Discover the unspoken patterns of an abusive relationship


Domestic violence is a pattern of behavior used by one partner towards the other to maintain power and control. The abuser does so with multiple tools beyond physical abuse to intimidate and bully their partner into staying with them, and needed them. Most of the time, these behaviors are normalized, and we do not notice their negative impact until it is too late. With proper therapy, patients can eventually learn to recognize the patterns of abuse, and dependence which create the cycle of abuse that they live in. After the social media campaign to bring bullying to a stop for young adults in schools, it became time to shed light on non-physical abuse.


Recent streams of articles, fictional stories, and videos on emotional abuse have realistically depicted the subtleties and manipulation of emotionally abusive relationships.


The quirks we fall in love with might end up also being the seeds to destroying our relationships with people. For example, your partners need to always be right in an argument or situation begins as a simple and sometimes cute characteristic. But after a while, this quirk can become a controlling device to make you feel dependent or wrong in every situation.


Buzzfeed’s video article, “Emotional Abuse Can Be Hard To Recognize” inspired Dr. Steve Stosny, a media consultant for relationships, to speak out.

He explained, “The law of blame is that it goes to the closest person...You’ll eventually be the object of it”.


Often we cannot recognize when a person takes jokes, lying, or criticism too far. In a relationship, we even sometimes give a lot of slack to our partners, looking for reasons why their behavior is not abusive, but just normal. Finding excuses for the reasons a person treats you badly is a symptom of abuse. Below are some scenarios and characteristics of emotionally abusive relationships.


1. Discouragement


You may not agree with you partner on plans for the future, but you should respect one another. This simple rule of dating which often goes unsaid or ignored could save you from years of trauma. You and your partner should at least be happy and excited for new opportunities which may come along, not jealous and angry. By using patterns of verbal abuse, such as threatening, bullying, and constant criticism, your partner can discourage you and make you feel helpless.


Humiliation can also be used in public to make you feel inferior. When abuse goes unchecked, it becomes easy to forget that we deserve better. Discouragement goes even further by embedding itself into our subconscious. Signs of this type of abuse in a person will show as low self-esteem, being withdrawn, depressed, anxious, and overly apologetic.


But like many hard to spot things in the world, emotional abuse works in a cycle. And sometimes your relationship seems real, romantic, and even manageable. While other times, you lack control in your world.


2. Criticism


Your partner should usually be the one to recognize changes in your appearance or personality. If these changes are real, your partner should be the first one to admire them, and if they are negative, your partner can often recognize these patterns as harmful. However, when your partner is emotionally abusing you, they might be more invested in tearing you down rather than building you up.


Positivity helps individuals grow and become better people. It is also true that criticism and mistakes help a person learn, these should be constructive and not merely negative. For instance, there is a huge difference between the two quotes below.


  1. “You filed these wrong, but the instructions might be confusing. Read them over once more, and try again, ask me if you have any questions”.

  2. “You filed these wrong, I left instructions, you should have been able to do it correctly.”

They do not want you to feel good about your positive changes, and they might encourage you to do an 180-degree turn for the worst. Learning to recognize these patterns of criticism takes time and can be uncomfortable, especially in more long-term relationships.


3. Indifference


During times of hardship, we look towards our partners to be a shoulder to cry on. When we are in an abusive relationship, your partner would rather distance themselves from us, get angry about our emotional state, or completely ignoring it. They are likely to make themselves the center of your emotions, forcing you to give all your reserve energy to comfort them, even if you are the one in pain. This pattern of indifference is often the hardest to recognize because it does not have a spoken or take physical effect. Rather, it is the lack of response which the abuser uses to manipulate their partner.


As the cycle begins again, those who find themselves dating a person who is always indifferent will ignore the times of abuse because they will remember the good times. There will be moments where their partner seems to care or be concerned about their well-being. Do not confuse concern for distrust. An abuser can often wonder about your whereabout to discover who you are with. The potential for you to leave them set them on high alert. This manic behavior will present itself in the form of want and desire. The abuser will use manipulation and sweet talk to get you back into their good graces.


Indifference is harder to recognize as a form of emotional abuse. But if we change the word indifference, to neglect, it seems much more apparent. Being neglected of vitamins, sunlight, sleep, mobility or any other essentials has immediate side effects. Being neglected of emotional and mental support will also have adverse side effects. If you are unable to see your side effects, you will get tricked into thinking nothing is wrong. No black eyes or bruises to see. Bob Keeshan, a board member of the hold abuse committee, explains that “Words can be tremendously hurtful. The effects are long-term and devastating...turning their pain inward, resulting in such problems as alcohol abuse and even suicide attempts”.


