March 18, 2024

4 Behavioral Signs of Emotional Abuse in Relationships (That we Think are “Normal”).

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“Who is she and why are you friends with her on Facebook?”

She asked him while holding his phone and staring at the other girl’s profile on Facebook. Although he told her that he had randomly accepted her friend request, she told him that he needed to unfriend her immediately or else she would close his Facebook account.

I overheard this conversation many moons ago between a friend of mine and his girlfriend while we were sharing a cab. Many weeks later when we were having lunch without his girlfriend, he told me they were happy together and thinking about moving in together. He added, “I love her, but sometimes she can get overly jealous. But it’s normal and I totally understand her.”

For me, what happened that day in the cab was far from being normal. Not only did she snoop on his phone, she also threatened him; she said she would close his Facebook account.

Although my friend thought that her behavior was “normal and understandable,” I personally thought it was emotional abuse, but I never brought up the subject. Although I cared for my friend deeply, I knew that he was never going to see things from my perspective.

Why, you may ask? Because I’ve been there. I know what emotional abuse looks like and I know how hard (sometimes impossible) it is to discern the abusive pattern. We almost always deny the (ugly) truth because we think that abuse should be visible. We don’t know that emotional violence exists too and that most of us suffer from it on a daily and weekly basis without being aware.

The problem is that the behavioral signs of emotional abuse aren’t always obvious. They are disguised as love, so when they happen we mistake them for caring.

When my ex-boyfriend told me in front of our friends that I shouldn’t wear bermuda shorts because I looked stupid in them, I burst into tears and threw them away. Since I was young and foolish, I thought it was normal and that he genuinely cared about me (facepalm moment).

When I think about it now, I feel sorry for myself. That guy didn’t care about me. He humiliated me. He, in other words, emotionally abused me, but I didn’t know better. I didn’t know that abuse could happen discreetly and hide behind actions that might look “cute” or “sweet.”

Emotional abuse isn’t only revolved around jealousy, control, and humiliation; it can take many forms. It can hurt. It can frighten us. It can sabotage our self-image. Emotional abuse is rooted in control, manipulation, and shaming. It can weaken our sense of self-esteem and slowly demolish our self-respect.

Not only does it hurt us, it can also hurt the relationship and sabotage it.

Now I know that it might be challenging to know when we’re being manipulated or mistreated. It’s difficult to pay close attention and observe the facts. However, we need to understand that occasional hurt in a relationship is normal; what’s not normal though is a certain behavioral pattern that appears to be repetitive and intentional.

Are you being emotionally abused? Here are four major signs:

1. Guilt tripping. If your partner makes you feel guilty, they probably want you to believe that you have hurt them or that you’re wrong. In other words, they hope to change your “hurtful” behavior through manipulation.

2. Belittling. If your partner constantly criticizes you, makes fun of you, undermines your actions/effort/emotions, or humiliates you, it’s emotional abuse in disguise. It’s important to know that although they might not mean it, it still hurts and it might cause you pain in the long run.

3. Giving you the silent treatment. You might think it’s normal for your partner to not engage with you for days or weeks after a heated argument, but it’s not. It’s not normal; it’s not okay. The silent treatment is a form of emotional abuse because we intentionally hurt the person on the receiving end. It’s cruel and unfair to decide when the “silence” ends.

4. Making you feel stupid, crazy, irrational, or sensitive. If your partner opts to make you feel anything other than what you actually feel right now, know that it’s insensitive and unkind. Dismissing another person’s feelings is not normal and is unquestionably a form of emotional abuse.


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