Many years ago, a friend who was in a bad relationship commented to me, “At least he doesn’t hit me.” While I understood that my friend was grateful she was not being physically harmed, I realized that the emotional abuse she was suffering in her relationship was just as damaging as physical abuse.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and domestic violence has been prominent in the news recently after a professional athlete very publicly battered his wife in a hotel elevator. Physical abuse is never acceptable. Emotional abuse is never acceptable either. And yes, emotional abuse in a relationship is considered to be domestic violence. Domestic violence is not only physical abuse.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Are you always giving? Is there a lack of reciprocation from your partner?
- Do you feel like your partner tries to make everything your fault?
- Does your partner refuse to listen to you, discount what you have to say as unimportant, talk over you, yell at you, try to intimidate you, shame you?
- Do you sometimes think your partner is trying to make you think you are “crazy?” (It has a name: it's called “gaslighting.”)
- Do you second-guess yourself most of the time? Do you feel like your self-esteem is being slowly dismantled?
- Do you feel isolated? Have you limited or lost contact with friends and family because your partner doesn’t like them?
- Is your partner jealous? Does he/she want to know where you are all the time and check on you frequently? Accuse you of being unfaithful?
- Do you minimize the times when your partner is coercive, controlling, disempowering, demeaning and/or humiliating? When this happens do you tell yourself “it’s not a big deal,” or “he/she didn’t mean it,” or “I’m being too sensitive?”
- Do you have to ask your partner for money because you don’t have access to accounts?
- Do you have sex with your partner when you don’t want to, because you want to “keep the peace?”
- Do you feel exhausted most or all of the time? Have difficulty making decisions for yourself?
- Have you left your relationship before, gotten back together when changes in behavior are promised, only to have your partner’s pattern of behavior return?
Answering yes to any of the questions above may be indicators that you are in an emotionally abusive relationship. Emotional abuse, like physical abuse, is about power and control. It’s a pattern of behavior over time. It’s very different from the ups-and-downs or occasional fight or disagreement with your partner. Emotional abuse is confusing and it breaks you down.
If you think you are in an emotionally abusive relationship, reach out to someone who will listen to your story – a trusted friend, family member, or therapist. The shame you may feel will begin to lose its power when you bring it into the open within a safe environment. With help, you can regain your personal power, identity, and self-esteem.