When I was fifteen years old I met my first boyfriend. He was the class clown and had the ability to make anyone laugh. He was extroverted and charmed everyone who met him including me. What the world didn't get to see is that he was also emotionally abusive. I knew because I was the recipient of his abuse.
You would think that I would know better. I was bright, had plans for a future, and had heard plenty of stories about abuse from friends and family. But I also suffered from depression and low self esteem. And this combination made me an easy mark for becoming involved in an emotionally abusive relationship. What I thought was love on his part was really my boyfriend's attempts to control me. I didn't know what a good relationship was supposed to be like and didn't realize that I deserved better. It doesn't matter how attractive you are, how smart you are, or even how old you are. Women of all ages, socio-economic backgrounds, and walks of life can find themselves a victim of abuse. In fact there are estimates that one in four women will experience an abusive relationship.
So how do you know the warning signs of an emotionally abusive relationship? A non-profit resource called the Help Guide provides a list of potential signs which may be found here.
I am going to elaborate on some of these warnings with my own experience to illustrate what sorts of behaviors to look for. And one major point I wish to make here is that if your boyfriend/girlfriend or spouse is emotionally abusive, then it might not be long before they become physically abusive. This is how abuse generally evolves. And this is exactly what happened to me in my earliest relationship. Here are some of the signs to look for:
1. Isolates you from friends and family: If someone truly cares for you, they understand that you have a life outside of them which includes friends and family. They want you to spend time with others because it is mentally healthy and good for you. The emotionally abusive spouse or significant other wants you all to themselves and will make efforts to do just that. My boyfriend didn't want me spending time with my family and he especially didn't want me hanging out with friends. He would insult my friends whenever they came over or would sulk if I spent any time with them. It became a situation where I had to sneak out to see friends. I began to feel like a criminal for doing normal things.
2. Is verbally abusive: If someone is calling you derogatory names and then says that they are just joking, this is no joke. They mean to hurt you and keep you in line. One way to get away with it is for the abuser to blame you, saying that you need to lighten up or that you are too sensitive. You are not too sensitive; you are feeling in your gut that this is not the way you should be treated. But abusers have a way of making you think that this is normal behavior and that it is you who has the problem. I was called every swear word in the book and sadly came to expect it.