How To Know The Difference Between A 'Rough Patch' And Straight-Up Abuse

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When Is It A Rough Patch and When Is It Abuse? Recognize abuse!

Is what you're going through — or watching someone else go through — just a rough patch or actually abuse?

Too many people put up with bad behavior. They make excuses and put up with actions that are actually really abusive and this need to stop! You need to learn how to recognize the signs of abuse when it's happening.

No one likes to think they are being abused. You, like so many people, are likely uncomfortable with the idea that it might be abuse. You don't want to think of the other person in that way.

You don't want to think of yourself as being abused.

In, abuse is defined this way:

  1. To use wrongly or improperly; misuse: to abuse one's authority
  2. To treat in a harmful, injurious, or offensive way
  3. To speak insultingly, harshly, and unjustly to or about; revile; malign
  4. To commit sexual assault upon
  5. Harshly or coarsely insulting language
  6. Bad or improper treatment; maltreatment

There it is, in black-and-white. There's no getting away from it.

When someone treats you in a degrading, mean, discounting, and dismissive way, it's abuse.

If you are wise, you speak up the first time it happens and tell them that's not acceptable and it cannot happen again. The second time, you tell them that if it happens again, you insist on getting help as a couple. If they refuse, you then draw your line in the sand: "If it happens again, we're done!!

RELATED: 21 Signs You're In An Emotionally Abusive Relationship

I know it's easier said than done when you have children, property, financial issues, and other concerns that need considering. However, you must express and maintain your boundaries. And, that might mean making a clear plan for leaving, if it is your partner who is the abuser.

If it is a parent, you can distance yourself. Once you've read this, you'll recognize abuse more easily.

If you don't have strong boundaries that you express and maintain, you'll turn yourself into a pretzel, and end up being a doormat! 

Verbal abuse is degrading and dismissive. You can recognize abuse because you know mean when you hear it! Emotional abuse is harder to let yourself recognize, I know.

You want to justify, rationalize, and make excuses for the other person because:

  • They don't really mean it.
  • They've had a rough childhood.
  • They're going through a tough time.
  • They don't know any different.

You are actually excusing — and enabling — the abuse when you say those things. I know that sounds harsh, but it's true. 

Abusing children is terrible, right? Yet, whatever makes it less terrible to be abused as an adult? This definition of abuse from is as accurate for adults as for teens and children:

"Any act including confinement, isolation, verbal assault, humiliation, intimidation, infantilization, or any other treatment which may diminish the sense of identity, dignity, and self-worth." 

Hijackals™ love to diminish your sense of identity, dignity, and self-worth. That's what they live for  to make you feel small and worthless. Recognize abuse like this! 

(Who are Hijackals? Those relentlessly difficult people who hijack relationships — for their own purposes — while relentlessly scavenging them for power, status, and control. Learn to recognize them with my free ebook, How To Spot A Hijackal, at

That's psychological abuse! Chronic verbal aggression! 

RELATED: 7 Ways To Spot A 'Hijackal:' The Latest Relationship Predator

Are any of these happening in your relationship? The Hijackal denies they are doing anything hurtful. But, yet:

  • They yell, swear, and bully.
  • They like to keep you where they can have power over you, so you are isolated. 
  • They call you names at home, in public, and in front of the children.
  • They need power over you so they often shut you out, ignore you, or give you the silent treatment
  • You are frequently threatened to keep you small and "in your place."
  • When you won't do what they want, in any moment, the Hijackal becomes enraged and threatens.

Does any of this sound familiar? Hijackal will go to any length to make themselves right and you wrong. Power and control — that's what it's all about! 

Oh, and are you making excuses for an abuser? 

Don't beat yourself up. It's what you do because you take the blame for what's going on. It's time to stop, though.

And, you'll need professional help to do this. That's the only way to stop it — and make sure that you never find it acceptable again!

So, what to do when you recognize abuse?

If there is physical or sexual abuse, simply make a plan and leave. In fact, run if you can. Make the police aware of your situation as often as possible. This creates documentation and helps you later on.

If there is no physical or sexual abuse, I suggest you do your own work first, before leaving. Why? Because you'll gather strength, courage, and strategies that will help greatly when you are separating and divorcing.

I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but if you can get some professional help to bolster your self-esteem, assertiveness, and boundaries before you leave, you'll be in better shape after. Many of my clients tell me that they are so glad they did this. (If you want my help, go here.)

If your Hijackal has hijacked the family finances — and this is too common — invite the Hijackal to come along to sessions with you. What I've found is this: Hijackals like to come along. They are confident that they will be able to get the therapist on their side, believing their side of things.

Then, you feel doubly wounded because both the Hijackal and the counselor are telling you it's your fault. That's why you must get help from someone like me who specializes in handling Hijackals!

I don't want you to feel re-wounded and my Hijackal Radar is always set at extreme! In my practice, I work in packages of sessions because Hijackals come along with you, then, get angry and leave. You are then left with the rest of the sessions already paid for to get the help you need. It often works that way.

In the meantime, start thinking in different terms. Everything the Hijackal says about you is likely a lie, made up to make you feel small, insignificant, and wrong. Understand that usually what the Hijackal says about you is the deep truth about him or her. This is called projection and Hijackals do it all the time.

If they accuse you of cheating, it is highly likely that they are cheating. And, so on. Think about this when you're listening to the rants. Don't respond with denials. That just fuels the fire.

Say, "I think that what you are accusing me of is what you are doing." Say it quietly and repeatedly. The Hijackal won't like it at all, but you'll feel better, and it's a step towards recovering your self.

Know that there is a big difference between an occasional wrong, mean outburst in anger that your partner apologizes for and changes, and abuse. Abuse happens often. Recognize abuse, and start walking away from it now!

Rhoberta Shaler, PhD, the Relationship Help Doctor, is available to help you restore your sense of self, your self-esteem, self-worth, and self-confidence. She works with the partners, exes, and adult children of the relentlessly difficult people she calls "Hijackals™." Join in her small group or private programs, subscribe to her Tips for Relationships, and listen to her The Relationship Help Show.

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This article was originally published at Dr. Rhoberta Shaler's blog, For Relationship Help. Reprinted with permission from the author.