We have a clear image of the battered woman in our minds, and that is what we usually refer to when we think of “domestic abuse,” but abuse comes in many forms. Some types of abuse are less obvious, but no less insidious.
“Gaslighting” is a manipulation technique that serves to undermine your entire perception of reality, and your perception of self. It can make you second-guess your instincts, and make you feel minimized. As a result of gaslighting, you may feel totally crazy, neurotic, and hyper-sensitive. And you may feel a bizarre sense of alienation.
The term gaslighting comes from the 1940’s film “Gas Light,” where a husband systematically manipulates his wife into believing that she is crazy. Often employed by narcissistic and sociopathic people, gaslighting eats away at your sense of the world. Gaslighting is certainly not the only form of emotional abuse narcissists employ.
Another type of emotional abuse is isolating you from your friends and family. It can be difficult to identify because you may feel that you chose to spend all of your time with your partner instead of with other important people in your life. But the reality is that isolating you from your support network can be a tacit sign of abuse. In this way, you are forced to rely only on your partner for emotional support and human connection, which can be dangerous if they are abusive in other ways.
Telling you what you can and cannot wear, calling you names and putting you down, are all very obvious types of emotional control and abuse. But once your partner has isolated you from friends and family, signs like this will be harder and harder to identify. When you love someone, you want to give them the benefit of the doubt, but if that individual is your only source of secondary perspective, you may receive distorted feedback about your experience.
A partner who threatens to expose your secrets is also engaging in emotional abuse. This is true even when the truth is harmful. For example, if you have a secret prescription drug habit, your partner is not doing you any favors by keeping the secret, so threatening to expose you isn’t for your own good. It is only a method of manipulation.
Another form of abuse is making you feel guilty when you decline to engage in sexual activity. It is your body to use as you see fit, and you are not under any obligation to engage sexually with your partner, married or not. Guilting you for refusing sex is a form of abuse. Again, it is always one’s right to say no.
If your partner requires knowledge of where you are at all times – if they are constantly checking in – that can also be a sign of emotional abuse. There should be enough trust in a relationship that you can freely go about your life. Jealousy and incessant questioning about innocent relationships in your life is definitely a sign of abuse.
When an abused partner has the nerve to leave the abuser, they may threaten to do harm to themselves, or even commit suicide, if you leave. You may think that this is just a testament to how much they love you and want to be with you, but it is actually one of the most treacherous types of emotional abuse. You are forced to determine whether or not you could live with the guilt of them doing something drastic. Often the victim will stay rather than risk the possibility of a horrible outcome.
A relationship can certainly be dangerously unhealthy without physical abuse. In fact, physical violence usually comes after an extended period of emotional abuse. It is important to keep yourself safe and maintain your autonomy, no matter how long you are with someone. You should understand that you are never to blame, nor do you deserve any abusive behavior from a partner or spouse.