I think a lot of us assume that we’re too smart or clever or self-aware to be abused, so when someone abuses us, we don’t want to see it as abuse. “He can’t be abusing me, I’m not the sort of person who gets abused!” And it can go on for years. “But he’s nice most of the time!” Yeah, and the other 5% of the time he’s out to destroy you. Run. It isn’t your job to fix anyone else. No one gets to treat you like that, even if he’s had a hard life. Even if he doesn’t have anyone else. Even if you provoked him. Even if he promises he’ll change.
Here are some signs of abuse, from my own experience and from people I know:
- Isolation. Your partner tries to keep you away from your friends, family, and anyone who might influence you or take your attention away from the abuser. No one has a right to tell you who your friends are.
- Bad-talking your friends or family.
- Making you choose between them and other people or things you enjoy.
- Secrecy. “Don’t go telling other people about our problems.” Punishing you for asking for outside support.
- Shame. “If other people knew what you were like, no one would love you.” “Your brought this upon yourself.” “You’re not perfect either.”
- Minimizing or lying about their actions. “I’m not yelling!” “I never said that!” “I never did that!”
- Minimizing the impact of their actions. “What’s in the past is in the past. Why can’t you let it go?” “Oh, come on, what I did isn’t so bad.” “I can’t ever do anything right by you!”
- Trying to make you feel crazy or like you’re overreacting.
- Jealousy. “I saw the way you were talking to her.”
- Accusations and suspicion, especially when used to justify bad treatment. “I know you’re cheating on me!” “I wouldn’t have cheated on you if you weren’t such a slut.”
- Excuses. “I had a really bad day at work and that’s why I’m so angry.” Most people can vent frustration without being abusive.
- Making and breaking promises. “I know I said I wouldn’t drink, but it’s a holiday!”
- Punishing/controlling you with anger and fear of anger. Everyone feels frustrated and angry sometimes, but it’s not normal or right to take that out on other people.
- Silent treatment, ignoring, and withdrawal of affection.
- Destroying, damaging, threatening to damage, or other violent action (throwing/punching/knocking over) things, such as furniture, clothing, computer files, or other things that are important to you. Abusers often escalate from taking their aggression out on objects to physically abusing their partners. And abusers don’t tend to de-escalate, ever.
- Hitting you, “pretending” to hit you, making fast and violent non-contact (pulling a punch or pretending to slap), threatening to hit you– even “minor” things like pinching, back-handing, grabbing, pushing. It doesn’t have to leave a mark to be abusive.
- “Jokes” that are cruel, play upon your insecurities, or are repeated when you’ve asked your partner to stop.
- Drug and alcohol abuse, especially when it impacts your financial situation, personal safety, or ability to do normal activities.
- Pretend helplessness, playing the victim, sympathy-grabbing. “I’m so lost and alone, I wouldn’t have anyone if I didn’t have you.” It isn’t your job to save anyone.
- Threats of violence to the abuser’s self or others. “I’d kill myself without you.” “I’d kill you if you ever cheated on me.”
- Refusal to allow you to cool down, continuing to act abusive even after you’re too upset to react, or after you’ve asked them to stop. Won’t disengage or allow you to disengage from the fight. Won’t let you close a door, leave the house, or take time to think.
- Mocking. “Poor baby!” Repeating back things you say in a sarcastic tone.
- Controlling your access to money, transportation or resources that would allow you to get away.
That’s just off the top of my head. It’s not a comprehensive list.
I know a lot of very smart, really cool people who accept terrible treatment from their partners and can’t or won’t acknowledge that they’re being abused. I hope that someone out there will see yourself, your partner, or a friend in this list and get some help.