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
Every year of The Bachelorette, I swear to myself that I won’t get as infuriated by next year’s villain. And every year, they trot out a new guy who seems specifically designed to raise my blood pressure. This year, I am of course talking about the villain Luke P.: CrossFit enthusiast and walking red flag. As exhausting as it is to see Hannah not send him home week after week, I’ve been really glad to see that most viewers have shied away from actively blaming her. As the other contestants point out, Luke shows a very different side to Hannah—and for f*ck’s sake, we’ve all fallen for a Luke at some point in our lives, and under far less stressful circumstances.
So, as a handy field guide to actively dating women and future Bachelorettes alike, I’ve compiled a list of all the red flags Luke has shared with us this season. If a guy you’re considering dating drops any of the following quotes, I kindly suggest you run for the hills.
“I’m Falling In Love With You”
Ah, the first of many Luke P. red flags. To be clear, this is not a red flag when uttered at a normal time, like many months into dating (or in the case of Bachelor Nation, many weeks). When it’s said within the first 48 hours, he’s coming on way too strong, which is either a red flag in its own right or an early sign of controlling behavior.
Per a 2014 Huff Post piece on how abusive relationships can start, an early warning sign may be that your partner is overly affectionate or romantic—”he will likely be the most romantic man you have ever met,” the article claims. “He will say that it’s love at first sight, that you are made for each other, and that he can’t imagine his life without you He will insist on being exclusive right away.” Any of this ringing bells yet? Love bombing is a common manipulation tactic where the manipulator will flood the victim with affection early on in order to cloud their judgment.
“She Has Everything I’m Looking For In A Wife”
This is something Luke’s said several times over the course of the season, and it’s bummed me out hard every time. In theory, there’s nothing wrong with having a list of traits you want in a potential mate. But Luke’s aggressive fixation on how Hannah is his “dream wife”—and his mention this week of how everything he does is to be good enough for said dream wife—is a major yikes. Luke expects his wife to live up to a saintly, untouchable ideal. He hasn’t quite grasped yet that relationships are about emotions and connections between two people. He’s just gone from objectifying women as sex objects to objectifying women as wife material.
Frankly, Luke’s come-to-Jesus speech made me feel for him, if only because he still has so much to figure out about himself. He thinks he’s made a complete 180 because the criteria he uses when selecting women is now different; but until he learns how to form a genuine connection, I’m afraid he’s still screwed.
“Everyone Loves Me”
Bless Hannah’s heart for calling this one out as it happened. To say “everyone loves me” demonstrates, in Luke’s case, an extreme lack of self-awareness. But it’s also subtly gaslighting Hannah’s experience as the Bachelorette: she knows that Luke is an unlikable person, and she’s questioning him about why people find him so unlikable. Instead of giving her an honest assessment, Luke’s saying “nothing you’re seeing is real, but I can tell you what’s really real—people loving me.” Hannah, please: trust your own eyes over what this man is saying.
“I Love Every Single Thing About You, Even Your Flaws”
Ah, the classic neg. Again, it’s something Luke says creepily early on, and it’s something that seems like a good thing, but really isn’t. Putting aside for a moment that he doesn’t know her well enough to even identify said flaws, it’s a d*ck move to call out flaws in what’s meant to be an affectionate moment. It’s specifically intended to take her down a peg in the same moment that he’s asserting he’s there for her.
It’s very similar to when he says, “even if you make a boneheaded mistake I’ll be there for you” a few episodes later. Hannah didn’t make a mistake, and she wasn’t asking for his forgiveness. He chose to bring up that hypothetical because he wanted Hannah to feel small and cornered into accepting his affection simply because he’s a safe choice.
“I Don’t Want To Know What You Do With Other Guys”
As Hannah’s relationships with other guys get more serious, we get to see a fun, new, even more controlling side of Luke! (Next week: Controlling Luke, Religious Edition.) You’ll notice that Luke’s the only guy who freaked out about her date with Garrett, but even if it did make Luke annoyed to hear, he had no right to bring that concern to Hannah. Telling her “I don’t want to know anything about you and other guys” is treating Hannah like it’s her job to ensure nothing ever mars his perfect, pure image of her—and it’s really, really not.
Furthermore: if he’s this controlling of her time when they’re not even exclusive, while cameras are rolling, what the f*ck would he be like as a husband, behind closed doors? This is a guy who would be uncomfortable with Hannah being in the same state as an ex-boyfriend. This is a guy who Hannah would hide all her male friends from, because he’d accuse her of cheating on him if he ever met them. This is a guy who would slowly close off more and more aspects of who Hannah gets to see under the guise of caring too much about her. Run. For. The. Hills.
“I Know Hannah’s Really Excited To Spend Alone Time With Me”
Per Allure‘s piece on signs of an abusive relationship, a partner speaking for you is bad news—but hey, we could have all learned that just from watching this one Luke P. clip! Do we hear any of the other Bachelorette contestants saying what Hannah is excited to do? No, we do not. We hear them talking about their own emotions, and—dare I say it—staying in their own lanes. Luke is totally a guy who would order for Hannah at every restaurant they go to without even knowing her dietary restrictions (“oh no Hannah, my dream wife doesn’t have a peanut allergy, you must be mistaken”).
Luke’s been working overtime to convince Hannah (and everyone else) that he knows her better than she knows herself, that he’s her soulmate, and that she’s totally mistaken about everything she’s seen gone down in the house. No wonder Hannah’s so confused: he’s selling her a completely different reality from the one she’s experiencing, and he came on so strong in the beginning that her gut is still confused by early romantic feelings. Thankfully, it looks like Luke makes his true colors known next week—and I can’t wait to see that f*cker get kicked to the curb.