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You are wondering if you might be in an abusive relationship. You have a nagging sense that things are not right between you and your partner. You feel like you are constantly walking on eggshells, that almost anything you say or do will likely bring criticism, anger, ridicule, and maybe even threats.
You feel guilt, and shame, and fear. Guilt, that you probably deserve this treatment in some way, that your partner’s anger or dissatisfaction is your fault. Shame, that if only you were smarter, stronger, more attractive, then maybe things would be better. And fear, that you might disappoint them again, that they might hurt you or themselves, that they may cheat on you, perhaps not for the first time, either.
It isn’t always so bad. When things are good, you remember why you are in this relationship. You care for this person, and those happier moments remind you of why. But those moments are getting sparser and sparser as the relationship continues. You think it might be your fault, but you just don’t know. And some days, you’re too exhausted from trying to keep things on an even keel to think too much about it.
Even if you do want to end the relationship, you can’t picture what that would look like. Over time, you have become pretty isolated from other people in your life. You might feel your friends and family don’t like your partner much. Maybe you feel like spending time with anyone else will anger your partner, that you should be spending your time with them, instead. You might worry that you’ve changed in some ways, or you feel a sense of shame about the relationship, and as a result, you’ve been avoiding other people.
These are a handful of the numerous, and often varying signs of an emotionally abusive relationship, and they can be hard to recognize while you are experiencing them. A hallmark of this kind of abuse is gaslighting, in which your partner uses psychological manipulation to make you doubt your own truth, to doubt your observations, memories, and perception. You may even start to question your sanity, your worth. It can be doubly difficult to see the reality of this relationship without others around to validate you, which is why isolation is another common tactic in relationships of this type.
What’s important for you to realize is that emotional abuse is real, and that you do not have to tolerate it. You can set boundaries. You can seek help. You can leave. You deserve to live a life that isn’t saturated with fear and anxiety. You deserve to love yourself and to surround yourself with people who love you, too.
If you are ready to leave a relationship that has become emotionally abusive, there are a few things you can do to care for yourself. Start by getting your support network back in place. Your friends and/or family miss you, and they will be there for you; they won’t care if it’s been a while, because they love you and want you to be happy. Find a therapist who can help you work through the trauma you have experienced. Emotional abuse can take an immense toll on your self-confidence, relationships, and mental health. You are going to heal from this experience, but it may take some time. Having a great therapist to guide you can only help in this recovery process.
Ultimately, you know somewhere inside of you when a relationship is emotionally abusive. Listen to your thoughts and emotions. Trust your perception. Dig past the gaslighting, manipulation, and intimidation, and you’ll find the strength to end the abuse. Surround yourself with people who can help you heal, and know that you’re going to thrive. You’ve got this.
If you need immediate help with regard to an abusive relationship, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.