Identifying Emotional Abuse before it Happens.

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6. Uninterested in self-help

Abusers tend to find people with bleeding hearts or a savior complex, and they will allow their partner to “fix” them in order to 1) make their partner feel like she or he is different and the only one who truly understands the abuser, and 2) (usually towards the end of the relationship) use this as a threat for why the partner needs to stay (i.e. “you’re supposed to be there for me no matter what”).

At the very end of my relationship, when for the first time I saw the heightened abuse with clarity rather than just a “complicated relationship,” I suggested anger management, and offered to go with him so it didn’t come across that I was singling him out. When he used lack of funds as an excuse, I offered to pay. When he still refused, I finally saw the distinction between someone with demons who is wanting and willing to do whatever it takes to healthily work them out versus a true abuser, who would rather just find someone new who hasn’t figured out their true character yet and start the cycle of abuse over with them because it’s easier.




This list is by no means exhaustive, and doesn’t even begin to get at the complexity of emotional abuse, especially when coupled with other factors like substance abuse, family history and mental illness, all of which were present in my relationship.

But I’m not here to talk about all that, I’m sharing simply to shed a bit of light on key signs of emotional abuse, which is so damn underexposed, if for no other reason that it doesn’t bear the visible scars that physical abuse does.

I’m also not here to tell you that I’m perfect, or that I didn’t possess qualities that probably enabled the abuse at times.

There is a certain kind of gratification that comes from helping someone improve, but if there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that the uplifting has to be mutual, no matter what kind of relationship it is. Anything less is a sure-fire path to the annihilation of your self-worth, and a total expending of your good energies on others, leaving nothing left for yourself.

And, please oh please oh please, don’t ask me #whyIstayed.

I did try to leave, but ended up doubting my own intuition every time.

I even called the National Domestic Abuse Hotline once after the abuse hit a verbal and somewhat physical climax. I was on hold for 45 minutes, during which my abuser insisted I was on the phone with a dude who I was making arrangements to go sleep with. But, at the time, I expected nothing else from him. It had all become normalized, you see.




I can’t reiterate enough how slowly emotional abuse can creep into your life—the first stage of complete adoration, gaslighting, and love-bombing from the abuser happens very quickly, but everything else is oftentimes so subvert you can only recognize just how bad it was once you’ve left.

Many people stay in abusive relationships far longer than they would like because they keep remembering the good times and subdue the bad. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t doing the same when it was first over. But as soon as I was able to identify the one thing we truly shared a passion for—cycling—I realized just how easy it was to replace the good feelings associated with those rides with hundreds of others in my city’s beautiful bike community, or even with the dozens of solo rides I’ve taken since getting back on my frame.




22 COMMENTS

  1. I see why you say, “Don’t ask me why I stayed”. Most people who ask that have never lived through it and they don’t understand. The worst is when you get it from your family – and then when the shit hits the fan, you’re left with a lot of “I told ya so’s”.

    I was here too. My relationship only lasted 7 months – he worked fast. But it was long enough for him to do a lot of damage…both to me and my life, and to my relationship with my son (not his – we didn’t have children together). Mine ended up being a narcissistic sociopath, mixed in with a drug addict who simply refused to do the work that needed to be done in order to recover.

    The sad part about all of this is that it didn’t start to make sense until the relationship was over, I had kicked him out, and ended up becoming friends with someone from HIS past. The more she and I spoke, the more I was internally kicking myself and saying, “how could I have been so stupid!” and “I wish I’d known” because frankly I would have dropped him before the relationship even began.

    He put his hands on me a couple of times and it was a year ago yesterday. He also threatened to harm my child – which should have been the final straw…but even through that I tried to make things “fair” for everyone by explaining away and excusing his behavior with his drug habit – that and the fact that he had me terrified that if I called the police he really would hurt my kid. I was stuck and I was a hostage in the relationship.

    The day finally came, a couple of months later, where he basically did me the favor of robbing me to fund his drug habit, and leaving me stranded without a working vehicle. I told him if he showed up again he would have been met by the authorities. I finally grew my backbone, and told him I had nothing more to give him because he took it all. He tried to manipulate me one last time with the threat that he was going to kill himself but I surprised him when I told him I didn’t care.

    Most importantly, I’ve also fixed my relationship with my teenage son and things have gotten back to normal – like before I even met that guy. I had to take a long, hard look at the damage I was doing by just trying to make things fair and easy for everyone involved.

    So – this coming September, he will have been gone a full year. I’ve gone “no-contact” this entire time. I’ve written about him, I’ve bitched about him, I’ve joined support groups as well as some Co-Dependency Anonymous meetings (which really helped me put myself first). I feel like I’m talking about him less and less and I go longer stretches of time without letting the thought of his stupidity enter my mind. I’m even trying to date again, but I notice now that I’m always watching my dates…and still kind of suspicious of any kind gestures or nice words – maybe that means I’m not completely ready yet. Who knows.

  2. How very generous to share your experience on such a delicate matter . Thank you . I for one, am very grateful .
    I was not cognisant of the classic psychopathic / narcissistic relationship I was steeped in . I can’t afford a 6 year learning curve @ my age
    ( I’m 70 ) The greatest difficulty was in the logistics , ie. he had moved in as a tenant but repeatedly refused to leave .
    I now have a greater level of understanding , again thank you

  3. I love these articles. Oh yes, been through it all. Gaslight for me was having my belongings hidden and then”finding” them for me. Even said, “I find a lot of things for you. ”
    True crazy making behaviors.