Recognizing abuse during or after a relationship can be tricky business. Identify it and take back your power by learning to spot these five subtle forms.
Being in relationship with another human is hard work. There’s value in working our way through flaws and complications in ourselves and our partners, but there comes a time when it’s time to go. It’s not always easy to know when the time has come, but there’s one simple rule that signals a hard stop:
When abuse happens, the relationship contract is over.
When we think of abuse within relationship, we often think of physical violence. But in reality, there are many more behaviors that qualify as abuse. It’s easy to experience these types of abuse and not identify them as such.
The thing about abuse within relationship is that the perpetrator often cycles between abusive behavior and apologetic behavior with promises to change. The pleasant times make it difficult for the recipient of the abuse to leave the relationship.
5 Subtle Forms of Abuse
Ultimately, abuse within relationship involves one person trying to control the other. Here’s what that might look like.
Verbal or nonverbal abuse: This more subtle form of emotional or psychological abuse involves behaviors like threatening, name-calling, embarrassing, yelling, gaslighting, and/or making you feel like there’s no way out of the relationship.
Sexual abuse: Often occurring in tandem with physical abuse, sexual abuse may involve unwanted or demeaning sexual activity, teasing for the purpose of limiting your sexuality, or forced participation in things like pornography or film making.
Stalking: This type of abuse can take place during or after a relationship. It may involve following, sending unwanted gifts or letters, reaching out to your friends and family to find out about you, or damaging your property.
Financial abuse: Behaviors associated with this form of abuse include withholding financial resources like credit cards, tricking you out of money or assets, preventing you from working, or withholding physical resources like food, clothes, and shelter.
Spiritual abuse: In this type of abuse, the perpetrator may ridicule your beliefs, prevent you from practicing your beliefs, or even use your spiritual or religious beliefs to manipulate you.
These are some pretty big labels. It can be hard to attach them to your experience when you’re in the thick of it.
I still remember talking with a therapist about a disturbing situation I found myself in. I had told pieces to friends and family, but she was the first person I revealed the whole series of events to. When I was done, she reached for a stack of papers and pulled out a diagram titled the Wheel of Power and Control.
“Have you seen this?” she asked.
“No,” I said. I scanned through the illustration and noticed the source: domesticviolence.org.
Until that afternoon, I never would have identified my situation as abuse. Looking at that wheel made it all too clear how I was being manipulated in the midst of feeling compassion for the perpetrator.
Take Back Your Power
From that day forward, I took actions to reclaim my power. Those actions often felt unnatural and harsh. But each time I took a step forward at separating and freeing myself, I felt my power and energy for life grow.
One of the most helpful things someone did for me through the process was to give me a practical action step and then hold me accountable by asking me to send them a text after I had completed it. When we’re in the midst of an abusive situation, we have to look for our life preservers—people who care for us and are outside the situation enough to be able to see more clearly than we can.
We’re allowed to go. We’re allowed to break free. Waking up and recognizing it is half the battle.
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Last updated: June 10, 2019