Relationships can be a source of immense joy and fulfilment. However, if you are in an emotionally abusive relationship, they can also be the source of emotional pain and distress.
Emotional abuse can be just as damaging as physical abuse, but it often goes unnoticed or is dismissed as normal behaviour.
If you are in a relationship that is causing you emotional pain, the first thing to know is:
You are not alone, and it is not your fault.
Emotional abuse is not something you must endure, and it is crucial to recognise the warning signs to take the necessary steps to protect yourself.
This article discusses the warning signs of emotional abuse in a relationship. We aim to provide you with the information you need to recognise the signs of emotional abuse, understand its impact, and take action to protect yourself and your well-being.
Remember, you deserve to be treated with kindness, respect and love … especially by the people you share your life with.
Further reading: Intervention orders (Australia): The facts in plain English.
How the abuse starts
You have been single for some time and have been actively looking for a potential partner. You have the sudden and wonderful fortune of meeting him. He comes across as a sweet-natured person who buys you flowers, takes you on romantic dates and sends you confidence-boosting messages. For the first time in a long time, someone is paying attention to you and giving you the love that you have been craving.
Everything seems to be moving fast, but at the time it feels right. He’s now met your children and there is talk of moving in together and babies. You’re caught up in the romantic undercurrent. Everything seems to be perfect. You would have no idea you were entering into an emotionally abusive relationship.
The first signs of an emotionally abusive relationship
Months later the flowers and dates become less frequent, the confidence-boosting text messages slowly morph into more possessive and jealous texts. He starts to question your routine and makes accusations based on what you wear or who you hang out with. And then there’s the name calling and the control tactics.
But every now and then, he takes a break and restarts the affection just to keep you questioning yourself.
The cycle of abuse continues
The cycle continues and you’re drowning in it. He knows when and how to push your buttons and uses it as his weapon of choice. Sometimes he does these things in a very non-confronting way. You try to make excuses, after all, he’s never laid a hand on you. And the last thing you want is to deal with a difficult breakup.
From there, the cycle gains momentum. The self-doubt begins and your friends notice you are different. But you start to make excuses for his behaviour and take fault in what is happening.
‘But he didn’t hit me’
It is easy to wrongfully assume that abuse in relationships is limited to just physical abuse. The Centre for Relationship Abuse Awareness defines an abusive relationship as:
“A pattern of abusive and coercive behaviours used to maintain power and control over a former or current intimate partner. Abuse can be emotional, financial, sexual or physical. (This can include) threats, isolation and intimidation.”
There are enough case studies out there to prove that emotional abuse can be the start of a more dangerous outcome. And preventative measures for possible physical violence start here.
The bigger picture in an emotionally abusive relationship
To give a clearer context of how abuse impacts women in Australia, it’s important to check out the statistics.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 19.4% of Australian women have experienced some form of emotional violence from a male from 15 years onwards. From this 19.4%, 35.6% is committed by a male they know or are close too.
Looking into these statistics further, at least one of these victims each week are either murdered by their abuser or have committed suicide. The report connected to these statistics is quite startling and worth the read to see where Australia currently sits in relation to abuse and violence.
The other staggering statistic is that 51% of Australians surveyed believe that women can choose to walk away from an emotionally abusive relationship if they wanted to.
If you feel that your relationship is close to the boundaries of being emotionally abusive, here are four signs to look out for.
Warning signs of an emotionally abusive relationship
An abuser in an emotionally abusive relationship has a desire to be in control of every aspect of their victim’s life, especially regarding their children.
They are continuously checking on where you are, what you are doing and who you’re with. This may even include your children, especially in within schooling and living arrangements. An abuser may choose to use a child as a pawn to manipulate and control your decisions. Not meeting their expectations may cause them to get angry or aggressive towards you or your children.
Because emotional abusers like control, they will do anything and everything to isolate you from other people (especially your children).
Your abuser may start accusing you of behaviours, such as being unfaithful or flirting and may possibly manipulate your children into believing him. He may find ways to isolate you from family or friends by being rude and causing rifts or finding situations that avoid you and your children from socialising. These might be unexpected ‘emergencies’ or family outings and illnesses strategically planned around the time of an event.
3. Putting you down
Emotional abusers will do what they can to put you down either publicly or privately by attacking your intelligence, looks, mental health or capabilities.
They may manipulate your children to favour him over you through showering them with gifts, less discipline or encouraging them to believe that you are at fault in the broken relationship.
Emotional abusers may possibly break items of value to you to watch your emotional reaction.
They may threaten violence, court action or try to take full custody of the children, but in some cases not actually follow through. They may also feed your fears and anxieties, saying things such as ‘no one else will want you.’
5. Physical/sexual abuse
Emotional abusers can be loving at times and violent or physically/sexually abusive at others.
They may lock you out of your house, abandon you in a strange location, attack you with or without weapons, force you to have sex, or prevent you from getting basic needs and medical care.
It can be difficult to stay upset and take action against the abuser because they may feel genuinely sorry for their behaviour. Abusers can be incredibly charming as well as disarming. But don’t be fooled; the cycle of abuse tends to continue if ignored.
6. Stalking and controlling behaviour
Abusers are obsessed with power and control.
They want to know where you are 24/7, what you are doing (online and off), and who you are talking to (they will call/text excessively during the day).
It’s not uncommon for abusers to install hidden cameras and install monitoring software on your devices. They will also try to control your day-to-day activities, getting upset or violent when you don’t comply.
When confronted, they will lie or downplay the incident.
7. Financial abuse
Financial abuse can go hand in hand with emotional abuse, and is often related to an abuser’s controlling behaviour.
An abuser will control your financial resources,. Examples include:
- Stealing your money (or your family and friends’ money)
- Accessing your credit cards and bank accounts
- Giving you an allowance instead of direct access to your finances
- Racking up debts
- Destroying your credit history
- Controlling what kind of job you can hold.
- Withholding money for basic needs
Financial abuse can be subtle or extreme and threatening.
Conclusion: Warning signs of an emotionally abusive relationship
Consider every emotionally abusive relationship is unique, but the underlying signs are still similar.
If you find you are experiencing emotional abuse (or any form of abuse), contact one of the following helplines below.
These helplines will help you through the situation in terms of safety interventions, access to women’s shelter and support to overcome abuse:
Relationships Australia: 1300 364 277
Lifeline: 13 11 14
DV Connect: 1800 811 811