Signs Of An Abusive Relationship
- Hidden Aspects Explained

The signs of an abusive relationship are many and varied. Sometimes they are obvious, many times they are more subtle. While an isolated incident of a particular behavior, for example, someone calling their spouse clumsy if they spill their drink, does not necessarily indicate abuse, it's the repetition, over periods of time, of multiple controlling behaviors, where the damage is done.

Sometimes when a victim talks to a friend about a particular episode that has just happened, the friend may brush it off with various excuses, "It's not that bad, I've had worse!" or "But he seems to care so much about you, he was probably having a bad day" or "You need to sit him down and explain how hurt you were and that you don't want to be treated like that again" and worst of all, "Don't be so sensitive, you two are great together, it will sort itself out."

The victim feels like nobody understands and goes on to think that maybe they themselves are the problem. This latter idea is very much played up by the manipulator and it becomes a very prominent theme in abusive relationships. This is actually a major sign of abuse, where the abused person feels that they are to blame for anything that goes wrong, not just in the relationship, but in every aspect of their lives.

Another common scenario is where the signs of an abusive relationship are obvious to many outsiders but to the victim they are, for all intents and purposes, hidden. There are lots of reasons for this and you can read more about why this is so in this article on controlling relationships.

So let's dive into the indicators of abuse, how they show up and what the effects are, starting with some covert signs...


Covert signs of an abusive relationship

People who manipulate and control are often very critical. Nothing special about that, I hear you say. What is not so obvious is that they criticize their victims at the level of identity. They are usually directly attacking the personality, making the person feel bad for who they are.

Note the difference between, "That's a pathetic thing to do!" and "You are pathetic for doing that!" The former criticizes the behavior, the latter attacks the individual, the person themselves. "That's a stupid thing to say" is not the same level at all as "You are always saying stupid things. Why do you do that?"

Even if the manipulator is talking about something you said, or something you did, the criticism makes you feel personally responsible for whatever happened. They make you feel flawed, defective, as if the person you are is the real problem. As crazy as it sounds to someone who has never experienced this, when someone has been tricked into an abusive relationship, this kind of thing makes the victim try harder to please the manipulator, to get compliments the next time instead of criticism. Most people say they would run a mile from someone who was abusing them, but when you are in it, the dynamics are very different.

One of the major reasons that people stay in abusive situations is that the above tactic actually changes someone'e personality. The manipulator shapes the victim's perceptions, thinking, decision making, beliefs and behaviors. In effect, the victim has a new personality, a pseudopersonality, imposed on them. I am not going to go in to great detail about this here but you can read about the dynamics of how it happens in this article about narcissistic boyfriends. Take the time to read it. It will help you a lot to make sense of what has been done to you.

Briefly, the victim is programmed to like or even love the abuser, trust them, believe them, take care of them, put the abuser's needs and wants ahead of their own, and they are made to be dependent on the abuser. I know, this also seems crazy, but this is what happens in abusive relationships. It's why people end up spending years and even decades in bad situations. They cannot get out. Very often they cannot imagine a future without the abuser. They may even think that they would not be able to survive without the abuser. Again, very twisted, but that's what happens in controlling relationships.

You can read more about the pseudopersonality idea in these articles about what manipulation is and being married to a manipulator.

At the top of the list of the signs of an abusive relationship is the idea that what the abuser says and what they do are different things. So why do I not start with this one? The reason is that it is very difficult to see for anyone who is currently in an abusive relationship. The abuser often commits to something or makes some promise, but then does not follow through. He or she will invariably have an excuse for not keeping their word and the victim is expected to accept this. Oftentimes the justification may seem plausible enough to the victim. For example, he promises to hang shelves at the weekend. Come the weekend, he says he has been called into work. His wife thinks that is a valid excuse. However, a year later, the shelves are still not up.

Remember that the ability of the victim to think rationally has been very distorted by the manipulator and while the excuse may be ridiculous to outsiders, the victim ends up going along with it. This can go on for years before the victim begins to have doubts.

But if or when the victim questions it, the manipulator will make life unpleasant enough that the victim eventually just gives in.

A classical situation is where the manipulator promises to take the kids someplace special but just before the trip, surprise, surprise, something comes up and he can't make it. He promises the children the sun, moon and stars for the next trip. The children forgive him and hope for the next time, but he manages to let them down again and again. The manipulators feel no obligation or responsibility to keep their word.

Even if you tell the manipulator that some behavior is really upsetting, no matter how much they apologize (if they actually do!), or how much they say they will change, they do not change. They just keep repeating the same nasty behavior over and over. There may be frequent arguments over this. You may feel that you are not communicating well, or you are not getting through to them about it, or they just don't seem to be able to grasp what you are on about. But keep in mind, your partner is not stupid. The fact is that they get perfectly well what you are on about. They just don't care! In fact, they will go out of their way to make sure you don't have what you want. You may think that you need to express to them that what they are doing is upsetting because you consider that they must not understand. The reality is that they are doing it because they know very well it upsets you! They know full well what they are doing!!


Overt signs of an abusive relationship

Physical violence of any type is pretty obvious. If there are bruises, broken bones, burns, torn clothes, broken objects, holes punched in doors etc, these are clear evidence of abuse going on.

