Are You Being Emotionally Abused?
When people talk about abuse in relationships our first natural assumption might be to think of physical abuse. But unfortunately there are many other types of abuse that, unlike physical violence, do not leave obvious marks. Statistics reveal that 36% of women over 15 who took part in a survey had experienced emotional abuse in a relationship and the effects of this are are just as devastating to the victim as physical abuse. In fact emotional health coach Maria Bogdanos suggests emotional abuse can be more harmful as it undermines how we think about ourselves, making us define ourselves by believing things that aren't true and ultimately damaging our self esteem. Emotional abuse can be hard to define and because abusers are often subtle in their ways of maintaining control, many victims might not even be aware that they are even being abused. If you feel vulnerable or uncertain about your relationship here are some things that you should ask yourself.
Do you feel isolated?
Many emotional abusers want you all to themselves. They do not want you to have a life outside of the relationship and may try to stop you from seeing friends and family, going out without them or even going to work. Because abusers crave control over their victims, any sign of them having independence or support networks worries them so they seek to isolate you from the outside world. It is healthy for both of you to have time apart and pursue individual interests so if you are 'punished' or made to feel guilty for having time away from your partner then this should ring alarm bells.
Are you afraid?
Fear should not be part of a healthy relationship. If you feel intimidated in any way by your partner then it is a clear sign that something is wrong. Sometimes victims are afraid of violence or aggression but in other cases abusers may use power tactics such as withholding affection or threatening to leave in order to frighten and upset their partner. They may have unrealistic expectations that you are punished for if you do not meet or they may try and blame you for trivial, unreasonable things that they have contrived in their own mind. All of this is designed to cause the sufferer anxiety; if you fear them then they are able to control you.
Is your partner an addict?
Not all abusers are addicts, but Dr Howard Samuels does suggest that many abusive relationships are accompanied by addiction. Being close to someone who is an addict can be a turbulent and harrowing experience. Their behaviour may be erratic, they might try to force you to help them get their fix and they certainly will not be in a position to offer love, support or even make basic considerations of a partner when they are barely able to consider their own needs outside of feeding their addiction. For the partners of those suffering from addiction it can seem like the ultimate betrayal to walk away from them when they are, in essence, in the midst of a disease, but it is important to consider your own well-being and recognize that being close to them can sometimes mean becoming an enabler. The best thing you can do is take a step back and look for professional recovery programs to help.
Do you feel confident?
If your partner ridicules you, calls you names, humiliates you or constantly reminds you of your shortcomings then there is a strong possibility that they are trying to diminish your self esteem. Making you feel less of a person not only makes them feel powerful but it makes you feel as though you are lucky to have them - or even that you need them to get by. This goes hand in hand with isolation techniques and you may find that they also try to mock your ambitions and go out of their way to foil any attempts you make at independent success. In a healthy relationship partners should encourage each other to strive to better themselves. An abuser will strive to make you feel less than what you are in order to keep control over you. They do not want you to be confident, assertive or successful - they want you to be submissive towards them.
Are you in control of your life?
Do you feel like you control your own life and are your own person or are you merely an extension of your partner? Are you able to make your own life choices or do you need to ask for permission? As we have seen, abusers use many of the techniques above in an attempt to control their partners, so if you feel out of control and unable to steer your own life then there are clearly issues in the relationship.