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.
3. Blames others for his problems: Nothing is their fault. If he/she throws a tantrum to get his way, you provoked it. If he/she attacks you verbally, it was because of something you did. Everything has a reason and none of these reasons include them being responsible for themself.
**4. Alcohol and drug use: ** All abusers do not use drugs or alcohol but a lot do. My boyfriend was addicted to drugs and his behavior was highly erratic because of it. I never knew what to expect from him from one day to the next because of his addiction.
**5. Does things to instill fear: ** In addition to my boyfriend’s involvement with drugs, he was also into collecting fire arms. He would show them to me and make it known that he wasn’t afraid to use them. Once he became enraged with me and drove me to a bad part of town at night and told me to get out of the car. I stood there not knowing if he would come back. After about a half an hour of driving around and watching my fear he opened the car door and laughingly told me to get back in. If you feel fear around your significant other or spouse then there is something very wrong.
**6. Punishes you for spending time away: ** This goes along with the isolation technique but should you actually go off and spend time away, he/she will make you pay for it. One day I went with my boyfriend to an amusement park and brought along my best female friend. He was not happy and let me know it. My friend stuck up for me when my boyfriend ordered me to ride only the rides he liked. She pretty much told him that she and I were going to ride something I liked. He sulked and was quiet the rest of the day but when my friend went home then he became enraged and wouldn’t let me out of the car until he had called me every name in the book.
**7. Expects you to wait on them like a servant: ** The abusive man or woman goes through life feeling entitled to be treated like a king. And he or she wants you as thier willing servant. I was holding down two jobs and going to college yet my boyfriend expected me to do everything for him and with no help. We didn’t have a washer and dryer in our apartment so I had to go to the laundromat which was more than several blocks away. I took our clothes in a cart most people would use for groceries. Despite the fact that he had a car, he wouldn’t drive me this short distance. And then, you guessed it, he would criticize the way I did his laundry.
**8. Is extremely jealous of all aspects of your life: ** One of the major traits of someone who is abusive is their jealousy. This not only involves being jealous of other people, but being jealous of your dreams and aspirations. One day when I was studying for an exam for college, I told my boyfriend I didn’t have time to wait on him. Infuriated, he grabbed my books and threw them out of our third floor window. It doesn’t even have to be another person to provoke their jealousy. Your goals in life can fill an abuser with rage if it takes away their control over you.
9. Controls you through emotions: An abuser is a grand manipulator. They will sulk, threaten to leave, and emotionally punish you for not going along with their idea of how things should be. An abuser will try to make you feel guilty any time you exert your will and assertiveness of what is right for you. At times they will appear to be sorry and loving when you declare that you have had enough. You might see pleading and even tears as well as proclamations that they will change. This “remorse” doesn’t last long though and when they feel secure that they have you back, the abuse begins again.
10. They get physical: If you are in an emotionally abusive relationship, there is a good chance that eventually things may get physical. It may start off with things that you may brush off as not “really” being physical abuse like pulling your hair, pushing or shoving you, or grabbing you so hard that you bruise. These are the warning signs that things can easily escalate. If your boyfriend, girlfriend, or spouse has an explosive temper and you have seen them react with violence before, as in breaking things, punching holes in the wall, getting into altercations with others then it is only a matter of time before it is your body he is hitting.
In Part Two of this series I will discuss how to know when to leave such a situation and how to do it. Remember that you deserve to be treated with love and respect. If you are not being treated well then it is time to think of leaving this bad situation. I wrote this article so that other women will not have to go through what I did. It is your life. This is the only one you get. You are worthy of having a mentally healthy relationship with someone who does not try to control or demean you. Control is never a part of love.
If you have been in such an emotionally abusive relationship or are now in such a situation, please feel free to share your experience here. If it is more safe for you to share anonymously please do so. We want to hear your story. You could help someone else going through the same thing.