Emotional abuse: how to spot it and survive it
The following was written by Jacqueline Hurst and published by GQ
As a life coach I help others with a variety of life issues that I myself have experienced and conquered and this particular topic is no different. Having survived an abusive, toxic, traumatic relationship I deeply understand how to help others. I do believe, though, if I had been educated on how to “spot the signs” prior to getting into it, I would never have stayed. And yet this is what so many people say, only after they have experienced emotional abuse.
It seems that every person I spoke to while researching this subject all said the same things, such as:
1. “She was charming to everyone but behind closed doors she just wasn’t anywhere near as nice to me.”
2. “If I didn’t wear what he wanted he would turn his nose up, humiliate me and not talk to me for the whole night.”
3. “I didn’t want to say the wrong thing for fear of upsetting him.”
4. “It just got easier for me not to say anything because I couldn’t deal with his fallout.”
5. “When he cheated on me with a woman in his work and then turned it all around to make me feel like I was the bad one because I found out, I had no idea this was gaslighting and abuse.”
I have even heard: “I didn’t even know I was being gaslighted until after he walked out of the home we shared, finishing with me on WhatsApp, never to see him again.” (Yes, you read that right). People have been damaged by abuse they didn’t even know was happening until afterwards.
When I came out of the abusive relationship I was in, I was left traumatised and diagnosed with PTSD. Again, this is not uncommon for victims of abuse. This stuff is serious, so learning how to spot the signs is something I want people to have access to and understanding of. Educating others on learning to spot the signs is something that needs to be openly talked about, discussed and understood.
The most important sentence is this: abuse breeds in secrecy and silence. It is done in ways that is almost impossible to believe for those of us with sane brains because it is so manipulative, cunning, unkind and coercive. This is exactly why spotting and surviving psychological/mental/emotional abuse is so hard, because for so many people, and unlike the recent episode of Love Island (in which 70 per cent of people saw one of the contestants as abusive), most abuse is covert, not overt and therefore so much harder to spot.
1. If you think you might be being abused, the first step is to start to understand your partner’s personality in a clearer light
If you are starting to google your partner’s behaviour, this is your first warning sign. Normal people don’t need their behaviour googled. You will find if you do start googling that the first wake up call will be that it is likely they have borderline personality disorder [those with BPD are not necessarily prone to abusive behaviour and are as likely to be victims].
How do you spot those signs? Do they have a long line of unstable relationships or a very fragile ego that constantly needs puffing up? Do they have impulsive, self-destructive behaviours, chronic feelings of emptiness, anger issues, sex addictions? Are they totally incapable of discussing or even understanding their own feelings? Do they always point the blame at you, taking no responsibility for themselves? Are they a narcissist, a sociopath? It is imperative that in order to spot the signs you must start to fully understand your partner’s personality first. Educate yourself.
2. Once you have worked out their personality, the second point is critical… If someone you are dating does have BPD you need to wake up.
You cannot change these people (mainly narcissists and sociopaths). They have a mental illness and they are unchangeable. I cannot repeat that enough. So often empaths (that’s the kind, empathetic, open-hearted, people-loving people) attract narcissists (that’s the selfish, manipulative, coercive, destructive people) thinking they can “help them” or that love will heal them. The empath gives and gives and the narcissist takes and takes. Do yourself a favour, save yourself and walk away now.
3. Abusers start off loving and caring. In fact, it actually starts with you being ‘love bombed’
Yes, it means what it says: they become the person you always wanted, they shower you with gifts, trinkets, love notes and little surprises bound to make you feel as if you have been swept off your feet and that finally, you have found the love of your life. Except they aren’t… they are an abuser. Ultimately, love bombing is an attempt to influence you by demonstrations of attention and affection. You are about to enter the Venus flytrap. It is important to remember narcissists and sociopaths in particular are known for their skills at manipulation. They might use flattery and attention as tools to build themselves up as the perfect partner, the better to gain your trust, affection and, ultimately, your adoration. Once they have convinced you of how good the two of you are together, they will start to shape your role in the relationship into a member of their “supporting cast”. Subtly starting to control you without you even realising. How do you spot this? Well, the more someone tries to flatter you into submission, the more diligently you need to explore their motives.
4. Once the love bombing has taken place, the abuser has you where he/she wants you and you are in the fourth stage, being ‘trauma bonded’ (which is basically known as Stockholm syndrome)
This describes a deep bond between abuser and victim. The victim develops a strong sense of loyalty towards the abuser, despite the fact that the bond itself is abusive and damaging. Trauma bonding occurs when you are treated with harsh treatment interspersed with small kindnesses. It can occur almost immediately after the love bombing phase and this alternates with a time when you get isolated from your friends and family and other people’s perspectives. It is a clever manipulation tactic used by the abuser and one you need to research immediately if you feel you are in this stage in a toxic relationship whereby you know the relationship doesn’t feel right but that it is starting to feel really hard to get out of.
You must also remember that the problem with abusers is that they don’t wear horns. They look like normal people, they can be good looking and smart and they start off acting like normal people and, in fact, they are often seen by the people outside of your relationship as “charming” (note, that is a word you need to look out for – it’s the most common word used to describe most covert abusers). The mask they wear on the outside of your relationship is created by the abuser in order for everyone to think they are normal, which is the exact opposite of who they are with you. This is another important sign to look out for.
5. The devalue stage. This is the stage in which they start to break you down, confuse you and take away your lightness and joy. This is the stage of gaslighting.
This is a form of psychological manipulation in which a person makes you doubt reality and start questioning your own memory, perception and sanity. Please read as much about gaslighting as you can because I cannot stress enough that this form of abuse is so cunning and subtle and makes the survival stage even harder.
This is why it is so important to educate ourselves on how to spot the signs, so we will be able to avoid the deception and, in turn, the trauma an abuser will leave you with.
Another thing to look out for in this phase is that your partner will also very likely start (if they haven’t already) cheating on you with a new supply of people, probably someone at work or from a bar, desperate to gain even more attention for their fragile ego. Then they leave subtle clues so you will find out, testing you and the strength of your mind to see how much more they might have to break you down before you totally succumb. They will not take any responsibility and then when you ask to see their phone or the password to your shared computer at home, so you can bring trust back into the relationship, they gaslight you again, making you feel like you are the perpetrator, never mind the fact that they left the clues for you to specifically find in the first place.
Having experienced all of this, I would suggest a great way to spot the signs is by writing down everything that happens when your partner blows up at you, goes cold on you, confuses you, stops talking to you, cheats on you, ignores you, so you can see it in black and white. Writing everything down that has happened can be hugely beneficial to see the storyline and how you are being abused – that you are not the one who is insane. And of course, if you want to report it to the police, you have evidence of everything.
Remember, information and knowledge is power.
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Times of change can be a challenge, no doubt! Whether it’s a relationship breakup, job loss, or being diagnosed with a serious health issue. Or you may WANT things to be different, but it feels a little scary or overwhelming. The butterfly reminds us change can be beautiful, even necessary, in order to realize our full potential and live our best life.