Unhappy in love? Or is it abuse?
Many of us who have been in love know what heartache is, but for some people, pain in a relationship progresses to abuse. Before we know it, we can be trapped in a nightmare of slowly escalating put-downs, sarcasm, cold-shouldering, and physical rejection. Yet we can’t get out. Loving an abuser creeps up slowly like a poisonous addiction.
According to the Office for National Statistics, two million adults, both male and female, reported being victims of domestic violence, but emotional abuse, despite having no broken bones to show for it, can create just as much distress.
Our reaction to abuse is often to deny it is happening at all, as we want to keep our good opinion of our partner and to believe in them. Some abusive partners are charming in company, and might be popular with our friends, which may have us doubting ourselves, wondering if we are the one who is not good enough.
What are the signs of an abusive relationship?
Non-violent abuse is characterised by passive aggression and coercive control.
Passive aggression largely occurs when our partner appears to be doing nothing wrong, but is engaged in behaviour that is undermining. When we try to get their attention over an important relationship issue, for example, they might start shuffling papers, yawning, looking out of the window, or scrolling through their phone. Passive-aggressive partners are very effective at putting us in the wrong and keeping us in that position.
They punish us with the ‘silent treatment’, which includes blanking our attempts to restore cordial relationships with friendly gestures such as cups of tea or a hug. Cold shouldering, withdrawal of physical contact, and sulking for long periods are typical passive-aggressive responses.
Coercive control and passive aggression are two sides of a single coin. Partners who control in this way may be particularly focused on separating us from our emotional support systems.
Our loved ones are a dangerous threat to controlling partners who find secretive ways to dismantle our relationships. Their underhand methods weaken us with the slow-drip toxins of self-doubt and insecurity.
People who are close to us may or may not suspect we are being controlled, but even if they do, they often fail in their efforts to get through to us. We may blank out their concerns or downplay their fears.
A controlling partner is starting to succeed when our friends begin to feel irritated with us. If we have stopped answering their calls, it may be that our partner is putting a million obstacles in our way and making it impossible to maintain proper friendships, but it may come across as indifference. This is especially true if we haven’t been completely honest, or have partners who put on the charm in company. If contact with those who genuinely love us starts to die away, we get isolated. The abuser has then won the war.
Why we get into abusive relationships
It is not really fully understood why some people get into abusive relationships whereas others seem to fall effortlessly into the perfect match. The reason may sometimes be low self-esteem, which can begin long before we become adults. Children need real love to blossom into secure adults. Very few of us are lucky enough to get a perfect upbringing, so developing a few insecurities is not all that unusual.
From a very young age, we subconsciously recognise our dependence on our parents for physical and emotional survival. If our parents are inconsistent, or unfairly critical, a child prefers to think it is they themselves who don’t deserve love and are the ones to blame.
A child prefers to think this way, as it means real love could still come if only we could find the right way to get it. An abused child is dependent on the parent, and will try very hard to please. To acknowledge the parent is an abuser creates too much fear, deep down inside, because of dependency. A striking feature of a victim relationship is the urge to appease the abuser, even though they are the ones at fault, not us.
On the other hand, we may have been in a loving environment to start with, but when bereavement, illness, poverty, school bullies, or other troubles walk through the door, we can become vulnerable.
If our family life was marked by parents who struggled with their own low self-esteem, then we may not have received the consistent love we need to trust our natural responses as we grow up. We lack the alarm bell that rings silently in our subconscious, warning us to steer clear. And of course, there are other people who find themselves inexplicably being abused, when they have previously had a joyful, rewarding life.
When we don’t feel good enough for real love, we settle for a relationship which hurts us. Trying to please the abuser and getting them to love us is an addiction, and we become dependent on the supply. Even if we find the strength to break away, we may return to an ex who hurt us, or repeat the harmful habits in new relationships.
How to get out of an abusive relationship
Firstly, it is very important to understand the dynamics of an addictive, abusive relationship and to stop blaming yourself or feeling guilty. A trusted friend who knows you well can give powerful support, so it is well worth opening up to them and being totally frank. It can be hard to listen to their feedback, as it brings up the hurt of buried feelings, but it is well worth doing. Online resources, libraries, and other media provide a range of support, and some voluntary agencies and charitable bodies can help.
If you feel you need expert professional help, why not consider hypnotherapy? It is a deep and vigorous method which will help you get to the unconscious roots of the situation and free yourself to find the genuine love you deserve. As always, when engaging a professional service, take time to choose the right person for you. Their previous experience, qualifications, and testimonials are usually available online, and word of mouth is also very val