Could you be in an abusive relationship?
This is a post written as a companion to a previous post I wrote ‘Surviving the Shame of Domestic Abuse’ – In the feedback of that article, I was asked to write about the ‘red flags’ or things to look for to warn of an abusive dynamic. It was great feedback, so I was happy to comply! If you find you are wanting/needing more information than this post provides, please let me know and I will endeavor to give you what you need! Your feedback is very welcomed and very valuable to me!
Emotional, Verbal and Physical abuse are more common than most people realize, and probably more prevalent than YOU even realize. It doesn’t matter how intelligent and smart you may be, if you are not educated to see and recognize the signs of an abusive relationship you can eventually find yourself in a situation that has drained you of all confidence, self assurance, energy and a grasp of reality. Even if you ARE educated it can sometimes be very difficult to accept and acknowledge that you need to rescue yourself from a dangerous situation that you once thought was a dream come true. Once you are in this place, leaving this kind of relationship takes herculean effort and is much, much harder than if you can learn to recognize the signs early and SAVE YOUR SOUL before you drown in the murky and rough waters of an abusive dynamic.
‘Red Flags’ or warning signs are a common way of describing what kind of things to look for in a relationship to ascertain if it is healthy or not. They are all over the internet and easy to find. However, often these signals can be misinterpreted or looked over as the thrill and rush of a new relationship dominates the dynamic and your abuser starts the cycle that can leave you bewildered and unsure of your own intuition and allow you to justify bad behavior in many creative ways. I know this, because I did it. And often, the smarter you are, the more creative you are is like a handicap in these situations. You will craft all kinds of reasons to ignore this behaviour to avoid having to look right at it. It’s normal,because you WANT this to work and you WANT to give it a chance. Realizing that this relationship never had a chance in the first place is assuredly the hardest and saddest part of the work ahead of you.
So, because of this. I will offer two types of LISTS to ensure as much information as possible gets to you. The ‘Red Flag’ list and then a less common list of early warning signs that are like red flags, but offer more in depth information on what you might be dealing with in the beginning that can warn you. This makes it harder to justify, make excuses or ignore what kind of situation you have found yourself in.
ABOVE all – no matter how far in you are, NEVER shame yourself for getting into a dynamic that is unhealthy. It happens to the best of us. The most intelligent of us. The strongest and typically the most compassionate. Shame will not help you identify and detach, it will only perpetuate the abusive cycle. SO, whatever stage you find yourself at, CONGRATULATE yourself for an emerging awareness. This is the first step to your freedom. Be proud of yourself and hold only one single goal true to your heart: SAVE YOUR SOUL.
RED FLAGS of an abusive relationship
Read and observe your answers. Is it a YES, MAYBE or NO?
- Do they want to move very quickly into the relationship?
- Early in the relationship do they flatter you and do you find yourself saying “this seems too good to be true?”
- Do you feel overwhelmed and yet obsessed with the relationship at the same time?
- Do they want you all to him- or herself; and start to ask and then insist that you stop spending time with your friends or family?
- Does he start talking about, and then insist that you stop participating in hobbies or activities, quit school, or even quit your job?
- Does she rarely honour your boundaries so that you eventually stop communicating them to keep the peace?
- Do they act excessively jealous and accuse you of being unfaithful?
- Do they treat you with disrespect and put you down?
- Do they want to know where you are all of the time and frequently call, email, and text you throughout the day?
- Do they criticize or put you down; say you are crazy, stupid, and/or fat/unattractive, or that no one else would ever want or love you?
- Do they then apologize profusely for the above behaviour and say they are wounded and afraid and they can’t help it?
- Do they then take no responsibility for their behavior and blame others and you for the way they act and things they say?
- Do they often blame the entire failure of previous relationships on his or her former partner; for example, “My ex was totally crazy.”
- Do they find ways to always use your money, run up your credit card debt, alway have a reason to be without money, fail to pay bills?
- Do they rage out of control and lose their temper with you but can maintain composure around others and act very charming and kind?
- Do you find you are walking on eggshells, not saying things or doing things just to keep the peace?
- Do you find yourself in terrible arguments and forget even why they started or what it was about?
- When you do state a boundary, do you suddenly find yourself being blamed and then even abandoned ( walked out on) so you forget your initial boundary?
- Do they make threats to hurt you, leave you, hurt your pets, destroy your property and/or commit suicide if you don’t do what they want?
- Does he play mind games and find ways to make you feel guilty alot? Especially when you are questioning him on things?
- Are you a victim of ‘Gaslighting?’ – or find yourself googling what gaslighting means?
If you said yes to ANY of these statements then you are in a potentially abusive relationship and it is time to consider how you are going to leave it. WAIT – before you start justifying ANY of the behaviour above, realize that your justification of this is just fear, and if you don’t get clear with YOURSELF right now you will find yourself in a whole lot of pain and with less ability to leave in the future. As hard as it is to acknowledge and accept that you are NOT in a relationship that is healthy, you must SAVE YOUR SOUL before it is too late and it is way harder to do so.
