7 Signs You're Being Quietly Abused (And Don't Even Know It)

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signs of emotional abuse
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Reminder: Abuse doesn't always happen at a high volume.

One of the more abusive relationships I ever had never had a guy who laid a hand on me. In fact, my partner never shouted at me or screamed at me, either. But despite the lack of shouting and hands being thrown, it was a horrible relationship that made me feel worthless.

With his constant jokingly disparaging remarks about my career, asking me to eat less, and acting icy when I begged for love and affection, my ex was definitely abusive. When he dumped me, no one believed me when I told them he was abusive.

He had made a point to get a smear campaign on for months before he walked away. It was only after he was engaged to one of my friends who had a better standing in our social group that they realized I was right.

At that moment, a lot of people learned a lesson: abuse doesn't always happen at top volume.

When people think about verbal and emotional abuse, we usually assume it’s done via shouting, yelling, and screaming. In many cases, it does get that bad, but the truth is that a lot of abuse happens at very quiet levels.

Domestic violence experts actually even have a name for it, and they call it “quiet abuse.” Quiet abuse is verbal abuse that happens at regular talking levels or abuse that happens via silence. 


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Believe it or not, quiet abuse is actually pretty common, even among people who aren’t coupled up. In fact, you may have even witnessed it with friends, colleagues, or family members.

Here are 5 signs of emotional abuse you might have experienced in the past:

1. He says mean jokes that dig at your self-esteem...

Only to brush off any complaints you have with suggestions that you’re “too sensitive” and that it’s “just a joke.” This can be a form of verbal abuse seen in both relationships and offices, and it can seriously impact the way you feel about yourself. Don’t just brush it off if what it’s doing is seriously upsetting you.

2. He insults you at a normal noise level.

Blatant insults said at a normal noise level are also forms of quiet abuse. You know how you have that one friend who keeps telling you that you’re the “fat chick” of the group? Or, how you once had a boss who insisted that you were “useless” at meetings? Yes, this is quiet abuse if it’s done at talking levels of noise.

3. He guilt-trips you.

Guilt tripping is another pretty common form of silent abuse. Ever been guilt tripped into doing something you really weren’t comfortable doing? Yes, this is a manipulative tactic that falls under silent abuse.

4. He obviously ignores you when you talk to him.

This is a method people use to disempower people or make them feel unloved. If this happens in a relationship, you’re being abused and disrespected. 

5. He uses stonewalling, cold shouldering and purposefully excludes you when you disagree with him.

These are all signs of emotional abuse. They all hurt, they all are done with the objective of control in mind, and they also don’t require huge amounts of volume to sting. In fact, this kind of behavior can be some of the most devastating form of abuse out there.

6. You regularly are told that you're "too sensitive." 

I personally can tell you that people who say this tend to be the ones who have abusive natures. If your partner regularly tells you to "chill out" and that you're "so sensitive" whenever you broach the subject of the way they treat you, you're probably dealing with silent abuse. 

7. He just has a way to make you feel weak, small, or stupid. 

Sometimes, it's really hard to actually figure out what a guy does that makes you feel so low. At times, the only indicator that something is seriously wrong is that being around him makes you feel wrong. 

What makes silent abuse so terrible when compared to overt abuse is that we often are socialized to feel as if we may be overreacting to silent abuse. After all, we’re usually taught that shouting is bad, but “talking things out” isn’t. As a result, silent abuse is harder to pinpoint and also fight back at than its louder counterpart.


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We register yelling as a direct attack as us naturally. But when we deal with silent abuse, we often will jump to the conclusion that we are in the wrong for asserting ourselves, or that we did something wrong. This is why you may feel guilty trying to bring up the way that you feel against a partner who uses silent abuse against you, too.

Psychologists and therapists are also getting wiser about silent abuse. They’re realizing that it’s easier to discredit people who are victims of silent abuse, and that many abusers know how to hide behind rhetoric in order to not be called out on their bad behavior. That’s why there’s now a new push to try to help people recognize that abuse doesn’t always mean hitting or shouting.

It doesn’t matter if the person you’re with isn’t yelling at you or hitting you. If he’s chipping away at your self-esteem, being icy, and just going out of his way to hurt or control you, he’s an abuser.

If you don’t feel great around him because he’s doing things that fall into silent abuse categories, you need to leave him. Abuse is still abuse, no matter where the volume dial is placed. 

 

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