Signs of Emotional Abuse People Often Overlook

June 25th 2016

For the past month, the viral hashtag #MaybeHeDoesntHitYou has successfully shed light on non-physical abuse, and two recent videos from BuzzFeed Motion Pictures and the One Love Foundation convey a similar message about the more nuanced forms of abuse in relationships.

Through the use of fictional stories, the videos depict realistic and subtle forms of abuse that don't necessarily include physical assaults. Here are some quiet signs of emotional or physical abuse in relationships.

1. Everything is always your fault.

The BuzzFeed video opens with a woman named Brittany, saying that her girlfriend is constantly late but always manages to turn the blame around on her. But one time when Brittany was late, her girlfriend made her cough up $5 for her time:

Dr. Steve Stosny, a media consultant on relationships who grew up in an abusive home, told Women's Health Magazine in 2010 that finger-pointing is a sign of emotional abuse.

"The law of blame is that it goes to the closest person," Stosny said. "You'll eventually be the object of it."

2. Your partner shows unfounded distrust in you.

In the BuzzFeed video, the abusive girlfriend reads over her partner's shoulder and suspiciously asks who she is texting:

The One Love Foundation's video includes a similar display of distrust. In the gif below, the boyfriend from the video endlessly berates his girlfriend for failing to answer his text messages in a timely manner during her night out with a friend.

Pamela Jacobs, a consultant for victims of abuse, wrote in a 2014 piece for The Huffington Post that behavior of this nature is a form of control that abusers use to badger their victims:

"He may get upset if you don’t call him back right away or if you come home late. He will say it’s because he worries about you. He will start to question who you saw, where you went, and what you were doing. He will mask his control as concern for your well-being. He will start to make decisions for you — who you spend time with and where you go — and claim to know what’s best for you. Soon, you’ll be asking his approval for every decision. Your control over your own life will slip away, as his power and control grows."

Control and domination are common signs of emotional abuse, according to couples therapy counselor Marni Feuerman. 

"Psychological abuse occurs when a person in the relationship tries to control information available to another person with intent to manipulate that person's sense of reality or their view of what is acceptable and not acceptable," Feuerman wrote in a YourTango piece published earlier this year. "Psychological abuse often contains strong emotionally manipulative content and threats designed to force the victim to comply with the abuser's wishes."

3. They put you down.

In the BuzzFeed video, the abusive girlfriend insults her partner's work as a comedian in front of her partner's friends. The abusive girlfriend says that she does not appreciate the "lowest common denominator comedy" before calling her partner "adorable" in a condescending way.

Last year, psychotherapist Beatty Cohan told the Daily Mail that putdowns can signal an emotionally manipulative relationship, and that women who grew up with family members who put each other down may not recognize this behavior as abusive.

"We cannot enable bad behavior," she said. "If you are in a social situation and your partner is making these snide remarks, my question is what are you going to to do about it?"

4. They threaten suicide or display violence in communication.

It is common for abusers to threaten to commit suicide if you leave, Feuerman wrote. Psychotherapist Kate Thieda reiterated this point in a 2011 piece for PsychCentral:

"Threatening suicide is very manipulative, and the other person is expecting you to yield to his demands. By saying, 'I can tell you are really upset right now, and I want to help, but I will not [fill in the blank],' you are showing that you care, but are also not giving in. Put the responsibility for living or dying back in the hands of the person who is threatening you. Say to the other person, 'I don’t want you to have a relationship with me just because I am afraid of you dying and you think you can’t live without me. Our relationship should be based on mutual love and respect, not threats. I love you, but I can’t stop you from making this choice, even though I wish I could.'"

5. They cause you immense guilt.

In abusive relationships, the abuser may make the victim feel unnecessarily guilty, as if they are the ones who have erred in the relationship. Jacobs wrote in her piece for The Huffington Post that this is a sign of abuse:

"[S]ometimes, he will become the man who puts you down, makes you feel guilty, and isolates you. He will make you believe that if you just did something differently, loved him more, or treated him better, he would be that sweet, loving man all the time."

Watch the BuzzFeed and One Love Foundation videos below:

[h/t BuzzFeed]

If you are the victim of domestic abuse and are looking for help, you can reach the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

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