Physical abuse is easy to recognise, but emotional abuse in a relationship can be more insidious, often going undetected by family members, friends and even victims themselves.
The scars of emotional abuse may not be visible to the eye, but the effect it has on the victim can be traumatic. Those who have been emotionally abused may later experience anxiety, depression, chronic pain, PTSD and substance abuse issues.
We asked six experts to share some of the subtle warning signs that could indicate you’re caught in this type of toxic relationship.
You walk on eggshells to avoid disappointing your partner
You’re second-guessing and self-editing, which means you’ve internalised the subtly abusive behaviour so that your partner doesn’t have to do it overtly.
Your partner requires constant check-ins
What can seem like genuine concern is often a way for an emotionally abusive person to be in total control when they are constantly keeping tabs on another person’s schedule.
Texting a few times a day to ‘check in’ can turn into relentless harassment. Wanting an ongoing account of another person’s whereabouts, in addition to [a person] limiting where their partner goes or who they spend time with, are powerful examples of emotional abuse.
Your partner says hurtful things about you disguised as “jokes”
When you complain, they claim they were only joking and you’re too sensitive. There is truth to the saying that behind every mean or sarcastic remark is a grain of truth.
You find yourself apologising even when you’ve done nothing wrong
Emotionally abused people often come to believe that they are stupid, inconsiderate or selfish because they have been accused of these things so often by their partner.
Your partner is hot and cold
Your partner is loving one moment and distant and unavailable the next. No matter how hard you try to figure out why, you can’t. They deny being withdrawn and you start panicking, trying hard to get back into their good graces.
Done often enough, this can turn a relatively independent person into an anxious pleaser.
Your partner refuses to acknowledge your strengths
Put-downs and degrading comments, which can be less obvious at the beginning, are not random attacks. Rather, they are intended to specifically target your strengths that seriously threaten your partner, who’s looking to have power and control in the relationship.
Over time, confronted with hurtful responses, your sense of confidence and trust in your own competence can slowly diminish.
Your partner withholds affection, sex or money to punish you
The process of withholding affection or emotional or financial support is not always understood as abusive.
Most people equate abusive behaviour with the infliction of harm. In this case, it’s the withholding or absence of what a person deserves to experience in a relationship that makes it abusive.
Your partner is always changing plans in order to “surprise” you
While overt control — insisting they get their own way, asserting veto power over plans, making constant demands without discussion — is easy to spot, what Dr. Craig Malkin calls ‘stealth control,’ is much more insidious.
Stealth control includes changing up plans you’ve already made or revising joint decisions under the guise of ‘surprising’ you with something better than the original. In time, it becomes a pattern and your own wants and needs will fall by the wayside