How to Recognize Abuse in a Relationship

In a 1938 stage play written by Patrick Hamilton, a husband mysteriously disappears each evening. 

When his wife grows anxious about his behavior and questions him about it, he brushes it off and claims she doesn’t know what she’s talking about. And then he reminds her of several other ways in which she’s been acting crazy lately: she says she hears sounds coming from the unoccupied apartment above theirs, and she keeps insisting that the gas-lit lamps in their apartment dim significantly each evening. 

He lives in the same apartment as she does, and he hasn’t noticed any of that! Surely, she must be going insane, he tells her.

In reality, the husband has been entering the apartment above them each night in search of the deceased owner’s missing jewels (which are rumored to be hidden there). 

Whenever he ignites the gas lights in that apartment, the lights in his own apartment dim. In this thriller of a play, the wife eventually learns that she is not going crazy and helps the police expose her husband’s deception—which turns out to include murder. 

The play’s popularity led the media (and eventually experts in psychology) to give the husband’s behavior a name: gaslighting. 

Gaslighting is classic abusive behavior in which the abuser causes the victim to question her own sanity, feelings, and instincts. Little by little, the abuser is able to break down the victim’s trust in herself, which makes her more likely to stay in the relationship and less likely to alert others to the abuse because “they won’t believe her anyway.”

In a recent Emotions Mentor Podcast, I talked with my friend and relationship expert Brooke Magleby about emotional abuse in relationships. 

Our conversation, in part, addressed ways in which an individual can navigate troubled relationships that don’t necessarily involve emotional abuse. 

Sometimes, a relationship can be saved when both parties are willing to work through difficulties and identify ways in which they may be hurting each other and can change that behavior.

In truly abusive relationships, however, the most important work that can be done is determining that you are being abused and finding a way to escape that relationship. 

Physical abuse can be documented and leaves visible scars; but emotional abuse never leaves an outside mark. Because of this, many victims question whether or not abuse is actually taking place. 

Others might not think it’s abuse at all but find that they are constantly doubting themselves and feel that everything that goes wrong in a relationship is their fault.

Here are some warning signs that you may be in a relationship where you’re being emotionally abused:

 • The abusive partner regularly refuses to listen or feigns confusion when you share a concern. 

Examples of this include saying, “You’re just being confusing,” or “You’re trying to confuse me,” or “I don’t want to hear this again.”

• The abusive partner regularly trivializes your concerns. 

Examples include saying, “You’re always getting angry over little things” or “You’re way too sensitive” or “You’re acting like a baby.”

• The abusive partner regularly denies things that have actually happened when you bring them up. 

Examples include saying, “You never remember things correctly,” or “I’m pretty sure it didn’t happen that way,” or “You’re imagining things,” or “I don’t remember it happening that way; you’re making things up.”

• You find yourself regularly apologizing for or making excuses for your partner’s behavior.

• You don’t feel like yourself anymore; you feel like you used to be more confident, more relaxed, and more able to have fun.

• You feel confused about what is really happening and wonder if you really are imagining things.

• You lie or hide things to avoid being put down or questioned.

• You apologize to your partner about everything you do, even if it’s innocuous and warrants no apology.

• The abusive partner regularly says things that make you feel humiliated or guilty.

• The abusive partner encourages you to spend time with only him, increasingly isolating you from friends and family. 

• The abusive partner calls you names or puts you down.

• The abusive partner withholds money, insists that you have an allowance, or even refuses to let you work outside of the home.

The tactics listed above are used to control; they are not employed to show love, concern, or attention. No one deserves to be treated this way. If you feel that you may be a victim of emotional abuse, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1 (800) 799−7233.

Essential Oil Recipes

For Relief of Emotional Trauma— Combine sandalwoodbergamotgeranium, and lime
For Increasing Trust in Yourself— Blend frankincensesandalwoodSiberian firhelichrysum, and rose oil.

Application: Apply over the lungs and chest and/or bottoms of your feet regularly, as needed.

Affirmation: Look into your eyes in the mirror (or imagine yourself standing in front of yourself looking into your eyes) and with compassion say out loud: “I am healthy and well. I am whole and complete. I trust myself and I am safe. I embrace the future and I am free to be happy.”

Best Wishes, 
Rebecca Hintze


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