You deserve so much better.
Everywhere you look, you see people in love. Happy couples with picture-perfect relationships.
But not your relationship — yours is different.
Sometimes it feels great, but then just as quickly, it becomes messy, scary ... sometimes even downright violent. Sometimes you make up stories about how good things are in your relationship, hiding the real picture of what's happening in your life. You feel alone. It’s embarrassing.
You deserve better and you know it.
Unfortunately though, domestic violence and abusive relationships in general are complicated and difficult to acknowledge — especially when they're happening to you. Anyone can be abused by someone they love and care about, and it is often damned hard to leave. So, be gentle with yourself.
Not sure if what you're experiencing is just normal relationship challenges or something worse? Here are eight clear signs it's not love ... it's abuse.
(Note: If these apply to you, please know, you are most definitely not alone! Many of us have experienced the same things and we're you every step of the way):
1. You're afraid of your partner.
You feel like you're walking on eggshells whenever your partner is around. Sometimes you freeze in your tracks, unable to move. You're afraid of making them angry because you fear their retaliation. You always feel the need to placate them, to keep the peace at ANY COST.
You rationalize that it is better that they mistreat you rather than anger them further, because they may resort to physical violence, whether it's hitting, punching, slapping, strangling, pushing, etc. Physical violence should never be ignored and is a sign that the relationship is truly dangerous. The presence of guns in the home makes the situation even more lethal.
2. Your partner treats you like an object, not a person.
When someone treats you like an object, they can justify any action towards you. Your partner makes you do things you don't want to do. This includes forced sex of any kind (anal, oral, humiliating, BDSM, forced threesome etc.) Yes, you can be raped by the person that you love.
They make you feel humiliated, and it takes its toll on you until it makes you feel less of a person. It is often painful and embarrassing to ask for help.
3. You feel feel off-balance and crazy.
Your partner blames you for their behavior. For example, if you find out they're cheating and confront them, instead of admitting it, they accuse you of cheating, as well. When you want to discuss something or feel worried, they turn the issue around and throw it right back in your face.
They also belittle you, blame you for everything, criticize you, and makes you feel stupid. They call you names like slut, whore, bitch, and every demeaning word there is. But, when confronted, they will deny it all and say that you're acting crazy and overreacting.
They also gaslight you — in other words, manipulate you into doubting your memory, perception and sanity. (Gaslighting is a form of mental abuse and was coined from the 1944 film starring Ingrid Bergman).
4. Your partner threatens you.
When you try to leave, your partner destroys your possessions as a warning. They also threaten to kill you and themselves, or threaten to hurt your family and friends. They may also involve your children, threatening to hurt or take them way or turn you into the local child welfare office.
5. Their behavior is unpredictable.
Your partner's mood often changes — loving, fun, and friendly one minute, and in the next, angry, abusive, and violent. You're constantly on your guard, always watchful, hyper-vigilant and defensive.
In an car with them, you never know when they'll drive like a maniac, and you feel like they're constantly watching your every move.
6. They control your entire being.
Your partner is jealous and possessive and limits your access to family, friends, money, transportation, and even the phone. They constantly play mind games and distract you from focusing on important things.
Not only do they control your behavior through words, gestures, and glances, they routinely check up on you and even steal from you. Sometimes, they try to sabotage your career by making you miss work or making your day miserable through upsetting words and actions.
7. You feel ashamed.
You feel isolated and misunderstood, with nowhere to run. Once upon a time you were so confident, but now you've lost your sense of self-worth. You're also feeling overwhelmed, like you're not good enough, that something is wrong with you, and you feel like prisoner in your own mind. Sometimes, you feel guilty, but you don't know exactly why.
You also have anxiety and panic attacks, which sometimes lead to depression and suicidal thoughts.
8. You feel angry.
When you finally recognize the behavior as abuse, you start thinking. You realize that your abuser only stops their bad behavior if it benefits them. You start noticing the physical marks in places that people can't see, and the mental and emotional abuse leaves scars that are far deeper.
You're extremely angry about the entire situation. Yes, it is entirely possible to feel rage, fear, shame and pain all at the same time.
If you were abused in any way as a child or young person — or grew up in an alcoholic or violent family — then these feelings may be even stronger and more confusing. For people of color, it is also more difficult because racism experienced and often inherent within so-called systems of justice often further silences people.
What to do now if you you're experiencing abuse in your relationship:
If any of this applies to you. Seek assistance. Talk to an advocate. Go to your local domestic violence resource center or program. If you live in the U.S., call the National Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE).
You are not alone. One step at a time, you can break free.
Connect with Ellyn Bell at beautifulunconquerablesoul.com. She is co-author of Singing with the Sirens: Overcoming the Long Term Effects of Childhood Sexual Exploitation.