Maybe he tells you you’re not happy. Or you look depressed. Or you’re crazy.
Maybe your friends have told you you’ve changed. Or you don’t see them as often any more.
Maybe he tells you you’re beautiful, before he tells you to go get changed… you can’t leave the house like that.
Maybe it’s always your fault. Even though you’re the one hurting.
Maybe you’re ‘lucky’ to have him, and he reminds you of this everyday.
Maybe you’re scared of his reactions, and he knows this.
#MaybeHeDoesntHitYou is a trending hashtag on the effects of emotional abuse. It’s a handle where real women are sharing their stories of partners who’ve been manipulative, coercive, controlling, abusive.
It’s a hastag for an important, powerful, under-discussed cause. It helps build support and awareness around a type of abuse that is as hard to pinpoint as it is damaging. But, as relevant as the hashtag is, it’s important to know that male partners are not the only ones perpetrating this type of behaviour. Women in lesbian relationships, or female partners in hetrosexual relationships, can be just as capable of inflicting pain, manifesting jealousy, causing insecurities and cultivating fear.
Because this type of abuse has nothing to do with physical strength or stereotypes. It’s all about power and the mind.
There aren’t bruises. It occurs over a long period. It can creep up on you, and without understanding it you are in a relationship based on fear, that is completely one-sided, and that has nothing nothing to do with love.
Even though it’s all in the “name of love”.
If someone could look inside your mind, it would bruised and cut and bleeding.
So what are the signs?
You feel small
Whether it's humiliation, embarrassment or blatant insults, language or behaviour that is designed to make you feel small is a key sign of an emotionally abusive partner. Maybe he or she speaks over you, maybe you feel your opinion doesn't count, maybe it's a case of "you're beautiful but..." or "I love you but..."
Beware too many 'buts'. The contingency is on them, not you.
You're controlled and isolated
Maybe you have a joint bank account, for the wrong reasons. Maybe you no longer wear the clothes you'd like to wear. You definitely don't see your friends as much as you used to. If you do go out? You're likely to receive multiple (meaning countless) calls, texts, passive-aggressive (or just downright aggressive), guilt-tripping messages and enquiries as to where you are, what are you doing (because they love you so much).
This is controlling. It's lonely. And it's abusive.
This could occur in several ways. There might be a withdrawal of affection, a refusal to communicate, extreme moodiness or just a complete and utter disregard for your needs and feelings.
When you look at this objectively, or from a distance, it's easy to ask the questions:
Who is he, or she, to make me feel as if I don't have a voice?
Shouldn't my feelings matter just as much as theirs?
Why do they have a right to cut off communication with someone who loves them?
When you are in the situation, it's never that clear. Because you are made to feel as if you don't deserve a voice. It becomes your fault, or your problem. Usually, it's only when you have left the situation, that you understand that it's all about them, and nothing to do with you.
There is nothing that explains this feeling better, than the following tweets on the #MaybeHeDoesntHitYou hashtag:
No, you are not being accusatory. Or aggressive. Or unfair. And you're definitely not attacking him/her. If you are talking about your feelings, your needs, or your problem in the relationship - this is not an attack, it's a conversation that must happen. Your feelings are not a reason for your partner to become defensive. Your needs are not an invitation for a guilt trip. And they certainly don't make you crazy.
Maybe changing the pass code on your phone, or receiving a message from a guy at work, is considered automatic proof of your infidelity or untrustworthiness.
Perhaps you're not comfortable wearing that dress to work any more - not because of the way you look in it - but because of the questions that will be coming your way as you leave the house in the morning.
Maybe your partner's jealousy manifests into neediness, and you find you're constantly propping him/her up, making them feel like they're the most important person in the world (remember, they're not) and that they have all of your attention, 100% of the time.
One of the most pervasive, and damaging, feelings within an emotionally abusive relationship is fear.
Fear of your partner's reaction to anything. To your needs, to your opinions, to your feelings, to your actions and to your happiness. When you are modifying your behaviour - maybe by playing down your concerns, apologising for your feelings or shrugging off the things that make you happy - you are being manipulated into thinking your needs are somehow not as important as your partner's.
This is unfair, untrue and, once again, abusive.
All these signs can manifest, build and develop over time. Finding yourself in an emotionally abusive relationship doesn't occur over night. It is not physical, there are no 'tangible' signs. Watch yourself, observe your behaviour and the way that person is making you feel. Understand how their behaviour is influencing you, and how they enjoy to be made to feel.
Remember that your personality, those opinions, that wardrobe and that independence were the reasons he or she fell in love with you in the first place. The fact that person turned out to be an utter control freak is on them, and has nothing to do with you. Their issues do not change the fact that you can be wanted, loved, admired, and found attractive, just the way you are.