Am I in a Toxic, Abusive, and Unhealthy Relationship?
Abuse is not always as apparent as being hit or pushed, called derogatory names, or insulted. It can very well be underhanded or subtle! Often, people in an emotionally abusive relationship don’t really understand that they’re being abused since there’s no apparent abuse. But still, they feel confused about their relationship, unbalanced, or feel like they’re “walking on eggshells” all the time. Many people reject or minimize emotional abuse because they think it’s not as bad as physical abuse, but that’s a HUGE mistake! It’s the kind of abuse that often creeps into your mind as you become entrenched in the relationship.
Psychological abuse often referred to as “gas-lighting” or “crazy-making”, has significant consequences and is challenging to recognize. This form of abuse undermines a person’s self-esteem, independence, and dignity. It’s serious not only because it affects a person’s well-being and can be fatal, but also because the person has been brainwashed to think that these behaviors are normal aspects of a relationship! An abusive relationship is more than just physical abuse. It can include controlling your finances, sexual, and a whole lot of emotional abuse. We want you to understand that these kinds of behavior are not healthy! That’s why we’ve gathered all the steps and signs of an emotionally abusive relationship.
Stage 1 – A Perfect Start
Many abusive relationships are incredibly romantic and seemingly perfect at first. During the early stages, your new partner will do their best to show you his or her attention, devotion, and affection. They are lovely and treat you marvelously, and you can’t help but be attracted to them. But romantic gestures and gifts are usually ploys to seduce you and divert you from what’s to come (hell)!
Stage 2 – Picking Up Speed
The relationship moves very quickly with proclamations of deep feelings and desires. It can be overwhelming but also incredibly romantic and flattering. You are constantly texting and talking to each other; it’s like you can never get enough of it! They may surprise you by visiting you when you weren’t expecting it, and you see these things as expressions of growing affection. The relationship feels super intense, but you kind of deny it, because it’s love – or at least that’s what you think.
Stage 3 – No Space Allowed
At first, it’s sweet to see how protective they are of you and how they get a little jealous of the idea of seeing you with someone else. But then protection and subtle jealousies turn into possessiveness. They grow paranoid and want you to be accessible at all times. Any time that they text or call you, they expect you to answer right away. They’re always questioning your whereabouts, what you did, and who you were with.
They find excuses for their mistrust or dislike of a classmate, friend, or family member. They rationalize their behavior by claiming that they worry about you and are concerned for your safety. The relationship’s intensity starts to feel more like smothering, with your partner growing more and more attached. In the process, you begin to lose touch with friends and family slowly, and the relationship becomes overwhelming and exhausting.
Stage 4 – Irrational Jealousy
Your partner’s jealousy begins to worsen, and they start to suspect that you may be disloyal or accuse you of cheating. To prove your devotion to them, you work harder to appease their fears – spending less time out with friends, cutting off communication with anyone who could be considered romantically interested, and sacrificing family gatherings to avoid conflict.
They act like they victims – claiming that infidelity in their past relationships justifies their possessiveness. In reality, they are just attempting to hide their jealousy. You become increasingly isolated from support systems like friends and family, and as a result, you become more and more dependent on your partner.
Stage 5 – Unpredictable Affection
If you don’t comply or agree with your partner, they withdraw their affection or become irritated and hostile. Their love is based on your willingness to conform to what they want, and a lack of submission will result in them either becoming cold and detached, or aggressive and angry. They use affection as a tactic to exploit and control you.
You find yourself feeling like you need to be overly careful when dealing with them to avoid offending, upsetting, or enraging them – in other words; it’s like you have to “walk on eggshells” around them.
Stage 6 – Shifting the Blame
Arguments with your partner are turned around and made to seem as though it’s your fault. Somehow, other people are always to blame for your partner’s problems, and they never accept responsibility for issues in their life. They use you and those around them as an outlet to vent their anger.
Eventually, you start to think that you might actually be at fault for their irritation or the problems in your relationship. Maybe if you just tried harder not to upset them, things would be better, and you could get back to what the relationship was when it first started. You take their emotional outbursts as proof of how intensely they care about you because if they didn’t care, they wouldn’t get so angry – right?
Stage 7 – Put-downs
Criticism is common in your relationship, with your partner ridiculing your spending habits, lifestyle choices, what you eat or drink, or your appearance. When you try to confront your partner about it, you are met with gas-lighting – they question your account of the incident, make you second-guess yourself, or tell you that you’re overreacting or being “crazy.”
Stage 8 – Putting on an Act
Your partner acts charming and personable in public, but behind closed doors, they behave very differently. You feel as though no one would believe the mistreatment that you endure because of the outward persona that your partner depicts.
Stage 9 – The Guilt Trip
To keep you in the relationship, they make threats to blackmail you, claim self-harm or suicide, or warn about injuring those you love. They use whatever manipulation tactics they can to prevent you from leaving them. You feel like you don’t deserve better or will never find anyone who cares for you as much as they do. Your self-esteem is pretty low, and the idea of finding new love doesn’t seem possible.
Being single seems daunting and lonely, and besides – shouldn’t you stick it out? While you fight with each other, you think it’s normal to disagree sometimes. You stay with them because you believe that you can save them or get them to change their ways. You remember the better days and how beautiful things were in the beginning, so you don’t give up just yet and cling to the idea that things will turn around.
What Can I Do Now?
Abusive relationships rarely start with physical violence. Instead, they begin with the subtleties of an unhealthy and emotionally volatile relationship, which progressively worsens as the relationship continues. In time, emotional abuse can escalate in severity, turning from verbal attacks and mental manipulation to physical beatings and possibly even death.
Abusers often convince their victims that they deserve to be abused, or that no one loves them as much as they do, or they would be nothing without them, or “you know I didn’t mean to hurt you,” or any other cherry-picked rationalization they use to excuse their inability to manage their anger. Once gaslighted, victims often wonder about their mental health, self-esteem, and whether they are the cause of the abuse. There is also a very real fear that things will get worse if they report the abuse. That’s why victims are very much likely to feel terrified, desperate, powerless, ashamed, and alone. To intensify the ongoing trauma, friends and family may tell, “Why are you hanging on and allowing yourself to be abused.” And still, despite everyone telling you to let go, you’ll still feel confused and lost!
Recognizing that these behaviors are unhealthy and abusive could help you or someone you know about a dangerous relationship. If you or someone you know may be in an abusive situation and dealing with domestic violence, we highly encourage you to seek help from local support! You can call The Better Bail for more information.