If you need more information, here are some EARLY WARNING SIGNS that go a bit deeper than just ‘Red Flags’ and remind you that they are not excusable and they will not go away, they will only get worse. Red Flags are signs that happen later in the relationship, when the ‘honeymoon period’ is over and the dynamic starts twisting it’s blade in. To protect yourself, learn the very EARLY signs of a potential abuser to avoid having to experience ANY of the Red Flags above.
EARLY WARNING SIGNS of an abusive relationship
Very Early Warning Sign #1: A Blamer
Avoid anyone who blames his negative feelings and bad luck on someone else. Special care is necessary here, as blamers can be really seductive in dating. Their blame of others can make you look great by comparison:
“You’re so smart, sensitive, caring, and loving, not like that bitch I used to go out with.”
“Why couldn’t I have met you before that self-centered, greedy, woman I used to date?”
“You’re so calm and together, and she was so crazy and paranoid.”
Hearing this kind of thing might make you think that all he really needs is the understanding and love of a good woman to change his luck. This disastrous assumption flies in the face of the Law of Blame.
The Law of Blame: It eventually goes to the closest person.
When you become the closest person to him, the blame will certainly turn on you.
Blamers can be dangerous to love because they usually suffer from victim identity. Feeling like victims, they see themselves as justified in whatever retaliation they enact and whatever compensation they take. Blamers will certainly cause pain for you if you come to love one.
Very Early Warning Sign #2: Resentment
Resentment is a negative mood caused by focus on perceptions of unfairness. Resentful people feel like they are not getting the help, consideration, praise, reward, or affection they believe is due them.
Everyone has to put up with a certain amount of unfairness in life. We don’t like it, but we deal with it and move on; we try to improve our situations and our experiences. The resentful waste their emotional energy by dwelling on the unfairness of others (while remaining oblivious to their own unfairness). They think (mistakenly) that they don’t know how to improve their lives. They use resentment as a defense against a sense of failure or inadequacy.
Resentful people are so caught up in their “rights” and so locked into their own perspectives that they become completely insensitive to the rights and perspectives of others. If you fall in love with a resentful person, you will eventually become the brunt of that resentment and almost certainly feel shut out and diminished in the relationship.
Very Early Warning Sign #3: Entitlement
People with a sense of entitlement believe that they deserve special consideration and special treatment. They may cut in front of others waiting in line, smoke wherever they want, drive any way they want, say anything they like, and do pretty much anything they choose.
Driven by high standards of what they should get and what other people should do for them, the entitled feel chronically disappointed and offended. So it seems only fair, from their myopic perspectives, that they get compensation for their constant frustrations. Special consideration seems like so little to ask! Here’s the logic:
“It’s so hard being me, I shouldn’t have to wait in line, too!”
“With all I have to put up with, I deserve to take a few supplies from the office.”
“With the kind of day I had, you expect me to mow the lawn?”
“All the taxes I pay, and they bother me about this little deduction!”
“The way I hit the golf ball, I should get the best seat in the restaurant!”
“I’m the man; you have to cook my dinner!”
After the glow of infatuation wears off, the entitled person will regard his feelings and desire as more important than yours. If you agree, you’ll get depressed. If you disagree, you’ll get abused.
Very Early Warning Sign #4 Superiority
Superiority is the implication, at least through body language or tone of voice, that someone is better than someone else. Potential abusers tend to have hierarchical self-esteem, i.e., they need to feel better than someone else to feel okay about themselves. They need to point out ways in which they are smarter, more sensitive, or more talented than others. This, too, can be seductive in dating, as he will point out ways in which you are superior, too.
The most abusive form of hierarchical self-esteem is predatory self-esteem. To feel good about themselves, persons with predatory self-esteem need to make other people feel bad about themselves. Many will test high in self-esteem when they come for court-ordered treatment, while everyone else in their family tests low. But once intervention increases the self-esteem of the emotionally beaten-down spouse and children who then no longer internalize the put-downs, the predator’s self-esteem invariably declines.
A variation on this very early warning sign is self-righteousness. If you dare to disagree with him, you will not only be wrong but immoral!
Very Early Warning Sign #5: Pettiness
If he makes a big deal out of nothing or focuses on one small, negative aspect of an issue, a relationship with him will be disastrous. This might show itself as being extremely particular about how his food is prepared in a restaurant or seeming impatient if someone drops something.
In a love relationship, his petty attitudes and behavior will make you feel reduced to some small mistake, as if nothing you have ever done right in your life matters. You will feel criticized and diminished for the smallest of infractions, real or imagined.
Very Early Warning Sign #6: Sarcasm
Sarcasm comes in many forms. Sometimes it’s just poorly-timed humor – saying the wrong thing in the wrong context. Sometimes it’s innocently insensitive, with no intention to hurt or offend. More often it is hostile and meant to devalue. The purpose is to undermine a perspective the sarcastic person doesn’t agree with or to shake someone’s confidence, just for a temporary ego gain or some strategic advantage in a negotiation.
