Abuse can mean many things and can take on many forms. At its basic nature, abuse really means one thing—the need to control. Many times this need is due to insecurity. When people are very insecure, sometimes they will act irrationally and start to act in an abusive way.
Some people may only think that abuse is physical or sexual, but there is more to it than that. In an article published in Psychology Today by Michael J. Formica, MS, MA, EdM, he writes about the dynamics of abusive relationships. For many, it starts small. There are subtle ways people may abuse others and varying degrees of abuse all the way up to extreme abuse.
For instance, abuse can begin to manifest verbally or socially. If someone you are in a relationship with gives and withholds, then gives and withholds—all in the name of control—they are abusing you. It’s the “kiss me, kill me” mentality and keeps you guessing and worried about what kind of “mood” the abuser is in. In reality, it’s not a mood at all but a conscious choice. This person is choosing to assert their control in an unhealthy way.
There is a fine line, however. If your partner is unkind, has an unpleasant demeanor, or simply isn’t right for you, then that’s just a relationship that isn’t ideal—not abuse. Even though choosing to step away from this kind of relationship can still be hard, in the end it is probably for the best. Reporting someone as being “abusive” is quite serious, so while it’s crucial to report true abuse, it’s also harmful to report someone as being abusive when they really are just unpleasant.
If you are unsure whether what you are experiencing is abuse, call The National Domestic Abuse Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE or visit the organization’s website. It includes a list of warning signs. If you are sure you are experiencing abuse and need immediate assistance, contact your local women’s shelter or other local organization that can help you quickly.
If you are experiencing abuse in your relationship, here are 7 things you should know.
1. It’s all about the abuser.
Typically those who are abusers are very insecure with themselves, so they feel the need to bring attention to themselves all the time. However, the way the abuser goes about gaining attention is very unhealthy. It’s important for the both of you to meet with a marriage therapist and discuss the root cause of these insecurities, as well as how you as the spouse or partner can help. If your partner won’t meet with a therapist, you can still go on your own to discuss the relationship.
2. The abuser creates fear.
The abuser makes the abused individual feel fearful. It could be fear of what mood they will be in when they get home. It could be fear of not being loved. Or it could be fear of not being allowed to go anywhere or be independent. Whatever the case, you should never be subjected to a position of fear but should be instead allowed to show your strength. Truth be told, some people are just moody or are not as loving as others. But an abuser is much more severe and can use fear to intimidate and control. According to information from the University of California – Davis, fear may be just one of the first steps that later lead to physical abuse. If you feel afraid a lot of the time, that is a red flag in your relationship.
3. Abuse is often a learned behavior.
We typically think how we are brought up is “normal” even if it isn’t emotionally healthy. For example, if one of your parents withheld love from his or her spouse as a way to control or gain attention, you may think that is what all parents do. Realize that not all behaviors you grew up with are ones you have to continue. Healthy relationships are about giving and equality, not taking and controlling. This doesn’t mean that all abusers come from abusive homes, but those who do are more likely to repeat the behavior. According to a study by Wake Forest University, there is a strong association between exposure to violence and then use of violence by young adolescents.
4. The abuser carefully manipulates.
It’s so subtle that you may not even notice it at first. But with a comment here and there when you are at your most vulnerable and you may start believing the lies your partner tells. Over time, it can escalate until it becomes verbal abuse. Comments that shame you, make you feel worthless or even praise you but in an odd way. The abuser may also intermingle praising with shaming in order to keep you on edge and make you feel like they are a great person, when in fact they are really trying to control you. Pay close attention to what the individual says and even when he or she says it. Name calling, ordering, and threatening are definite red flags of abuse.
5. The abuser makes threats.
He or she may threaten to leave the relationship, strike you, take away all access to money, withhold love or sex or commit infidelity as a way to assert their control. The abuser may believe that he or she is not good enough for someone to love them, so he or she resorts to making threats in order to keep you around. Tell the abuser not to threaten you—that you will not allow yourself to be threatened into submission.
6. The abuser will cut off the outside world.
Abusers are ashamed of their actions and also jealous or fearful of their partner saying something or leaving them. It is not healthy. If someone is isolating you and cutting off your use of transportation or friends, don’t allow it continue. Both partners should feel comfortable having friendships and associations outside of their primary relationship.
7. The abuser is usually not willing to change.
Abusers are many times stuck in their behavior and either can’t change or won’t. This is very unfortunate, but the cycle of abuse cannot continue. If you are in an abusive marriage, it’s important to seek help. If the abuser is not willing to change, a divorce is the only solution to getting out of a bad situation. You are worth it and you have the power to keep abuse out of your life.
If you are being abused, it’s important that you talk to someone. Do not keep it a secret. Especially if there is physical or sexual abuse, get help today. If you are in a less severe situation that isn’t abuse, but is unpleasant, it’s still important to talk to a marriage and family therapist who can help you and your partner work through the issues.
Malini Bhatia is the founder of Marriage.com, a website dedicated to providing value in every marriage. Marriage.com provides resources, information and a community that supports healthly, happy marriages. Malini has global experience in international management and communications, and lives in Los Angeles with her husband of 11 years and two daughters.