Control of finances is another clear sign. Sometimes the manipulator will spend their partners money first so that the partner is broke by the middle of the month while the manipulator still has their own money to spend on whatever they like. Others control the finances totally so that the victim literally has no idea how much money there is, where it goes, what bills are paid (or not!), and so on. Others have to produce receipts and change whenever they to the store or to the hairdresser or any place else where they spend money. Many victims spend very little on themselves because they are made to feel that they are spending way too much while the manipulator often spends extravagantly. The level of financial control can vary tremendously in abusive relationships but it's something to check with a trusted friend or family member if you are not sure if you are being controlled this way.

In abusive relationships the controller often has effects on practically every aspect of the victim's life. Clothes, hairstyle, food and drink are typically influenced one way or another. The controller wants certain foods and everyone around has to eat the same things. Sometimes subtly, sometimes overtly, the manipulator lets the victim know which clothes are acceptable and which are not.

The manipulator may even determine the amount of sleep others are allowed. They don't allow people to sleep in on days off, or they start arguments late at night so it is difficult for the victim to fall asleep. They on the other hand, because they are not emotionally invested in anything, sleep like babies. When there are children involved, the victim typically has to get out of bed during the night to look after them, so they may be chronically sleep deprived. This makes it difficult for someone to mentally resist the machinations of a manipulator.

Abusers need information to maintain control. They train their victims to reveal all sorts of things about themselves. From the start of the relationship they ask detailed questions about their new target. The target is happy to talk about themselves to someone who seems so interested in them. It is often flattering to have someone care so much! However, the manipulator's interest has an ulterior motive. They are gathering information about strengths, weaknesses, fears, desires and so on to be used against the victim later. Of interest is that the manipulator often does not give away much information about their own past. It is not until a victim has left an abusive relationship that they realize that they know very little about the person they have been with for years.

Another of the signs of an abusive relationship is that conversations tend not to be very profound with abusers. There is no substance or depth to the person who is a manipulator. Remember most of them have no emotions because they are psychopaths, sociopaths or narcissists so there is no emotional bond with anyone or anything. They may have strong opinions on a few things (they hate certain groups of people, how useless you are, how fantastic they themselves are) that are trotted out on a regular basis, but it's the same things over and over. Victims often feel that there is no real person there. There is a human body, alright, but there is no emotional connection present.

There are lots of rules and regulations, things you are allowed to do and things you are not allowed to do. Some of these rules are spoken, many of them are not. It's these implicit rules that are very destructive. If you are in an abusive relationship there are rules that you have to follow but the rule has never been spelled out. But you learnt what the rule was by the way you were treated. For example, bringing up the issue of money often causes an argument. The second time it happens, the victim starts noticing the pattern. The third time it happens the victim realizes that this issue causes arguments. The next time the victim even thinks about bringing up money, they have to ask themselves if they are ready for an argument or not. Many times the victim decides not to mention anything, that way they have a sense of controlling the situation. But this is a trick. The victim believes that they are deciding not to bring up the money thing, but in fact, they have been trained not to do so. They were never specifically told that they could not talk about money but the rule was put in place by emotional manipulation and it's very clear to the victim. This kind of thing is incredibly controlling.

Isolation from family and friends is also typical. This way, the manipulator becomes your only source of information, which is also very dangerous. The manipulator criticizes your family and friends, changing how you think of them. The manipulator often causes an argument when you go to visit them with the result that it becomes easier for you to limit contact with them in order to avoid unpleasantness. In this way, once again, you think you are making the decision, but you are actually being emotionally manipulated into doing what the manipulator wants.

Lies and more lies. There are lies in abusive relationships, whether the victim sees them or not. There are little lies and big lies. There are lies mixed with truths and lies mixed with half-truths. Most of the things the manipulator says to the victim are lies, although often there seems to be evidence that what the manipulator says is true. This is a set up, where the manipulator does something to cause a reaction. When the victim reacts, the manipulator criticises them for that very reaction. For example, the manipulator causes the victim to get angry and then says the victim has anger issues. This pattern can be repeated with the manipulator pointing out each time that the victim has difficulty controlling their anger. The victim comes to believe that they actually have anger issues, when, in fact, it's the manipulator deliberately provoking them each time and the angry response to the provocation is how most normal people would respond as well. Remember that I mentioned that the thinking of the victim is distorted and this is why it is difficult for the victim to untangle such situations alone, especially if they are emotionally upset!


Signs of an abusive relationship - what to do

This list of signs is by no means exhaustive. However, if you recognize even a few of them, you need to do something about it. You are in a dangerous situation. Every day you stay is a day that is being stolen from you.

The first thing to do is to learn. Learn about mind control and manipulators.

Get help. Ask family and friends to help. Get professional help.

Leave the relationship as soon as possible. I know, I know, even the thought of that is terrifying. That's why you need help!

You can read more here about what an abusive relationship is, the stages of such relationships, some do's and don'ts in dealing with controlling people, leaving an abusive relationship, recovering from narcissistic abuse and what a good recovery entails.

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