Updated: Aug 20, 2019
In the previous post I talked about aspects of an Unhealthy Relationship but what comes to mind when you think of or hear the words Abusive Relationship? Well, oftentimes people think of physical violence. While physical violence is an aspect of an abusive relationship and should never be minimized it is not the totality of what may constitute an abusive relationship.
One of my favorite resources I use when working with clients is the Power and Control Wheel https://www.theduluthmodel.org/wheels . This is a great visual that discusses the various aspects of what an abusive relationship looks like when it's not obvious-physical violence. It also helps people to take a deeper look into the psychological aspects of what covert, subtle or hidden abuse looks like. In this post, it is my hope to discuss just how "tricky" and manipulating hidden abuse happens in relationships.
Let's briefly talk about isolation and how it may creep up on you without you even realizing until it has happened! Abusers motive is to keep you isolated. Isolation normally does not happen suddenly, it usually will take a gradual approach of peeling you away from the people, places and things you like or once enjoyed. It may start masked as "I want to spend more time with you" or "I don't think they like me". The goal is to persuade you to see things their way and to side with them, over time you may realize that you start spending more and more of your time with your partner while isolating other people who care about you also.
Isolation might be every time you and your friends go out their comes your partner they become overly possessive as if you belong to them. I have even witnessed and heard isolation being "guilting" you for talking on the phone too long with the hopes of lessening your contact with others. Before you know it most of your time may be spent alone, with your partner, and your partner's family or friends. Control then begins to happen and your personal space is no longer your personal space anymore.
There are several reasons an abuser may want to isolate you. One is because they think they can and to discredit anyone that is around you. To increase their power in the relationship and just another tool for their tactics to establish and maintain power and control.
An abusers goal is to break you down. Emotional abuse may be an endless number of things to make you feel less than, beneath them and to guilt you. Emotional abuse should never be taken lightly as it is what many survivors of abuse still suffer from even years after the relationship has ended. Many survivors often say "It was not the physical abuse that bothered me as much, but weirdly it was his words". It is my goal to validate and support them in their attempt to understand how or why it was their abuser's words that still wreak havoc in their life. Let me put it simply, words matter and words hurt.
When you are in a relationship with someone you love and you think they love you too, their words are powerful. When you feel in your body that something is not right but you are unsure just what it is. Emotional abuse will leave you wondering what happened, what's wrong, why am I tired, sad or angry. These may be signs to take a deeper look into something much more sinister.
Abusive relationships do not happen overnight they gradually occur. Your abuser has studied you, what's important, what matters, your feelings, your emotions and so much more. Abusers take the very closest topic, flaw, hurt, pain or passion we have for something and they slowly crush their partner's self-worth, self-esteem and confidence. Over time the emotional abuse increases and oftentimes victims become desensitized and it may seem to be not bothersome. Abusers emotionally abuse through the use of cheating, lying, manipulating, playing mind games, name-calling, humiliation any means to make you question who you are and your worth as a person.
If or when you confront your partner about their behavior and way they make you feel you are made to feel "crazy". Abusers are swift at making you think you are making all of this up in your head and it is not happening the way you perceive it. They are so good at abusing they will make you think you are the one who is acting abusively. I have experienced and worked with many survivors who would state " I would often find myself apologizing or feeling guilty". Yep, I am sure you did because you are dealing with pure manipulative behavior, which makes it difficult for many women to even realize they are even in an abusive relationship. If you oftentimes find yourself questioning what happened, who started it, and blaming yourself you may want to speak to someone to help you detangle the web of deceit you may be experiencing. Abusers will minimize and play victim quickly. They hardly ever will admit to wrongdoing but will somehow convince you that you are the one in the wrong.
Abusers may also use the silent treatment. This is passive-aggressive behavior that is intended to keep you guessing what you did or said that is wrong. This is part of their mental game to blame you. The abuser's goal is for you to figure out how to fix what is happening to succumb to their wants and desires while neglecting your self.
Intimidation is the next one I would like to discuss. Once abusers have learned ways to manipulate and get their way they will use intimidation to reinforce what they want. Abusers will often damage their partner's personal belongings and property. They may abuse or use pets, children to make you feel fearful of them. In public abusers will often use looks or gestures as a form of intimidation. Abusers often will make their victim/partner fearful by displaying their weapons. All of these are tactics to make you feel afraid of rebutting against them or seeking help.
All of these tactics are closely related and in abusive relationships, they are not separate from each other. Making and carrying out threats are common in an abusive relationship. Threats could be "I will leave you, I will kick you out, I will call DSS on you, I will kill you". However, threats could also be "I will kill myself if you leave me". Again, abusers goal is to make you feel a great sense of responsibility. The threats are if you protect or exercise your right as a human there will be painful and/or deadly consequences. This is unfair to any person and ultimately is not in your control of wanting to protect yourself.
Using children as a way to dictate or control you or the relationship. Abusers will use their children or your children as a way to again maintain their power. This may be seen as threatening to take the children away, treating to contact Child Protective Services if you do not do as they want, making you feel guilty about not seeing the children and so much more.
There are still so many stigmas when it comes to Abuse in Relationships. Well, let's debunk the stigma that abuse happens to those of lower socioeconomic status. Let me say it one more time in clear terms "Abuse / Domestic Violence DOES NOT Discriminate. It impacts people of all parts of the world, regardless of age, sex, gender, sexual orientation, and social status. This will tie into the next piece of the pie on the Power and Control Wheel and that is Economic Abuse. While it may first appear as caring and supportive if your partner says to you "You don't have to work." If your partner is abusive then this may not be ideal.
Sexual abuse happens in relationships also. This can include feeling pressured into doing acts that you are not consenting to. In abusive relationships, sexual abuse could be having your right taken away to say "no" and being objectified that your body belongs to them. Victims have reported feeling afraid or as if they could not say "no" to avoid risky or harmful consequences.
Physical abuse in relationships may look like grabbing, slapping, punching, pushing and preventing you from leaving. Abusers may pull their victim's hair, even cut their hair to humiliate them. Also, spitting, kicking and doing any bodily harm or injury is physical abuse.
The important thing to remember is abusive relationships is patterned behavior. If it is a continuous cycle of behavior that are extremes of each other repeats in a cycle. Abusers often will lead their victim into thinking this will never happen again until it happens again, and again. Victims /Survivors of abuse often remain the relationship hopeful believing that the abuser is remorseful of their actions. However, it is only manipulation and a short term change that will not last long. Research shows a low number of batters change their abusive behavior and the ones who do have received professional help from a batters intervention program.
Domestic violence is not anger management. Abusers only become angry and abuse their partners or children and not others. Abusers are aware of their behavior and morally know what they are doing is wrong, that is why they often go to extremes of hiding it well from others. Abusers may try to coerce their victims into feeling sorry for them or try to win them over by an expensive gift, flowers, vacations or other means of affection. Again, this is only a tactic to be used against you.
Last year in North Carolina, alone there was a total of 52 domestic violence-related homicides. 1 is too many. If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse in relationships please seek help. Creating a Safety Plan with someone you know and trust is essential.
As always my very best,