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Facing the reality that the person you fell deeply in love with never actually existed is unbelievably painful. While you were preoccupied with loving them and shapeshifting to please them, they were busy plotting your destruction for their own gratification.
Most victims do not realize that they are being abused, or hope their partner will change for the better. Others are aware but feel trapped and helpless to leave due to codependency, financial strain, lack of family support or resources, or simply because they are afraid for their lives. Here are a few signs and flags that might indicate you are in an abusive relationship:
1. They put you down and destroy your self worth.
They degrade, dehumanize, belittle, criticize, judge, compare, or name-call. These abusers prey on your insecurities, need for acceptance, and willingness to please in attempt to make you self-destruct. They know just exactly which buttons to push because they have been studying you from day one. This is an important tool for them to create a power dynamic so they appear as the better and stronger partner. This makes you inclined to change yourself, out of love, and unknowingly hand them the keys to control your mind. It will allow them to later claim that you are dependent on them because you are weak and have so many problems.
2. They have incessant and unrealistic expectations.
They constantly expect perfection and nothing less from you. There is one little caveat, though. Even when you have met their requirements, it is still not enough. They are constantly moving the goal post, making you run harder and faster with each new ploy. Their purpose is to exhaust you, and also use the fact of your constant “failure” as proof that you are a terrible person. With each new shortcoming, there is more tension and punishment as a result. If they can’t find something actually wrong, they will make something up to pick away at until it bleeds.
3. They gaslight you and play the blame game. They use projection to place their emotions and behaviors back on you. They try to evoke a reaction from you so they can deflect their abuse.
It never seems to be their fault. If you are discussing an issue, even in an environment that is not hostile, the abuser will turn around the blame on you for the issue you are confronting them about. They will intentionally confuse you, manipulate you, and convince you that you were wrong so that you feel guilty and end up apologizing, every single time. They will keep this incident in their arsenal to drag out for weeks as an excuse to treat you poorly. They will also bring it up months or years later if they need some records of wrongs. If you respond back or stand up for yourself in any way, the abuser is likely framing you so they can show proof of how abusive you are. “If you didn’t ____, you wouldn’t have made me ____.” Don’t you remember?
4. They use triangulation tactics to amplify abuse.
They will often use third parties, including other close family members, to validate their perspective. They do this in order to justify their behavior while reinforcing that you are abusive. After all, if more than one person agrees that you are horrible, then it must be true, right? They will play the victim from both sides of the equation. This basically turns the other two parties against each other to distract them, meanwhile the abuser has successfully displaced the blame onto others again.
5. They have an overbearing focus on superficial appearance, material wealth, and their reputation.
They will use you as their trophy, and they expect you to be an extension of themselves. When you are with them, it is all about the representation and image. They may workout often, own many luxury products, wear expensive clothing, have multiple vehicles, the best credit cards, live in a mansion, or fly first class. They may be workaholics. The point is, they don’t have to have all of those things, but the underlying motivation is the same: they want the best of everything life has to offer them, because they are the best, and the deserve the best. And they will make you feel unworthy of them, and that you don’t even deserve any of it. All magic always comes with a price to them… it all falls back to rewards and punishments and coercive control.
6. They intentionally pull you away from things that bring you joy, like friends, family, and certain hobbies, and things that used to define you.
They strip you of things you used to enjoy in order to disorient you and disrupt core traits of your personality. By chipping away at your identity, they can control and silence you even better. When you leave, you won’t be able to remember or know who you are now without them. Your whole world revolved around them, and without that, you feel lost.
7. Conversations always seems circular, with conflicts remaining unresolved… no matter how many times or ways it has been discussed.
They seem to never end. They always have the first instinct to evade any topic, and they become masterminds of deflecting questions or topics as they see fit. They learn to do this to the point where you begin thinking they would make an excellent politician. Somehow they usually resort to using a harsh tone of voice or yelling in a normal conversation. Nothing ever gets resolved, leaving you even more confused than before.
8. They seem emotionally checked out or distant, and often withhold affection. But if you don’t respond to them, they will check in on you to see what you’re doing.
Some abusers have been known to go to extremes with monitoring their partners. Some examples are actual stalking, installing cameras or audio recordings, installing spy software on phones, or tracking devices on cars. They will act like they care about your wellbeing or they are just curious, but they are really afraid of abandonment and that you finally saw the truth in their lies. They are jealous vampires of your time, energy, and attention. You are an essential tool to them that provides a much needed ego boost. They themselves, however, often disappear or basically remain silent in conversations, and when questioned they will claim you are denying their freedoms or trying to control them. They will often use physical intimacy as a bargaining tool in their game, giving only when they want to and taking as they see fit. To them, they could care less about your needs or desires. They will be as sweet as sugar when they are trying to get things to go their way. When they need something from you, you will suddenly become important again.
