When people think of abusive relationships, often they think of physical abuse. But there is another highly damaging abuse that often flies under the radar: psychological abuse. Partners, friends, bosses or colleagues can mentally, emotionally and verbally abuse you without you even realising .
Toxic relationships are extremely common, but they’re rarely talked about. Most of the time, people don’t even know they are in a toxic relationship until it’s too late, and serious psychological damage has been done.
Signs of Emotional Abuse
They are extremely jealous
They make verbal attacks or threats
They try to restrict your freedom
They put you down, insult or humiliate you
They make you feel scared or threatened
They tell you “you’re crazy” when you try to pull them up on their behaviour
You feel worthless and not good enough
You constantly seek the other person’s validation
You feel you have to walk on eggshells with everything you say and do
The other person doesn’t take responsibility for their actions and instead blames you
They isolate you from your friends and family
They try to dominate and control you
They constantly call or text when you’re not with them
How do people end up in abusive relationships?
Sometimes people are so blinded by love, they justify their partner’s behaviour. Or the abuser can be so clever at manipulating that they are able to keep you under their spell, even when you feel in your gut that something is very wrong. It may be that you’ve come from parents who emotionally abused each other, in which case the dynamic could feel normal to you. It is not normal or acceptable.
The abuse can become so erosive to your sense of self-worth that you may begin to mistakenly believe you cannot do better than this person (you can), that love always ends up feeling painful and difficult (it doesn’t), or that you don’t deserve true happiness (you do).
Why do people abuse?
There are a range of reasons that people abuse, from insecurity to mental illness to dysfunctional childhoods. But that is for them to figure out, not you. Remember that it is absolutely not your job to fix them, heal them, change them, tolerate them, or even understand their personal reasons for treating you poorly. It is not okay to treat people this way. End of story.
You have only one job and that is to take care of yourself.
Get out before any long-term damage has taken place. Leaving that person is the most humane thing you can do for them, because it will send a strong message that their behaviour is truly unacceptable and that might force them to wake up to their actions and make positive changes.
What if my friend is being emotionally abused?
It can be difficult to reach out to a friend who you believe may be in a toxic relationship, because they may take it out on you, or even shut down and choose to hide the details of their relationship from you. In this case, my advice would be to let your loved one know you’re always there for them and that you love them unconditionally, and whenever they feel like they need someone to talk to without judgement, you’re there.
Make it clear to them that you will be there to support them in getting out, as leaving a toxic relationship can be an enormous challenge when the victim has come to believe – thanks to the abuser’s influence – that they are worthless. So remind them of why they’re loveable and beautiful, and do what you can to help remind them of their own power and inner fire. Maybe you can go to a dance class together or take up a language or craft class. Get them out of the house and away from the relationship, and into the possibilities that exist elsewhere.
Where to find help?
My Story for you
I know how difficult toxic relationships are because I was in a psychologically abusive relationship for 18 months. Eighteen months! I had no idea. I thought I was madly in love and had finally found my soul mate. It wasn’t until I started seeing a psychologist that I became aware of something being seriously wrong.
After a few weeks of listening to the problems in my relationship, my psychologist gently told me I was in an abusive relationship. The irony of that discovery, is that my partner at the time made me feel like I was completely mentally unstable, he repeatably told me I needed “serious help” and I finally did, which prompted the beginning of the end.
I had busted him having an affair with a married woman for the majority of our relationship, yet somehow he manipulated the situation and said I was to blame for being crazy and paranoid, to the point where I stayed with him after the fact because by that point I was weak, fragile, depressed & felt worthless. He would say things to me like “Sam, why do you think every guy has broken up with you?” And I’d reply with a variety of reasons. He’d then say, “Well, there’s a pretty clear pattern, they all leave you.”
Some of his favourite lines were, “You’re lucky to be with me. No-one else would put up with you,” and, "If you break up with me, you’re just going to ruin the next relationship and the relationship after that. Do you know how embarrassing that will be?”
He knew I’d struggled with depression throughout my life, and he played on that, knowing it was my weak spot. He also knew my beautiful mum suffers with quite severe mental disorders and would say things to me like, “Have you ever thought maybe you’re more like your mum than you think?” I’d cry hysterically. I rolled up into a ball on the ground and wept uncontrollably. He’d tell me to get up and stop being so pathetic.
He wanted me to be weak, because if I was weak he had the control.
He ruined me and he loved it. I even changed the way I looked, I got skinnier, would wear push up bras and dyed my then brunette hair back to blonde so I could look like all the girls he was following and messaging on Instagram. I begged him to touch me, to tell me he loved me. But he would tell me I was too desperate, and that he’s been working really hard all week and doesn’t need to deal with me and my neediness, then he would just leave me for the whole weekend — sometimes longer, a week, two weeks. One time, he gave me a specific date when he would talk to me again which was exactly one month later. He wouldn’t answer any of my calls or texts. I would scream and cry hysterically all day and night, but I ‘deserved it’ because I was too crazy and desperate.
Then I thought: Maybe I do have a problem, maybe I do need professional help. Maybe that’s what will save our relationship.
That is when I started seeing a psychologist. In the end, she didn’t save my relationship, she saved me. She brought me back to me, gave me the strength to leave him and the courage to keep on going even when the odds were against me. Her name is Sarah, and Sarah has truly changed my life. I thank the universe everyday for bringing her to me when I needed her the most.
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Image source Andrei Lazarev
Differences between emotional and psychological abuse