What To Do If You're Being Emotionally Abused By Your Partner
With the #MeToo movement in full swing, and the open conversations around ending workplace harassment, our country — despite being in Trump's America — has been getting more open and honest about everyday challenges that women face, both in relationships and by strangers in the street. However, many people still don't know what to do when they're being emotionally abused.
The facts alone are startling. According to research conducted by The National Domestic Violence Hotline, one in five college women have reported being verbally abused by their partners. What's more, 57 percent of college students say it is difficult to identify this type of abuse. In addition, other research has shown that nearly half of all men and women have experienced psychological aggression by an intimate partner. And, women ages 18 to 24 and 25 to 34 generally experience the highest rates of intimate partner violence, according to The National Domestic Violence Hotline.
Although emotional abuse may not be as clear-cut as forms of physical abuse, emotional abuse is just as damaging and dangerous. Yet, sometimes it really is hard to tell when it's happening to you.
"It can be so easy and tempting in romantic relationships to explain a subtle comment or behavior away as the person 'having a bad day' or blaming yourself for being 'overly sensitive'," Julie Williamson, founder and therapist at Abundant Life Counseling in St. Louis, tells Bustle. "But if a comment or behavior bothers you, let your partner know how you're feeling. If your partner responds positively to you, then it may just be a one-time occurrence. However, if it continues, or if your partner uses this emotional disclosure in a negative way in the future, that demonstrates a pattern that is typical of emotional abuse.
Emotional abuse can be difficult to recognize because it's so subtle, and the abuser can manipulate the victim into thinking it's their own fault, i.e. "you shouldn't have done that; you knew it'd make me angry." Some of these signs of emotional abuse include controlling behavior, jealousy, and passive-aggressive behavior, according to Psychology Today.
If you're feeling trapped in your relationship and feel as though you may be suffering from emotional abuse, know that there are tons of resources out there. Below, experts share their best pieces of advice for leaving an emotionally abusive partner.
1. Trust Your Gut
In order to have the strength needed to leave the relationship, it's important to trust yourself. If something feels like abuse, then it most likely is abuse. Nobody knows you better than you.
"If something feels off, wrong, makes [you] uncomfortable, or raises any red flags — [you] should confront it directly with the person to check it out and then decide what [you] want/need to do," therapist and relationship coach Toni Coleman tells Bustle.
2. Come Up With A Recovery Plan By Setting Boundaries
By developing your own recovery plan, you'll allow yourself to create distinct boundaries and guidelines for the sake of your own health. Dr. Sharie Stines, a California-based therapist specializing in domestic violence and trauma, tells Bustle you should "[Refuse] to participate in any argument and do not defend yourself or justify your actions."
For example, let's say you didn't do all the dishes or have dinner ready when your partner walked in the door, and they then start screaming at you and blaming you for not being prepared. Take a deep breath and do not engage in their argument. Don't waste your time fighting with an emotionally abusive individual — they'll spend hours trying to justify themselves and manipulate the situation. By setting this boundary, you are refusing to get involved in the toxic cycle.
3. Pay Attention to Every Warning Sign
Don't just discard anything that may be a red flag — and definitely don't make any excuses for your partner's bad behavior. "The more warning signs present in the relationship, the more aware you should be to the possibility that you are at risk," psychologist and author Dr. Noelle Nelson. tells Bustle. "The more intense the warning signs, even if they are few, the more you have to have the strength to leave.
According to Williamson, some common warning signs include "using past conflicts that have been 'resolved' against you; using private and vulnerable information you've shared against you; making negative comments about your appearance or body; withholding affection or shutting you out completely without explanation or in retaliation."
4. Surround Yourself With An Army of Loved Ones
It's important that you feel supported and validated during this difficult time, so it's crucial to surround yourself with loved ones and other supportive resources. "Seek affirming care that will validate your experience and keep you safe, such as counseling or social services," Sara Stanizai, a therapist who specializes in LGBTQ+ intimate partner violence, tells Bustle. Other resources include The National Domestic Violence Hotline and The Office on Women's Health.
5. Watch Out For Your Partner's Anger
It's important to note anything and everything that may set your partner off.
"A big red flag for partner abuse is a partner’s speed at which they get angry," Dr. Rose Hanna, a marriage and family therapist and professor in California tells Bustle. People who get angry easily are people who are ill equipped at emotional regulation and behavioral management." For example, if your partner's temper goes from zero to 60 so quickly, that could be a major red flag to look out for, Dr. Hanna says. So remember to tread cautiously.
6. Don't Forget to Practice Self-Care
With so much going on, it can be hard to remember to focus solely on you sometimes. Self-care is super important for dealing stressful situations, so be sure to take some much-needed time to focus on yourself. "Connect with and honor your values, needs, and wants," Jessica Yaffa, author and President of NoSilence DomesticViolence tells Bustle.
For some people, self-care is all about face masks and manicures, but others may benefit more from meditation, reading, reflecting, and other activities — do what works best for you!
Overall, no matter how much progress we as a country have made from openly discussing abuse and harassment, there's still a (very) long road to go. Until everyone is equipped with the right tools and educated on the symptoms of emotional abuse, there will be still victims out there. But thankfully, there's also plenty of resources to turn to for help — so don't hesitate to reach out to a close friend, loved one, or hotline if you have even the slightest instinct that you could be in an emotionally abusive relationship. You are stronger than you think.
Editor's Note: If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, call 911 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1(800) 799-SAFE (7233) or visit thehotline.org.