4. Chaos


Having a rocky or bumpy relationship with a partner, family, and even coworkers is normal. No one is the same, and it’s healthy to have differences in opinions and beliefs. When you are in healthy relationships these moments of disagreement can work to get to know each other better. They work to create more stability in the future. However, if you are in an abusive relationship, these moments could turn worse, making mountains out of molehills. An emotionally abusive relationship survives off the patterns of turmoil it causes.

How are we supposed to recognize the difference between concern and chaos? Is this person genuinely worried about my well being, or are they scared they are losing control? It could be possible that if the fight or argument begins to turn against one person, that this may be a sign of chaos.Image result for emotional abuse


For instance, your partner complains that you are always on your phone and that this annoys them. The arguments get a little out of hand, and your partner uses this to question you. They begin to wonder you have become, and if the phone is a sign that you are cheating on them. This is a jump to conclusions based solely on a heat of the moment; this is chaos. Here the argument might even be a tactic to make you feel worse as if you are to blame for all the hardships in the relationship. Over time, you’ll be seeking approval for every decision you make, and you will have lost all control in the relationship.


In 2010 an ambitious new effort began in California to fund ten projects to teach young women and men about the behaviors of abuse in teen dating, and how to prevent them. The research surrounding the discussion was, due to lack of resources, younger adults had a higher risk of abuse. The program has generated a lot of active outreach as well as education on the subject, but many young men and women still don’t know what to expect when getting into a relationship, and can’t recognize emotional abuse.


5. Blame


During a healthy relationship, both partners can make mistakes; we are human after all. In an abusive relationship, there is always a victim and one to blame. Anything that goes wrong will be your fault, even if you did not directly do anything.  Logic and reasoning will get you and your partner nowhere.


According to couples therapy counselor, Marni Feuerman, “psychological abuse occurs when a person in the relationship tries to control information available to someone else with intent to manipulate that person’s sense of reality.” By only getting know one perspective or small bits of information, the victim tends to feel out of place, insecure, and wrong in a lot of situations. This makes it easy for the abuser to remove ay blame from them.


This form of blame transcends any ordinary sense of guilt and makes situations feel a lot more threatening. Guilt becomes a physical side effect, and the victim will turn to unhealthy forms of relief, like drugs and alcohol, self-mutilation.  In an abusive relationship, the abuser will manipulate the victim to feel this burden of guilt as though they are the ones who have ruined the relationship.


We may have heard some of these lines before, maybe uttered by our parents, our partners, even friends.


“It’s my fault, and I made him upset.”

“She only cheated because I wasn’t showing her enough love.”

“I should have loved him more.”

“We were really great until I went back to school.”


Blame has a way of sneaking around our subconscious. With time as a tool to blur our memory, we often romanticize our relationships, remembering only at the right times. However, and self-awareness makes it possible to recognize the abuse, no matter how light or verbal it was.


Vital Signs of Emotional Abuse


In cases where emotional abuse is less obvious, it’s hard to be self-aware of the quirks and characteristics of an abuser until it is too late. Often, the people we fall in love with are putting on their best performance, and we don’t see the actual scope of their abuse until years into a relationship. More often than not, emotional abuse goes undiscussed because we are not taught that small things such as lying can be considered abuse.


One article cannot tell you how to identify and get out of an abusive relationship. But, one article can go a long way to inform you and force you to recognize things about yourself and your partner which you want to ignore. How do you know you are in an abusive relationship, and how do you know you are the abuser? Any gender, race, or socioeconomic class can be both an abuser, and a victim There are no ways of generalizing this matter into original labels. However, educating people at a young age will help individuals recognize early on that a healthy relationship is built on respect and mutual happiness.


Below is a short list of signs that you are in an emotionally abusive relationship, but they are not to only signs.


Accusations and blame

Controlling all the finances

Degrading an individual based on their speech

Disrespecting an individual

Ignoring you and your requests

Ignoring a person's privacy

Intentional frightening and pranks

Lack of empathy or compassion

Lack of respect for you


Name calling

Socially isolating the individual from others

Threats of violence

Withdrawals of affection

Withholding relevant information

Withholding love or physical contact as a control method


If you or a loved one is showing signs of abuse, or you recognize these behaviors in your partner, please seek help. Often the abuser is also facing issues of their own and could use treatment as well.  

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