Do you know how to identify an emotionally abusive relationship?
The hardest type of abuse to identify and remedy is emotional or psychological abuse. While it is the most common type of abuse in relationships, it is also the least likely to be addressed because medical and legal professionals can’t assess the secret damage of interpersonal emotional abuse as easily as signs of physical abuse.
Most interpersonal abuse is non-violent
Abuse does not have to be physical to leave lasting harm. Which means, sadly, that it’s also the most dangerous because it can, over time, sap the victim of their strength, self-confidence, and will to change. Repeat abuse traumatizes a person to a point where it alters their personality and diminishes their sense of self.
It’s harder to fight back against emotional abuse than physical violence because the abuse is invisible to other people. Worse, over time, the abuse victim sees themselves the way their abuser does, and doesn’t feel worthwhile enough as a human being to stand up for themselves.
Abuse can cycle in a relationship, coming and going depending on the stresses in people’s lives, with periods of seeming harmony followed by periods of turmoil and grief. It can be a one-time blow-out or it can be insidious, with conflicts, insults, hostility or other miseries occurring daily.
No matter what form it takes, ABUSE IS NEVER OKAY. Even a one-time event can create lasting trauma.
Are you being abused?
This list focuses on 10 critical red flags that signal psychological and emotional mistreatment
- Isolates you from friends, family, neighbors and community
- Makes you feel inadequate, dependent, or worthless
- Controls the money, household decisions or aspects of your personal behavior (clothing, food habits, etc.) without your consent.
- Uses anger and disapproval to control you
- Uses sex as a weapon, physically or emotionally. This includes chronic cheating, withholding sex as punishment, giving you an STI, mocking or judging your sexual needs, and non-consensual coercion
- Little or no emotional support when you are at your lowest
- Chronically lies to you, gas-lights you, or manipulates you with mind-games
- Frequently “forgets” their promises or fails to keep them for other reasons
- Makes false allegations against you and accuses you of things you didn’t do
- Tries to hold back your career or educational ambitions
The line between abuse and consent in BDSM
BDSM relationships (including Master/slave) are no different from conventional relationships in this one respect: if you didn’t consent to it, it’s happening against your will. If it happens against your will all the time, it is abuse.
Hallmarks of psychological/emotional abuse in BDSM/kink relationships:
- Gives you a safe-word but doesn’t stop when you use it
- Consistently pushes your limits (i.e., always makes you go a little further than you wanted to until you feel bad or dirty about the BDSM you’re having)
- Doesn’t seem to care how the BDSM experience was for you as long as he/she got to do it
- Changes the rules on you, without your explicit consent to change
- Refuses to negotiate, discuss failures, or accept responsibility when they do something wrong
- Violates your original agreements on the nature of the relationship (e.g., monogamy v. poly, frequency of play, types of BDSM play) without getting your full and willing consent
- Does not fulfill his or her side of the contract. This includes (but isn’t limited to) giving you less and less BDSM at home, not maintaining the dynamic you agreed to, reveals that he/she lied in the original commitment (whether it was about finances, sexual health, actual degree of interest in BDSM, etc.)
- A special problem plaguing the BDSM community are the number of people who game or prey on the Community to take advantage of submissives and dominants while pretending to be kinky. Be aware of phonies — even nice ones who cause no physical harm can emotionally devastate a sincere BDSMer who counted on them to fulfill their promises and roles.
Ending the abuse cycle
There is no one remedy for all because of personal circumstances and commitments. Sometimes, despite their past history, a couple is equally motivated to repair their relationship and find successful paths to better communication and a renewed sense of love and hope. On the other hand, sometimes the past is just a roadmap of the future. In those cases, the victim must choose to move on to a healthier life.
One absolute applies to all: An abuse victim cannot “fix” their abuser. Both partners must work on their issues with a competent therapist in order to clear the air, rebuild the trust, and learn how to be better partners to one another. The abuser must accept their responsibility in their partner’s unhappiness and be willing to make the necessary changes and compromises.
There are only two ways to end the abuse cycle
- Leave. Put as much distance between yourself and your abuser as possible.
- Stay and work on your issues as a team. Again, this only works if both partners are committed to the process.
The sex and gender divide in abuse
Men and trans people are just likely to be the victims of domestic abuse as women, but they tend to remain silent about the abuse they receive. Part of the problem is that there are so few resources for them and very little frank public discussion of this tragically common phenomenon. Arguably, the biggest problem they face is the culturally warped views of sex and gender. There are innumerable social factors that make males feel they look weak or pathetic to others if they admit their feelings are hurt or that their partner slaps them around. It’s one of the great silent tragedies of our society that men who are abused suffer in silence.
LGBT adults across the spectrum (lesbians, gays, bisexuals and trans people) may internalize the cultural negativity directed at sexual minorities, and may be so traumatized or depressed by prejudices and social pressures that they don’t believe they’ll ever find happiness on their own terms. This internalized disempowerment can lead to low expectations in relationships and acceptance of interpersonal abuse as the price of a permanent relationship.
No matter what your gender, sexual orientation or sexual preferences, every human being is entitled to being treated with compassion and respect. Personal happiness is our most fundamental human right.
If you see yourself in the list of 10 signs of abuse, get help. Don’t let a partner ruin your life. You deserve as much love, tenderness and loyalty as every other human being. No matter your age, it is never too late to make positive change.
Don’t seal up your truth
The adults most likely to become a tragic statistic kept their secrets to themselves. They didn’t admit it to their closest friends or family, didn’t report it to the police, didn’t join any victim advocacy programs and didn’t get out in time.
Don’t cover up your abuser’s behavior. Don’t hide your own truth. Be true to yourself and save your own life. Dealing with the truth is the catalyst for change.
Seek out competent counseling, therapy, and support groups to start your journey back to self-respect and freedom.