the day, just try and be there for anyone you think may need support. If you’re the one who needs support, please reach out to the resources in this article.