9. They have a history of family drama or history of abuse.
Often those that have been abused face relationship issues for themselves down the road. This can be from unaddressed trauma issues from childhood or the abuse could still even be happening. Not everyone who has been abused goes on to abuse others, and in fact, choose to be the complete opposite to what they had to endure. Make no mistake, making the decision to abuse, at a certain point, is a choice. The victim often makes excuses and feels sorry for their abuser when this is the case. They feel the abuser’s behavior is justified, and they just want to help them through all this so they can finally heal.
10. They want to give you advice to help you, but their real goal is to make decisions for you and to isolate you.
Their ultimate goal is to isolate you, often by making you think it was by your own decisions and choices. They encourage you to follow their advice because they “know what’s best” and “have a lot of experience” and “want to help you.” This tricks you into thinking that they genuinely care and have your best interest at heart. Unfortunately, these statements are calculated from the beginning to strategically align you with their agenda.
11. They use their finances or economic power to control you and create codependency.
In the world of a narcissist, you owe them every one of your successes. You only accomplished that feat because of their help, wisdom, and support. They gave you everything you needed, so now you owe them and it is time to pay up. They will happily consent to supporting you financially no questions asked, only to throw it your face later that they helped you, so that they can make you feel ashamed and indebted. Almost every penny you earn is turned back into paying shares of bills, buying household items, or rendering services all related to your family. You can’t even remember the last time you spent money on yourself or had enough without having to ask for an allowance. You don’t even know how much your spouse makes and they refuse to disclose this information. Other forms of financial abuse include taking out fraudulent accounts or cards, destroying credit through joint debt, controlling all finances, hiding money, or attempting to conceal or transfer ownership of martial assets.
12. They create a smear campaign and an army of followers that think you are scary and psycho.
They seem to “get along with everybody except for you.” Everyone thinks you are crazy, psycho, and abusive. He has made sure to tell everyone in his personal circle and your mutual acquaintances his version of the story. He has told his whole family, and they all hate you now. They are afraid of you. You feel rejected, disliked, and ostracized. This is yet another attempt to isolate, control, and keep the victim from leaving. It is hard to know if they even really did tell anybody, or if they were just convincing you that they did.
13. They resort to physical violence to threaten, intimidate, or harm you. They indirectly threaten you or subtlety instill fear.
It is true that some abusers just outright hit women. They may use direct physical harm as the primary form of abuse. However, there are other physical violence forms that are not so obvious. These include smashing and destroying property, throwing things, displays of weapons for intimidation, physically grabbing, reckless driving, restraining, pushing, pulling, chasing, or anything that sends physical signals of eminent danger, harm, and fear for life or safety. Often abusers will try to get a physical reaction from the victim to create an excuse to fight back. They will threaten to leave you, and often will threaten to call the authorities on you or the like. They can use verbal threats to kill or harm you, such as burning down the house. Never underestimate the lies your abuser will tell to frame you as the aggressor.
14. They throw crumbs at you to keep you just happy and hopeful enough to stay.
As said by President Snow on the Hunger Games, “Hope, it is the only thing stronger than fear. A little hope is effective, a lot of hope is dangerous. Spark is fine, as long as it’s contained…so contain it.” Sometimes even a simple “Hey” after a long period of being ignored is enough to make us feel cared about. Just a few positive words, or a hug, or a smile is enough.
15. You feel like you are constantly begging them to love you the way you want to be loved.
You are not really at the top of their priority list anymore. They have consistently shown you that they only value you when you are of good use to them and when you give them what they want. You never really feel satisfied, and always feel like your efforts for them are taken for granted. They overlook all the good things you’ve helped them with, and instead make you out to be the villain. You aren’t happy with them anymore, but also not happy without them.
16. You start to realize you are living with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. There is duplicity as if you are living with two different people.
The good times seem really good, and the bad times seem really bad. Living in a constant state of confusion, you find yourself constantly questioning what is wrong with you? You have tried so hard to seek help, become a better person, redirect career and school goals, go to therapy, take medication, and try to make friends. You’ve exhausted yourself to figure out the answers, and you now have done extensive research on healthy communication and you still can’t have a conversation sometimes with your partner without a conflict or escalation to verbal abuse or physical violence. Does he love me, or does he not? You become so trauma bonded with this person that you can’t understand the toxicity and poison that has consumed your life. Then, when it gets to the point where you feel the violence has escalated to a matter of life or death, you will feel left with no choice but to escape. You will walk out the door still loving that person, but you will also come to realize that love shouldn’t hurt.
