Subtle Signs That Someone May Be Emotionally Abusive

I remember listening to Trevor Noah in an Interview on NPR where, when discussing the domestic abuse his mother endured when he was growing up, he said that he could never blame anyone for being in an abusive relationship. “Especially because of the amount of surprise that it comes with,” he said.  “It comes out of nowhere and you don’t know what it is because it’s never happened to you.” And That’s just it– Abuse comes out of NO WHERE.

We normally miss it because love, or the appearance of love, can make us turn a blind eye to even the most obvious of red flags. We believe we’ve found what we’ve been dreaming of for our entire lives—THE ONE. However, after dealing with many survivors of both psychological and physical abuse, including myself (Taccara), there are a few elements that seem to be consistent with all cases. Keep reading to see if you might be experiencing some of these symptoms:

  1. Wanting to spend all of their time with you: At the onset of a relationship, this is normal and actually welcomed by any normal person when dating someone new. This will be the most vague of the tips because it requires you to be on your guard until you’ve spent some time actually getting to know them and their temperaments. What’s key here is that you feel comfortable enough to spend time with this person, while also being free to express your boundaries and need for outlets outside of them. When you find that they become intrusive with your boundaries and you don’t feel comfortable telling them “no,” this may be something that develops into an abusive and/or controlling person.
  2. Tries to distract you from important people and obligations in your life: This takes #1 up a notch. At first, they will be seemingly amiable about you spending time with family or friends and pursing extra-curricular activities. However, once they get you pulled into them a little more, you will notice them coming up with more and more opportunities to get you away from the things important to you. Weekend get-a-ways or surprises with big, romantic gestures that make you feel obligated to spend time with them, can be a common early sign. As with the first “Subtle Sign,” be honest if you don’t feel comfortable expressing your need for space and boundaries. Watch for signs of “guilting” you into giving them their way. Continuously telling you how much they miss you, even though they’ve spend a lot of time with you, is still a subtle form of guilt.
  3. You notice a slow change from them being extremely complimentary to being subtly critical: This manifests with a lot of both abusive and narcissistic people. The compliments in the very beginning get laid on THICK and then, as they get comfortable, the compliments turn to questions that begin to feel more like subtle demands. Statements like “You look GORGEOUS in that dress” transition to “Are you sure that dress isn’t too tight?” Or, “I love that you are outgoing and friendly” becomes “Why do you feel the need to speak to everyone you meet?” Be honest with yourself here. If something doesn’t “Feel” right, listen to your gut and RUN!
  4. You feel like they are “drifting” away, but they insist everything is fine: This is something that you will want to pay very close attention to. Since this person has likely thrown all of the charm in the world at you, they have gotten you used to the idea that they are the most romantic, most sensitive, and most loving person you could ever meet. They are PERFECT. Until one day you notice that they seem distant. They don’t call as much. When you’re hanging out, they are silent and seem uninterested. You will go over things in your head to see if you’ve done something wrong because you feel like you’re possibly losing the best thing that has ever happened to you. You ask your friends for their advice, but they make you feel like you are overreacting—no relationship is perfect ALL the time, right!? After a while,  you find yourself working to get back to the same “high” you felt when you started dating. Different hair-do’s, sexier clothes, playing the mind games of “I’m gonna let him chase me” only to find that you are driving yourself crazy trying to make them see you and love you again.

This is where an abuser will have you right where they want you. They know that you are willing to do anything to get their love and approval. From there on, you will find yourself working harder and harder to get them to love you and they will have succeeded in making you feel like you aren’t good enough. So you will work harder. And that’s where the most toxic of relationships take the most hurtful turn because no matter what you do, you will never be able to do or BE enough for this person.

If you’ve begun to experience some of these subtle signs in someone you are dating, it’s time to honestly evaluate the likelihood that you are dating an abuser. Just know that, you cannot change them or love them out of an abusive state. Only therapy and sometimes a brush with “rock bottom” can help an abuser.

Learn More About Breaking The Cycle of Toxic Relationships Here!