We’re well aware of these terms…or so we think. Do you really know what domestic violence looks like? You may be in an abusive relationship RIGHT NOW and not even know it.
The common idea of abuse is that it involves being hit, shoved, called names, and degraded; we think physical abuse, rape, or threats. These are easily identifiable.
The truth is, abuse can be downright subtle.
It doesn’t have to be in-your-face to be abuse. It can be insidious, and sneak up on you. Often, it does. You meet an amazing person, they sweep you off your feet. Then suddenly, you start feeling self-doubt. You feel off kilter. You dismiss it as subtle signs of weakness on your part or just a bad mood.
Sure, it could be a bad mood. But it also could be a sign that you are in a domestically violent relationship. Sadly, this could go on for years without even recognizing it.
If you’ve ever questioned whether you’re in an abusive relationship, here are some signs to look for:
- You are constantly second-guessing yourself and can feel like you’re walking on egg shells.
- Your self-esteem is inexplicably at an all-time low.
- You worry what you say and do will impact your partner negatively, so you start avoiding people and situations that may have that effect on your partner.
- You find yourself withholding information from friends and family so you don’t have to explain or make excuses.
- You feel responsible for everything that goes wrong in your relationship or in your partner’s life.
- Your constantly saying “I’m sorry” even when it isn’t warranted.
- You doubt your self-worth, your sanity, your intelligence.
- You ask yourself, “Am I too sensitive?” a dozen times a day.
- You often feel confused and even crazy at work and in other areas of your life outside of your relationship.
- Your relationship becomes the primary focus of your mental space, even when your attention is needed elsewhere.
- You stop doing things you enjoy because they don’t.
- You can’t understand why, with so many apparently good things in your life, you aren’t happier.
- You frequently make excuses for your partner’s behavior to friends and family and withhold information from friends and family so you don’t have to explain their behavior.
- You know something is terribly wrong, but you can never quite express what it is, even to yourself.
- You start lying to avoid the put downs and stress that your partner throws your way.
- You have trouble making simple decisions.
- You have the sense that you used to be a very different person – more confident, more fun-loving, and more relaxed.
- You feel as though you can’t do anything right.
- You wonder if you are a “good enough” girlfriend/ wife/employee/ friend; daughter.
- You lose your sense of self.
Do any of those apply to you? Sure, you have good times, your partner may even treat you amazingly well during those good times. But like a flash, things can go inexplicably wrong and you are left confused and anxious wanting everything to feel alright again. Hope becomes your best friend. Hope that your partner will be “themselves” again. Hope that this is the last time they make you feel this way. Hope that you won’t do something to anger them again.
A healthy relationship does not work this way. It is important to remember is that it is absolutely not your fault. Abusers are expert manipulators they can convince you that you do not deserve better treatment, or that they are treating you this way to “help” you. Some abusers even act quite charming and nice in public so that others have a good impression of them. In private is a different story, which is often a source of stress and confusion.
A healthy, non-abusive relationship is built on support, respect, admiration, empathy, and personal responsibility. If your relationship feels more abusive than loving, seek help from a therapist. Recognizing abuse is confusing at best. But acknowledging that you deserve a healthy, loving relationship shouldn’t be.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
Posted by Ingrid Herrera-Yee, PhD, Project Manager, Military Spouse Mental Health Professionals Pipeline