Dr. Deb’s Mental Health Vitamin: Signs of an abusive relationship
By Dr. Deb Wade
GCU Vice President, Counseling and Psychological Services
Have you or a loved one ever been involved in an abusive relationship? Today’s news climate seems to be filled with stories and situations about domestic violence, sexual harassment, and emotional or verbal abuse.
The reality is that the risk of falling into an abusive relationship is far greater than ever before. And, because the signs of an unhealthy relationship are not often big and bold at the onset of the budding relationship, it is easy to ignore, find excuses for, and even cast blame on yourself when those subtle signs begin to first emerge.
Unfortunately, as the relationship that is completely unhealthy progresses, it is harder and harder to summon the strength to leave. Important to note, however, is that fact that the “subtle” signs of abuse can surface rather quickly and, at first glance, quite innocently. Let’s take a look:
- A tendency to hasten the deepening of the relationship. This “need” to get a commitment early, to become heavily enmeshed quickly, are early signs of being overly needy and possibly controlling … yet often can seem like “love.” It can feel flattering to experience the actions/words of one who quickly wants to establish a deep relationship. But heed the warning and remember: A deep, meaningful, intimate relationship takes time to develop. Slow down!
- A tendency to reign with superiority. Potential abusers tend to embody a “hierarchical self-esteem” – that is, they NEED to feel better than everyone else to feel OK about themselves. When you are together, it may be pointed out to you over and over that s/he is smarter, wittier, more sensitive and more talented. The extreme degree of this quality is called “predatory self-esteem” – to feel good about self, the abuser will do anything possible to make others feel bad about themselves, especially you. You may be belittled, ridiculed, made fun of or embarrassed because s/he is so much more intuitive than you are about life. If you dare to disagree, it will quickly be pointed out that you are WRONG!
- A tendency to isolate. If you are in a potentially abusive relationship, be aware of his/her expectation that you spend all your time together. No other friends or family are invited, and your desire to invite them will be met with disdain and disgust. Slowly, but surely, you will begin to realize that it has been a long time since you’ve had time with friends or had leisurely time with you family. You see, the abuser wants you all to himself/herself. Though often in very subtle ways, s/he will convince you that you are better off with him/her … solely!
- A tendency to exhibit jealousy. Along with the description above, your relationship may begin to feel stifling because an abuser also will demonstrate quick, reactive jealousy of you. Rather than celebrating your accomplishments and/or achievements, s/he will denigrate them and will begin to be jealous of them. And, if a member of the opposite gender displays innocent kindness to you, the abuser will quickly want to degrade this nicety and will blame you for soliciting it. Often, in the early stages of a relationship, this “jealousy” can seem flattering. Beware … a relationship in which there is mutual respect and admiration WILL NOT be threatened by your achievements or by another’s kind words. Rather, in a healthy relationship, a partner will be PROUD of you!
- A tendency to dishonor boundaries and/or privacy. Succinctly said, your “no” should mean “no.” If your partner is “nosey” about all that you are doing – and needs minute details of who was there, what was said, how you responded – take heed! If you are not respected in your “no,” if s/he tends to deliberately do things or treat you in ways that you have expressly said that you dislike, it is time to take note! If s/he “shows up” when you are with your family or when you are leaving work/school, these are more signs of disrespect and paranoia as well an absolute invasion of your boundaries. Be aware!
The reality is that healthy relationships take time and energy-investment to develop, are always respectful and honoring, and always place you in a positive light. If you experience any of the many warning signs above, respect yourself enough to let go … quickly! You are worth more than that and deserve to always be treated with honor!