Emotional abuse can be tricky to detect. While it may be easy to pick up on patterns in other people’s relationships, especially now when it is on such flagrant display on shows like The Bachelorette and Vanderpump Rules, I’ve learned from experience that it can be harder to recognize in the context of your own relationship. This is because emotional abuse can take many forms and, unlike sexual or physical abuse, is more insidious in the way it manifests itself. So how can you tell whether you are in an emotionally abusive relationship? Below are five potential signs that something may not be right.
1. You Can’t Be Yourself
The best relationships are those in which you can be completely and authentically you. At the risk of sounding corny, a good partner will love you because of your flaws, not in spite of them. If instead you find yourself constantly striving to live up to your partner’s conception of the perfect person, and exhausting yourself in the process, this may be an indication that your relationship is emotionally abusive. Ask yourself why you feel this need to be perfect. It’s possible that you have been so conditioned to viewing yourself as “less than” that you’ve internalized your partner’s criticisms to the point that you are turning on yourself.
2. Your Friends And Family Aren’t Fans
While this one in and of itself is not determinative, it is usually a pretty good indicator of a larger issue. Our family and friends generally are the people that love us most in the world and want what is best for us. So it stands to reason that if your significant other was treating you like the queen (or king) that you are, your loved ones would be on board with this person. If, on the contrary, you are getting the vibe that your friends and family do not like or want to be around your significant other, it may be a sign that something is not right with your relationship. Be doubly concerned if your partner is discouraging you from seeing your family and friends. Many abusers seek to isolate their victims from their loved ones so that the victims are more dependent and easier to control.
3. You Never Feel Good Enough
At its core, a healthy relationship is supposed to make you feel like your best self. An emotionally abusive relationship, however, has the opposite effect, leaving you feeling like you can never measure up. Maybe your partner constantly tells you that you need to lose weight, or that he or she would love you if you were just a little more ________. The key is that your partner’s love and affection are conditional and contingent, rather than unconditional. As a result, you may find yourself internalizing these critiques to the point where you start believing you will never be good enough. The sad truth is that with an emotionally abusive partner, you never will be, because keeping you feeling small and defeated is what an abuser thrives on.
4. You’re Always The One Apologizing
Despite my protestations to the contrary to my husband, I know that I am far from perfect. None of us are, and it’s important to own our actions and behavior when we are in the wrong. An emotional abuser, like a narcissist, is unable and unwilling do so, and if you’re with this kind of person, chances are you have found yourself apologizing, even when you don’t believe you’ve done anything wrong, for the sake of keeping the peace. Many emotional abusers will completely shut down in the face of a conflict and withhold love and affection in an effort to punish the victim. While conflicts and fights are totally normal in a relationship, alienation and abandonment are not.
5. You Feel Unhappy Most Of The Time
This one is more of a gut check. No relationship is all unicorns and rainbows, despite what Instagram would have us believe. Undoubtedly, in any relationship you will find yourself going through challenging times. It’s a problem, though, when your unhappiness is stemming from the dynamic of the relationship itself, rather than external factors. A partner should provide a sense of stability during difficult periods. An emotionally abusive relationship, however, can leave you feeling more alone than if you were single. If you are feeling this way a majority of the time, you may need to look at the relationship with a more critical eye.
Of course, this list is not exhaustive and there may be other more overt or subtle signs that you are in a toxic and potentially emotionally abusive relationship. However, if you are experiencing one or more of the above signs for an extended period of time, it may be worth seeking professional help (which you can do here and here). It can be hard to see emotional abuse for what it is when you are in it, but I can promise you that when you get to the other side, you’ll be thanking yourself.
If you think you may be in an abusive relationship, talk to someone you trust and/or visit loveisrespect.org.
Images: Sasha Freemind / Unsplash