Emotional abuse may not get physical, but it can be just as damaging and heartbreaking.
It hurt, every time your partner made you feel small and insignificant. Every time they took your own words and twisted it to use as ammunition against you, it broke you a little. Every time they made your kindness seem like a weakness. But you stay with them because when you love, you give it your all. Sure, the relationship isn't as sweet and warm as it used to be, but you convinced yourself that no relationship is perfect. Everyone has their ups and downs and the important thing was to stick by your partner through it. After all, isn't that was love is? However, that's not what a healthy, stable relationship looks like.
Unfortunately, many people in emotionally abusive relationships don’t understand that they are being abused because there’s no physical violence involved. They might downplay the abuse because there's no violence involved. But emotional abuse is just as damaging as physical abuse. "The purpose of emotional abuse is to create psychological weakness by undermining one's confidence, self-esteem, and self-worth," says Kathy Nickerson, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist, according to Good Housekeeping. "The true goal of most abusers is to make you feel so weak, so inferior, and so damaged that you stop questioning them and defer all of your thinking and decision making to them."
So the question remains... how do you know if you're in an emotionally abusive relationship? Here are 7 subtle signs that you may not have noticed or may have brushed off:
All those so-called jokes that seem demeaning, though your partner might say otherwise, were exactly what they were meant to be - hurtful. And every time it makes an impact, they win. “Then when you complain, they claim they were only joking and you’re too sensitive. There is truth to the saying that behind every mean or sarcastic remark is a grain of truth," says Sharie Stines, therapist and relationship coach who specializes in recovery from abuse, according to HuffPost.
You are an individual person with your own life who chose to share your love and affection with your partner. However, "what can seem like genuine concern is often a way for an emotionally abusive person to be in total control when they are constantly keeping tabs on another person’s schedule," says Lisa Ferentz, author of Treating Self-Destructive Behaviors in Trauma Survivors: A Clinician’s Guide.
For a while now, you've probably been avoiding making your partner angry or disappointed because you fear that they might stop loving you or perhaps even leave you. You are constantly second-guessing yourself, and end up believing them when they say you're overreacting, even when your concerns and emotions are valid. This gaslighting is their way of trying to exert control and to maintain the upper hand in the relationship.
One minute, your partner is showering affection and love on you and the next, they're distant and unavailable. Though they deny being withdrawn, you can't help but wonder if it's your fault and you try everything to get back into their good graces. It's painful having to blame yourself when you don't even know what you did. And it's exactly where they want you.
You might love being desired and treated like a queen but somehow that only happens when you do things the way your partner wants you to. And when you do something they don't like or "approve" of, all the warmth and love is just snatched away. They constantly make you, for the lack of a better word, beg for their approval if you want them to love you. And it breaks your heart every time they do that.
“The ways your partner reacts to your accomplishments or positive feelings about something can be telling," says Carol A. Lambert, psychotherapist and author of Women with Controlling Partners. If your partner constantly seems disinterested in you, belittles you, and criticizes you for everything, "over time, confronted with hurtful responses, your sense of confidence and trust in your own competence can slowly diminish," she adds.
It seems that no matter what happens, you're the one apologizing to your partner. You don't know when it happened but you started to believe everything they made you feel not good enough, selfish for caring about your own wellbeing over theirs, weak for showing kindness. Nothing you do seems to please them and it always feels like they think themselves superior to you. And hence, you end up believing that you're at fault for the things that go wrong in their life and you apologize for it.
But you deserve better than to be treated as someone who doesn't have a mind of their own and emotions that are valid and important. You faced your own slew of hardships and you survived them. In fact, when you first entered the relationship, you knew your strength. However, your nature of being loving, generous, and committed slowly allowed your partner to take advantage of you. Just because they didn't physically hurt you doesn't mean the emotional trauma they put you through devastated you any less.
It's not easy to walk away from a relationship you've poured your heart into. But if your partner refuses to understand how they're constantly hurting you, it is best to talk to someone about it, perhaps even get some professional help that could help you decide if you should stay with them, or walk out the door and never look back.