Sarcastic people tend to be heavy into impression management, always trying to sound smart or witty. Their tone always has at least a subtle put-down in it. In dating this will be directed at others. In a relationship, it will center on you.
Very Early Warning Sign #7: Deceit (intentional and unintentional)
Unintentional deceit happens all the time in dating, due to what I call the “dating self.”
We all try to put on the best face possible in dating. Most of us will exaggerate our good qualities at least a little, if we think the other person will like us more if we were just a bit more like that. “Oh, you’re religious? Well I’ve been feeling a bit more spiritual lately, so I’m going right home and read the Bible, or at least watch the movie version.”
his kind of unintentional exaggeration is meant less to deceive than to motivate the self. The exaggerator really wants to develop qualities you like; he’s just not quite there, yet.
Of course, the dating self often includes blatant deception, as in, “Oh, did I tell you that I went to Harvard?” or, “Yes, I know some rich and famous people.” Deceit shows a low level of self-respect — and respect for you — that can only bode ill in a relationship.
Very Early Warning Sign #8: Minor Jealousy
Minor jealousy does not come off like the obvious red flag of controlling and possessive behavior. It looks more like this: He’s slightly uncomfortable when you talk to or even look at another man. He might not say anything, but he looks uncomfortable.
The tough thing about minor jealousy in dating is that you actually want a tiny bit of it to know that they other person cares. (You certainly don’t want to love someone who wouldn’t mind at all if you slept with the entire football team.) But a little bit of jealousy goes a long, long way. Think of it as a drop of powerfully concentrated liquid in a huge bucket of water. More than a tiny drop will poison any relationship you might develop with the jealous person and, more important, put you in harm’s way.
Even minor jealousy has the potential to be harmful. Jealousy becomes dangerous once it turns into obsession. The more we obsess about something, the more imagination takes over, distorting reality and rational thinking. Jealousy is the only naturally occurring emotion that can cause psychosis, which is the inability to tell what is really happening from what is in your head. Most severe violence in relationships involves some form of jealousy.
Very Early Warning Sign #9: Rusher
I have had clients complain that their boyfriends don’t pursue them or try to sweep them off their feet. I always tell them, “How lucky you are!”
Guys who go “too fast” (defined as whatever makes you uncomfortable), do not respect boundaries. One definition of “abuse” is “that which violates personal boundaries.” It is not flattering that someone wants you so much that he does not care about whether you are comfortable. Make sure that any man you become interested in shows respect for your comfort-level, in all senses of the word.
After reading all of this are you feeling uncomfortable at all? Scared? Sad? Or any mix of feelings at this point? Those are strong indicators that your intuition is speaking loudly to you. YES, I know in the beginning it felt SO GOOD, but something in you has been questioning things, which is why you have found yourself here. Again, congratulate yourself for taking care of yourself and being a warrior in love. It is VERY hard to acknowledge and accept that you might be sliding down a very slippery slope already and that you might need some help to keep from falling all of the way down.
Learn to listen to that tiny little voice inside of you that is telling you things that you don’t really want to hear. It is trying to take care of you, it is working to Save Your Soul and keep you safe from the tyranny,emotional and physical pain that is sure to come if you don’t find your way out now.
IF you have succumbed to an abusive relationship and KNOW that you need to get out then BRAVO WARRIOR! The only thing you need to remember at this point is NO SHAME. There is no shame in finding yourself here, there is only learning. Life is all about learning, and if you have been presented with this lesson then you are blessed – it is time to start honouring yourself and learning how to empower yourself.
If you need help getting out there are some things you can start doing:
- Reconnect with your friends who you have likely abandoned to be in this relationship. Trust them and trust yourself to ask them for help.
- Google ‘Abusive Relationship Support’ or ‘Help getting out of an abusive relationship’ in your area – a whole bunch of options will pop up from counselling to support groups. Find one that resonates and honour yourself by follow through and attending or calling.
- If you are in really dire straights and have found yourself on the receiving end of physical abuse, call 911 immediately! They will help you get the help that you need and get you away from that potentially life threatening situation.
REMEMBER – you are not alone, you are never alone. From the thousands of women and men who have lived and survived an abusive relationship, we all have your back. You are a victim right now, but you won’t always be. You have the strength and the power to take care of yourself starting RIGHT NOW. And if you have children, you have the power to take care of THEM by taking care of yourself first.
GRIEF: ALLOW yourself to feel the grief, have compassion for yourself. This is a relationship that you once had so much hope for and that you wanted to be ‘the one’ – the safe place, the passionate place. There is no shame in realizing that you were wrong about this person. Grieve the loss, because my dear, it is a BIG LOSS. That is ok. Let it be. Once you work yourself out of this you will be much more equipped to find a healthy, happy relationship, and you will – it will just take some time.
There is no shame, there is no judgement, there is only a road out and a road away from the shame and judgement that has been placed on you to keep you controlled. Start right now.
I’ve been there and I’ve survived and now I thrive. If you need to connect to me and share your story, please feel free to. I am here and I can help!