by guest writer Julianne Olivia
One of the most difficult parts of being in an abusive relationship is actually realizing you’re in one. In my four years of being in my own, I didn’t understand what I had been through until months after I left it. It was a narrow escape. If I hadn’t been firm about taking time to figure out what I wanted, I would have never have achieved the space I needed to examine how I was treated and how wrong it was. It took a long time to realize that I had been living in a nightmare. And, that my abuser’s actions weren’t my fault! Now that I’ve spent some time healing, I want to help others in a similar situation. I’d like to do this by equipping them with knowledge of what manipulation looks like. Your situation might not be the same as mine, but in my experience (from both a support group and in my research), I’ve found that the manipulative actions of abusers, or at the very least toxic people, are often extremely similar. Below, I outline some of the common problems people have in unhealthy relationships.
Here are some signs that your relationship is unhealthy:
- Your partner separates you from your friends.
This isn’t always as simple as your partner saying, “You can’t see _____.” For example, in the beginning of my relationship, my partner acted like they enjoyed spending time with me and my friends—but as time went on, they began to express more and more disapproval. While they never outright told me I couldn’t spend time with friends and family, they would sigh/roll their eyes/frown/complain if I told them I had other plans. They weren’t technically forcing me not to see my friends, but because of their other aggressive behaviours, I became hardwired against their disapproval.
- You feel the need to make excuses for seeing your friends and family.
Have you lied because you’re afraid of your partner’s reaction? Such as, “I need to see my friend because they’re having a hard time,” or “My dad is forcing me to go to dinner.” (If your partner is very aggressive about lying like mine was, don’t beat yourself up about it—this is a means of survival.)
- Your partner’s opinions = your opinions.
If you feel that you quickly agree with your partner’s opinions/values even if they don’t align with your own, this is a red flag. It can be difficult to spot, since this is often a subconscious behaviour. Take a moment to reflect. When your partner expresses an opinion, do you always agree? And is there a moment of conflict before you do?
- They don’t want anyone to know about your fights.
If your significant other ever tells you that you cannot tell your friends about your arguments/struggles, this is a red flag. This is how abusers manipulate you: they separate you from reality. They know that if you tell your loved ones how you’ve been treated, they’ll be exposed.
- Your words are turned against you.
Have you ever felt like everything you say is twisted to fit your partner’s point of view? Have you ever expressed a feeling—for example, “I feel like everything is always my fault”—only to have it turned against you to “I feel like everything is always my fault.” This is gaslighting, or a manipulative tactic to make you question your reality, and ultimately believe your partner over yourself. Even if what they say doesn’t make sense, their reaction of certainty (“My perspective is correct and you’re wrong/stupid/crazy,”) is dismissive. Being dismissive (“Why would you think that? What are you talking about?”), or defensive (“Why do you always assume the worst of me? Why are you attacking me?”) is convincing enough to make you start to doubt yourself. They’ve weakened your sense of self and your reality so that their beliefs = your beliefs.
So what are the conclusions?
If any or all of these points resonate with you, there is no pressure to take immediate action. You can take your time and think about what’s best for you. If you wish to, discuss it with a trusted friend or therapist. Although some things are out of our control, the people in our lives are there because we allow them to be. If someone belittles, manipulates, or harms you in any way, you do not owe them your time and energy! In future articles, I’ll discuss narcissistic abuse and the steps to take if you think you’re in an abusive relationship. I’ll also discuss how to ask for space in an abusive relationship, and the resources for healing if you’ve left one. You might also be on a break. For now, stay safe and take care of yourself first.
Domestic Violence Hotline Information:
Phone Number: 1.800.799.7233