Let’s get real about emotional abuse: It’s real, and it’s really dangerous. Emotional abuse destroys your confidence and your ability to trust others. It can leave you with mental illnesses like depression and anxiety. But the more you know about emotional abuse, the better you can protect yourself. So here are 5 red flags to watch for in your relationships:
Gaslighting means the abuser makes you look/feel crazy. They tell embarrassing stories about you but change details. If you bring up a problem (“I don’t like it when you make fun of me”), they will deny it or say they don’t remember it. They will say it’s not a big deal. That you’re just being emotional. That you can talk about it when you’re not hysterical anymore. One common phrase of gaslighters is: “You have such a vivid imagination.” This is only acceptable to say about someone’s 3-act sci-fi play, not about your actual memories. Pay attention if you can’t remember why you were mad, or if you’re always the one apologizing. They might be gaslighting you.
This is where the abuser brings a third person into the relationship. Your boyfriend flirts with another girl to make you jealous, then says you’re overreacting. Your mom tells your sister that you wore her shirt (you didn’t) so you’ll end up fighting. Your friend texts you about a party and then says, “OMG that was for someone else.” They talk about you behind your back but pretend it’s for your own good. “I’m so worried about Jessica; she’s been having unprotected sex.” In reality, they want to gossip/lie about you. Remember that jealousy, gossip, threats, and lies have no place in a healthy relationship.
They read your texts without permission. They tell you not to hang out with your friends. They embarrass you on purpose. They make comments about your body to control what you eat and wear. They make fun of books/movies you like. Normal parents want to know where you are. Controlling parents call many times while you are out. Their rules about who you can hang out with are random and change without warning.
This abuse tactic is named after the vacuum because abusers try to suck you back in if they lose control over you. A common hoovering technique is to text you something they know you will react to. “I’m thinking about suicide, can you talk?” Or, “I know you said you never want to talk to me again, but I just got tickets to [band you love].” They will “like” your old Instagram posts. They promise to change, then don’t. If you’re trying to be financially independent from your parents, they buy you a car. Hoovering usually involves an outpouring of affection — but always with strings attached.
5. The Silent Treatment
This is never the way to deal with conflict. If someone says, “I need some space to cool off and think,” that is one thing. It’s a whole ‘nother rotten burrito if you’re going crazy trying to figure out what you did wrong. The person is punishing you by withholding communication. They want you to second-guess yourself and feel bad about it. No one that cares about you wants you to feel bad.
Keep in mind that if these things only happen once, or if the person stops after you ask them to, you’re probably okay. Put your guards up if they don’t stop or if these behaviors are habits.
Remember: You don’t have to be friends with anyone that makes you feel uncomfortable. You never have to date someone that hurts you. Your parents don’t have a right to hurt you, even if they “carried you for 9 months” or “brought you into this world.”
It can be scary to realize you’re being emotionally abused. Please know that it’s not your fault, and you are not alone. You can tell a trusted friend/adult, ask to see the school counselor, limit contact where you can, join online support groups, check out books on recovery, and learn everything you can about setting boundaries. With help, you can live a healthy, extraordinary life.
Kate Merriman recently graduated with a BA in Communications. One time she accidentally joined a polka competition without signing up. Kate currently lives in Utah with her hot artist husband. Find her on Twitter @katejmerriman.