17. Your partner has not sought mental treatment or has not been formally diagnosed with any psychiatric conditions.
Although this is likely not true with all abusers, especially those purely with anger management issues, the majority of individuals with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) have never been diagnosed nor successfully treated for the condition. They do not think there is anything wrong with them, and they will often not admit fault unless it serves a purpose. Their unwillingness to change or compromise disallows them to take initiative in seeking treatment, and even if they could, their manipulative and deceitful nature would likely prevent true introspection or healing. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. A person cannot heal or change unless they genuinely want to do it.
18. They reveal their true perspective of others to you, and it is monstrous and frightening.
They will call other people lazy, stupid, or fat to demonstrate a point to you. They often do this through stereotypes or by associating those traits with things they also see wrong with you. They have a generally bleak, negative, and pessimistic outlook on the world and humanity. Although in public they are usually quite charming, sometimes they reveal their dark side if it serves them at the time. This is especially true if they think it can make it look like you are hostile, aggressive, or attacking them.
19. They require and expect you to act, feel, think, behave, or speak in a certain way.
This is often something not obvious at first, although a few remarks might have been made here and there that were quickly disregarded without much thought. Now, they expect you to smile when you are tired or sick. You are the cause for everyone’s bad emotions, and the responsibility is placed on you for how others feel. You have to not only do things, but do them in a certain way. You cannot mention certain topics, and certain words may even be taboo. Perhaps your abuser rules that you cannot wear certain colors or types of clothing. Even if you are sick, you are an inconvenience and a burden. If you make any mistakes, it is because you did it wrong by not following the way they told you to do it.
20. They see themselves as more successful, important, or relevant than they actually are.
They are often preoccupied with the latest news and trends, and they may even be interested in celebrities or political events. They claim to have a lot of friends, but they surprisingly do not hang out with their friends much, and no one really seems to be close to them. They seem to want to be in the spotlight, and may indicate feeling that they have some sort of divine purpose to fulfill. Don’t get me wrong, having a goal is great, but when you can feel a sense of arrogance and grandiosity… run.
21. They are entitled and think they are better than most other people.
They will often use things such as socioeconomic status, culture/nationality/race, gender, accomplishment, appearance, education level, or any other divisive device possible to create a boundary so that they can be placed on a higher pedestal. They especially enjoy comparison, and just love comparing themselves to you, too. They always work harder than you. They are undoubtedly more intelligent than you. They are way more likable than you. They are certainly more successful than you.
22. They fight with you around important milestone events or occasions, especially before or during the holidays or vacations.
Maybe it is your upcoming anniversary or birthday, or it could be your extensively planned family vacation. This becomes the backdrop and excuse for mishaps. A narcissist wants to steal your happiness and joy, as they are jealous of any positive feelings that you might have. Because they themselves feel miserable and numb at best, they cannot be truly happy. So, why should you have that right? They divert your focus off the positive situation at hand and bring the attention back to themselves. This undivided attention is what they really desire from you.
23. You have thought about leaving or already tried to, but they hoovered and lured you back.
They will be on their absolute best behavior after you leave. They will make you feel like you had overreacted, and perhaps misjudged the situation. They might even actually apologize to you or bring back nostalgic memories of the romance you thought that you had. Make no mistake, the minute you go back they will lash out with a vengeance tenfold. They will guilt you into submission and make you pay for being so bold. The violence will escalate with each attempt to leave or stand up to the abuser.
24. They directly or indirectly prevent you from getting and keeping a job or doing well in school. You seem preoccupied and spend all of your energy and time on the relationship.
No matter how hard you tried or what path you chose, it always seemed to be the wrong one. Your constant lack of stability and predictability affected your work capabilities and it showed. Maybe coworkers or classmates mentioned this to you in passing, checking to make sure you were okay. You denied anything was wrong, and instead kept pushing yourself, but still couldn’t follow through. You have changed many jobs or majors in school, only still to find yourself struggling without a determinable cause. They will continually blame you for not being able to make the world spin at a faster or more efficient pace. They will keep constant tabs on your performance, and everyday you are walking on eggshells feeling as though you are being monitored. They will either want you to work yourself to death and be the family breadwinner or to not work at all and fulfill a domestic role at home for them.
25. They kick you when you are down, and may encourage you to take your own life or self harm.
They love to kick you when you are already down. The more guilt, shame, and heartache they can make you feel, the more they know how far they can push their boundaries. They will say that you are incompetent, incapable, useless, lazy, or stupid. Nothing is ever right and you may feel trapped. When you explain this to them, they may say you are too weak or not brave enough to go through with it. They may say that they want you to harm yourself or that it would make them happy. And so, we finally see the true monster. What kind of evil person could lack so much empathy or compassion that they wished death on another? This is certainly not love, very far from it!
