Are You in An Emotionally Destructive Relationship?

Recently in New Zealand media, there has been a lot of talk about sexual violence and intimate partner violence. The rates are so high in New Zealand that the government has decided to invest a lot more funding to this cause. Often times, when there is talk about family violence and child abuse, we immediately link it to physical abuse. Rightly so, because this is what causes the risk of women and children being seriously harmed or killed. I’ve always been curious to other forms of abuse and what people generally think counts as abuse or not.

Physical abuse, is often times accompanied by emotional abuse which ranges from withholding to controlling, and includes manipulation and verbal abuse. The number of people affected is astronomical. Emotional abuse can be very subtle and slowly eats away at your confidence and self-esteem The effects are long term, and can take even longer to recover from than blatant violence.

Victims often minimise what’s happening to them. This coping mechanism usually shows up as denial, especially when confronted by others. This type of violence includes when a partner is throwing or breaking things, shoving, pulling hair and when coercing sex among other things.

Victims often think that there must be something they are doing wrong in the relationship for things like this to start happening- they often think that if they just change their behaviour accordingly, their partner will stop treating them this way.


Red flags in the beginning of a relationship

  • Jealousy and possessiveness (moving too fast, saying I love you too fast, wanting to move in too soon)

  • Monopolising all your time- wanting to know where you are under the guise of being worried about you

  • Criticising your family and friends- almost to the point of you starting to change your mind about them

  • Slowly isolating you from people who love you, from things you like to do

  • People around you seem to have a high opinion of your partner which makes you think something is wrong with you not them

  • Your partner denies their actions and blames you

  • Your partner has the need to be right and in control

  • Your partner is hypersensitive and may react with rage- then apologise although the behaviour always continues

  • All of this usually takes place behind closed doors

Pay attention to these signs despite the fact that the person is pursuing you and expressing love and affection. An abuser won’t risk becoming abusive until he or she is confident that you won’t leave. First, he or she will try to win you over and isolate you from friends and family. Why? They cannot risk having people around who will ruin their plan. See if he or she respects your boundaries. Often, violence doesn’t start until after marriage or the birth of a child, when you’re less likely to leave. But it also can escalate when you try to leave. This is why it's imperative to have a plan and support.

The Typical Emotional Abuser

You may not realise that abusive partners tend to feel powerless. They work so hard to not appear insecure and feel internally strong by using power and control over their partners. In fact, one thing they all have in common is that their motive is to slowly take over the victim’s life by manipulating them, creating dependency and fear. This is because they don’t feel that they have personal power, regardless of worldly success or validation. To them, communication is a win-lose game.

Abusive partners often have the following profile:

  • Insecure deep down (will however not appear insecure)

  • Entitlement

  • Male dominance

  • Their needs come first- struggle to regulate own emotions

  • Strategic in how they come across to others

  • Hold on to traditional ways of looking at women

  • Needy with unrealistic expectations of a relationship

  • Distrustful

  • Verbally abusive (name calling, put downs)

  • Needs to be right and in control (stalking, checks your phone, uses surveillance, threats)

  • Possessive

  • Hypersensitive and reacts aggressively

  • Blames their behaviour on others

Why people remain in these relationships

There are many reasons why people stay in relationships. The dominant reason is dependency: controlled by the partner, shame, and the dysfunctional nature of the relationship lowers the person’s self-esteem and confidence and often causes the them to withdraw from friends and family, creating even more fear and dependency on their partner.

The abuse itself is experienced as an emotional rejection with the threat of being abandoned. This triggers feelings of shame and fear of both more abuse and abandonment in the victim, which are then relieved during the honeymoon phase. The victim hopes the abuser will change. After all, there are good times between episodes of abuse. There are reasons why the person loves or once loved the abuser, and often children are involved.

Abusers can have a Jekyll-and-Hyde personality. Dr. Jekyll is often charming and romantic, perhaps successful, and makes pronouncements of love. You love Dr. Jekyll and make excuses for Mr. Hyde. You may not see that the whole person is the problem. If you’ve had a painful relationship with a parent growing up, you can confuse love and pain.

Victims also stay for the following reasons

1. Finances.

2. Nowhere else to live.

3. No outside emotional support.

4. Childcare concerns.

5. Taking the blame for the abuse.

6. Denying, minimising, and rationalising the abuse.

7. Low self-esteem and confidence.

8. They love the abuser.

If you’re a victim of abuse, you feel ashamed. You’ve been humiliated and your self-esteem and confidence have been undermined. You hide the abuse from people close to you, often to protect the reputation of the abuser and because of your own shame. An abuser uses tactics to isolate you from friends and loved ones by criticising them and making remarks designed to force you take sides. You’re either for them or against them. If the abuser feels slighted, then you have to take his or her side, or you’re befriending the enemy. This is designed to increase control over you and your dependence upon him or her.

Steps You Can Take

Most victims of abuse respond in a rational way: They explain themselves and believe that the abuser is interested in what they have to say. This lets abusers know that they’ve won and have control.

  • It’s essential to build outside resources and talk about what’s going on in your relationship. A professional is the best person, because you can build your self-esteem and learn how to help yourself without feeling judged or rushed into taking action.

  • If you can’t afford private individual counselling, find a low-fee clinic/NGO in your area, learn all you can from books and online resources, join online forums, and find a support group. Do this even if it means keeping a secret. You’re entitled to your privacy.

  • Open bank and credit cards in your own name.

  • Have a safe place to go at a friend or relative.

  • Have a bag packed at that place with necessary valuables and important legal papers, passport, bank information, credit cards, phone book, and money.

  • Also pack clothes for your children and some toys.

  • Alert neighbours to call the police if they hear loud noises or suspect danger.

  • Make extra car and house keys.

  • Hide a car key outside so you can get away.

  • If there is weapon in the home, remove it.

  • Check your car, phone for surveillance tools.

Remember, numerous people experience abuse by their partners, you are not alone in this.