According to psychotherapist Avery Neal, over 50 percent of Americans, both men and women, have been in a psychologically abusive relationship — and that statistic only includes those who report it. Psychological abuse is often carried out through manipulation and control tactics. Though it doesn't leave any visible scars, it can be just as traumatising as physical abuse. And because it may not seem as extreme as physical violence, many people overlook the warning signs and suffer in silence. Any degree of an abusive relationship is still an abusive relationship, and should not be ignored. If you can relate to some or all of the questions below, it could be a sign that you're being "subtly abused," according to Neal.
- Does your partner use humour to put you down?
- Does he or she make you feel bad for being overly sensitive?
- Does your partner play devil's advocate, leaving you feeling defensive and unsupported?
- Is your partner evasive, not answering your questions or concerns directly? And does he or she get defensive or imply that you're crazy or jealous when you ask for transparency?
- Does your partner seem really loving, but is intense and over involved (calling or texting incessantly)?
- Does your partner lack empathy for you and/or others?
- Did your partner come on really strong in the beginning, wanting to get too serious too quickly? Or was your partner charismatic and charming and overly engaged, especially in the beginning?
- Do you have to work hard in your relationship to please your partner, feeling that it's harder and harder to get warmth and approval?
- Does it feel as if your partner works against anything you need or want?
- Do you feel like you're going crazy or do you feel guilty for having negative feelings about your partner, especially because they seem so logical and has a reason for everything?
- Do you trust your partner to make the decisions even when you're not there?
- Do you feel unheard, invalidated, missed, put down, made fun of, like you're always apologising?
Just because the signs aren't glaringly "abusive" doesn't mean they should go ignored. "Some of these behaviours are really hard to identify because they're not as obvious as with physical abuse," Neal told POPSUGAR. "That's why I think it's so important to look at some of the behavioural patterns of the abuser, but also how you feel in a relationship."
It's also important to note the consequences of staying in such an unhealthy situation for a long period of time. In addition to having self-doubt and low self-esteem, the effects of staying can range to more severe damage: anxiety, depression, substance abuse, self-harming behaviours, and suicidal thoughts.
"Depression and the anxiety are the most common psychological effects; anxiety being probably the predominant one because when you feel like you are trying to manage someone else's reaction on an ongoing basis — that's a lot of work," Neal said. "Having that sort of sense that you've got to walk on eggshells and being in that sort of hyper aroused state for a prolonged period of time causes anxiety."
Neal also mentioned that another common effect from staying in a psychologically abusive partnership is loss of self. You begin to lose interest in things you used to love, you become isolated from friends and family, and because this tends to happen so gradually, you don't even realize that it's happening, until things seem beyond repair.
Although Neal has had some success cases in her profession where the abuser was receptive to their partner's feedback, she says they were exceptions. "Usually when somebody fits these patterns of behaviour, one of the defining characteristics is an unwillingness to take responsibility for themselves," she said. "That very characteristic often means that an abuser won't be accountable for their actions, and that makes it really hard to change."
If your partner doesn't change their ways, Neal says to find as much support as possible when leaving an abusive situation. Not only would that provide you with emotional support, but an abuser is also less likely to act out violently while others are with you since most want to remain hidden.
"There really is safety in numbers," Neal said. "In terms of leaving, which is the most vulnerable time, that support is really, really important."