26. Your relationship took off quickly, and they professed love and/or committed to marry very early in the relationship.
It seemed like such a fairytale. You thought you’d met your knight in shining armor. He shared the same values as you, similar interests and hobbies, and went out of his way for you. He was different from others you had met before. He was extremely kind, affectionate, and considerate. But now the person you’ve seen is almost unrecognizable by comparison. It is obvious he was mirroring your desires to lure you, manipulate you, and deceive you.
27. They have a pornography addiction or have had affairs. They continually violate trust, and you suspect they are likely keeping secrets from you.
Liar, liar, pants on fire — this goes beyond simply being paranoid. You have seen the direct evidence of what they did behind your back, but you confronted them, forgave them, and continued to trust them regardless. You made excuses for their behavior, because everybody makes mistakes, right? Even though you know they disrespected you and intentionally did something they knew would hurt you, you forgave them anyways. You just taught them they can get away with this type of behavior, and inadvertently gave them permission to continue. But, this time they will be more careful… much more careful.
28. They claim their ex was crazy.
One of the first things they might have told you was that their ex was crazy, abusive, was stalking them, clingy, and so on. They probably made up their own version of what happened to end the relationship. This is to make them look sane and pitiful in front of you so you will trust them. The ex may have even reached out to warn you about him/her, but you didn’t listen. Them coming to you was just proof that they really are crazy! They are just jealous because you have the person they wanted all for themselves now, right? Years later you will probably find your current partner looking at their ex on social media or attempting to contact them. Just run.
29. They have threatened to discard you, divorce you, or leave you.
This has likely happened on many occasions. This is the final stage in the abusive cycle where the narcissist tries to get rid of you so they can finally be happy. After all, they are too good for you, and you make them so unhappy with all of your bad qualities. You are lucky they even stayed with you this long! They may say they still love you, that they just don’t like you, and claim you don’t make them happy anymore. Usually this discard is only a bluff that is soon forgotten, after the abuser gets what they want. They want you to beg them not to abandon you. They want you to profess your love and willingness to do anything to stay with them. In this, they know they have you right where they want you, wrapped around their finger. And then, it will all start over again as if nothing ever happened, and the romance and love bombing will return yet again.
30. They have established rules or protocols for how, when, and what things should be done. You are always walking on eggshells in fear of doing something wrong.
Only their way is the right way. They may have rules for cleaning, cooking, exercising, etc that are beyond the scope of what a general person might consider normal or healthy. It is usually to the point to which it may feel they are obsessive. They may come across as outwardly strict, or they may plant the seeds for you to self sabotage yourself into following their orders, convincing yourself it is in your best interest. You feel afraid to do something wrong because you would have to deal with the conflict, shame, and symptoms of mental and physical sickness as a consequence.
31. They act like it never even happened.
After a violent or abusive episode, they may disappear on you for a while, then come back as if nothing ever even happened. Sometimes they apologize to win you back again, but often times they just ignore it happened. They know you will keep forgiving and forgetting just like you always have, so why even bother anymore?
Not all of these characteristics need be present to constitute an abusive relationship, and there are certainly others that were likely not mentioned. Although abuse follows a similar pattern, it is important to note they can manifest in certain individualized behaviors. Understanding our personal experience is key to moving forward and planning a safe exit.
Breaking the cycle of abuse means breaking the denial that something is wrong. It means that we must forfeit the illusion of what we have accepted our lives to be. It means we have to gain a conscious awareness that we are actually being abused. It means we have to finally let go of the fairytale that turned into a nightmare.
No one wants to face that pain, no one. Healing takes time, and it hurts, especially at the beginning. If you are considering that now is the time for you to leave, more than likely you have been depressed, felt trapped, or even felt like death was your only way out. I am here today as living proof that you can survive this. You are brave and strong. Look what you have already endured. We must accept this disillusionment. It is only when we are at the end of the road that we can truly begin to heal.
If you feel your life is in eminent danger or you are being threatened or physically harmed, call local law enforcement for immediate assistance. Please reach out to your local domestic violence shelter or call the national hotline at 1–800–799–7233 to begin safety planning and to obtain information on domestic violence restraining and protective orders.
As victims, we can use our knowledge and awareness of our partners’ behavior patterns during our unique cycle of violence. From this, we can determine indicators of upcoming episodes and plan suitable responses to keep us safe. In this way, we learn to adapt in order to survive. But eventually as time goes on, the cycle of violence becomes shorter, faster, and more intense.