How do I know if I’m in an abusive relationship?
The initial answer that I give is if you’re asking the question, you probably are.
If you’re uncomfortable with that, here’s a bit of a deeper answer:
If anyone is out to make you feel uncomfortable or if someone is purposely trying to make you live in fear, tearing down your sense of self worth and safety, that’s abusive.
I’m going to be diving deeper into this question while referencing the article What is Domestic Abuse? from UN.org.
Domestic abuse can be defined as a pattern of behavior in any relationship that is used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner.UN.Org
This next bit is extremely important: “Abuse is physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another other person. This includes any behaviors that frighten, intimidate, terrorize, manipulate, hurt, humiliate, blame, injure or wound someone abuse does not have to be physical for it to be defined as abuse.”
Just because someone doesn’t put their hands on mute does not mean that they are not abusive.
“Anyone can be a victim of domestic violence regardless of age, race, gender, sexual orientation, faith, or class incidents are rarely isolated and usually escalate in frequency and severity. Domestic abuse may culminate in serious physical injury or death.”
We believe that if it’s an isolated incident, then it’s not abusive. We believe we shouldn’t worry and we should believe them when they say they’ll get better and never do it again.
However, abuse escalates. Even if it’s once every couple of months, that is you living in fear between episodes. That is abuse.
The next section of the article is asking yourself some questions.
It’s entitled “Are you being abused?”
“Does your partner:
Embarrass or make fun of you in front of your friends and family?
Put down your accomplishments?
Make you feel like you are unable to make decisions?”
All three of those are forms of gaslighting. It’s important to recognize this when it happens because the abuser will tear down your sense of self, pull you apart piece by piece. It makes you question your sanity and your worth.
If you don’t believe you have a right to speak up, that you have a right to be proud of yourself, you’ll believe this person. You’ll believe them when they say that you’re not good enough, that they’re doing you a favor, that no one else will ever love you.
This tactic was used on me more than once and I fell for it hook, line and sinker.
My self worth and self confidence was so low that I believed that I deserved it, that I asked for it. I remember getting hurt and then being convinced to apologize.
“Does your partner:
Use intimidation or threats to gain compliance?
Do they tell you that you are nothing without them?
Do they treat you roughly? Grabbing, pushing, pinching, shoving or hurting you?
Do they call you several times a night or show up to make sure you are where you said you would be?”
As you can tell, these begin to escalate. Once you start asking yourself these questions, your brain opens up and shows you things you didn’t notice before.
Something that comes up a lot is this sense of possessiveness.
Unfortunately, being possessive is romanticized and glamorized in media.
I once thought that if the person I was with was possessive and jealous all the time, it meant that they cared about me, they worried about me and wanted to make sure I was safe.
Little did I know that this was the most unsafe I could possibly be and this behavior was, in fact, stalkery.
Possessiveness is not a sign of love, it’s a sign of mistrust. It’s them constantly causing you to question your actions, wondering what you did to make them lose trust in you.
These psychological events add up and are usually the runway before the physical incident occurs.
This is because once you’re broken down, once you believe they’re doing you a favor, you begin to believe that you deserve what’s happening.
“Do they use drugs or alcohol as an excuse for saying hurtful things or abusing you?”
I’m going to take this one step farther.
Do they use drugs, alcohol or their own mental health as an excuse for saying hurtful things or abusing you?
As someone with mental illness, I understand that there’s a struggle.
I have hurt people in the past due to my poor mental health. But I also wasn’t taking care of myself and had no desire to change.
That wasn’t a mental health problem, that’s a personal responsibility problem.
Someone’s mental health, someone’s trauma, what they’ve gone through is never an excuse to abuse you.
This was really hard because I had to take personal accountability for the fact that I most definitely had abusive behavior when I was in my darkest place.
Am I saying that I didn’t deserve love and didn’t deserve to have someone call me out? Absolutely not.
But it also isn’t anyone else’s job to be my personal punching bag.
If someone is using their metal health as an excuse to hurt you, especially if they refuse to get help or heal, that isn’t the mental health’s fault. That is the person refusing to take personal accountability and you have every right to walk away. You should next feel obligated to stay due to their lack of personal responsibility.
Even if they are choosing to heal, you don’t have to stay and be their personal punching bag. If they want to come back in the future after they have healed, after they’ve had some therapy, maybe you guys can check in in the future. But it’s not your job to stick around and wait for someone to stop treating you like garbage.
“Do they blame you for how they feel or act?
Do they pressure you sexually for things you aren’t ready for?
Do they make you feel like there is no way out of the relationship?
Do they prevent you from doing the things that you want to do like spending time with friends or family?
Do they try to keep you from leaving after a fight or leave you somewhere after a fight to teach you a lesson?”
Sometimes fights happen, but it should never lead to someone abandoning you and they should certainly never lead to abuse.
You can have a disagreement. When you bring two humans together into a relationship, disagreements are going to happen because you’re both individuals. However, what makes a difference between a healthy disagreement and an abusive one is when someone uses it as an excuse to hurt you.
That is abuse.
The questions so far have been about your partner. But now, what about you?
“Do you sometimes feel scared of how your partner may behave?
Do you constantly make excuses to other people for your partner’s behavior?
Do you believe that you can help your partner change if only you change something about yourself?
Do you try not to do anything that would cause conflict or make your partner angry?
Do you always do what your partner wants to do instead of what you want?
Do you stay with your partner because you are afraid of what your partner would do if you broke up?”
In a majority of the abusive relationships I was in, I stayed for this exact reason. Any time I mentioned leaving or I stood up for myself, they always threatened not to be alive anymore.
For those of us who have experienced those thoughts, this is a massive problem. We don’t want anyone else to feel that way, even if they’re abusing us.
But let me make something abundantly clear:
If something is harming your health, you are not obligated to stay or prevent someone from harming themselves.
I know that this is incredibly hard to hear as someone who has had multiple attempts to take her only life.
I understand that it’s incredibly difficult to accept that. It’s hard for me to say that – I’m passionate about choosing life and choosing to keep going een when things get dark.
But that also applies to you.
You are not obligated to protect anynoe, especially when they are harming you.
Any actions that they take are not your fault. They are the choices that they ahve made in their own issues, their own trauma.
This is so much easier said than done because what if? What if something does happen? What if they did do something and then it’s on my conscience.
This isn’t your job.
The best thing you can do is take the threat and report it to the authorities before blocking anywhere and everywhere.
Choose you. Choose healing. You don’t need to put up with that.
In fact, you most definitely shouldn’t.
If any of what I mentioned today resonated with you, I want you to know that you’re not alone and you most certainly deserve better.
I want you to know that you’re not alone. If you’re in immediate danger, please get out. Saying DV shelter is so much easier said than done, I understand. But please reach out. Even if you are isolated, find someone to help.
You deserve better.