How to Tell if you’re in a Psychologically Abusive Relationship

Let’s begin by defining ABUSE.  If I ask you to tell me which are the first thoughts that come to your mind when thinking about abuse, images related to explicit violence will probably be the first ones to emerge. Well, that wouldn’t be wrong but here we’re talking about something much more complex.

To help us understand, this is a definition of abuse that I put together to make it as simple and short as possible:

WHAT IS ABUSE? an ongoing behavior from one person to subjugate another person by using aggressive strategies. What did I just said?

I’ll explain a little further.

Think for a moment of any strategy game you like: Age of Empires, Warcraft, Monopoly (I know, that depends on your age, right?)

In these games, everything is about HOW!  How you plan to conquer your goal, how you put that into practice, how soon, how often, for how long.

Well, that is what a strategy is about.  And when talking about relationships, and specifically about abusive relationships, what makes them different is how they develop.

The abuser has a specific goal: to take away a partners FREEDOM and LIBERTY.  Without those, she or he has total power and control over the partner’s life.



Now, I think that the best wat to introduce you to this topic is through several questions. So, here is my list of FAQs.

Is physical abuse the same that psychological abuse?

The answer is NO.  First of all, let me point this out: physical abuse always includes psychological abuse as a side effect but not the other way around.  A man or a woman person subjected to domestic violence will certainly have his body integrity affected as well as emotional traumas. But, someone who is being psychologically abused might have or have not visible mark.  The difference, then, is in the nature of the action.

So, you can be in a psychological abusive relationship (I’ll call it P.A.R. from now on) without any sign of physical mistreatment.  No body pain, no injuries, no pushes, no bruises at all.

Does it make it less serious than the other?

NO!  Both of them are painful, unhealthy and they can leave long time residual effects and traumas on the victim. Mental and emotional abuse is as harmful and noxious as physical violence and, sometimes, it can even be worse.

How do I know if I’m in a psychological abusive relationship?

It’s usually easier to recognize a situation when you’re an observer.  Imagine for one moment that you are locked in a cage.  You don’t feel good nor comfortable.  You feel sad and you want to escape but you don’t know how.  So, you begin to look carefully at your cage.  You try to find flaws and imperfections.  You think of a way out.  You turn around many times to see if there is a new alternative that you didn’t see before.  You can spend 5 hours and thinking and forcing the cage and you’ll probably get the same ideas that in the first 5 minutes and you’ll be more tired and stressed.   So, it will get harder to have new ideas or make a good decision by that time.

But, if you’re outside the box and it’s a friend of yours who is locked, you’ll will have a completely different point of sight.  You’ll be capable of contemplate the whole picture: the measures of the cage, the inclination, the materials outside, all the possible obstacles when trying to escape, your friends height and weight and you can even help with any tool you find nearby.  Apart from that, you won’t be as worried and nervous as your friend inside.  So, you will be able to think clearly.

Get the general idea?  You can recognize you’re in a P.A.R. as soon as it begins or you can realize about it long after that.  Or…you can have the feeling that something is wrong but not be sure about exactly what is wrong until someone tells you’re in a P.A.R.

It’s usually the people outside the P.A.R. that is capable of realizing the gravity of the situation and they’ll probably help you to find some ways out and the amount of potential and value that you have.

The more involved and the longer you’re in a P.A.R., the more confusing and the hardest it will be for you to find a way out.  But not impossible at all!  Ever!!

Can this kind of abuse happen to anyone?

YES.  Psychological abuse is not a question of intelligence, education or economical socioeconomic status.  It can happen to anyone but, the key point here is: TOLERANCE AND TIME.

Want me to explain a little bit more?

You’re going out with a girl and everything seems to be going on wheels.  A few days later after you first date, she texts you and aggressive message asking why are you online and who are you chatting with?   You talk to her, say that you don’t like that kind of reactions and everything seems to be alright and understood.  A week after that, you’re out having some dinner and she suddenly gets furious and claims that a girl next table is staring at you.  So, it’s obvious to her that you were provoking that woman sitting over there.  Dinner is spoiled and your whole night too.  Maybe you forget about that night and agree to give another try.  Now, this time, the situation has a twist.  She’s not jealous.  But, when you’re sharing a tender moment, she begins talking about her ex-boyfriend and how strong and intelligent and handsome he was.    Romantic environment is gone in the blink of an eye.

And that means: GAME OVER!  Enough for you.

Now try to think the exactly same situation but, this time, when the romantic environment is gone, you feel frustrated, you both have a fight, she asks you to forgive her and you finally do so.  Time goes by and similar conflictive situations happen over and over again.  You wait, you forgive, you expect her to be different, you put up with it.

So, which is the main difference among those examples?  HOW LONG AND HOW MUCH YOU TOLERATE. That is what differentiate a healthy or unhealthy way of dealing with a toxic relationship.

Am I susceptible of being involved in a P.A.R.?

As I mentioned before, anyone can meet and start dating an abusive partner.  If you are capable of quickly detecting warning alarms and set limits, you’ll be fine and out of trouble soon enough.

But that depends a lot on several aspects of your personality:  VULNERABILITY, DEPENDENCE, GUILT LEVEL, FRUSTRATION TOLERANCE and so on.  To sum up: LOW SELF-ESTEEM men and women are more vulnerable to get involved and maintain this kind of relationships.

Can I recognize an abusive person at first sight?

PROBABLY NOT.   Abusive persons are not always evidently aggressive or show themselves in public the same way they do when being with their partners. They are usually far from being crazy or violent and they can even have a charming personality that makes everyone around fall in love with them.  When meeting someone like that, you’ll feel the same way.  However, they are not perfect and little signs of alarm start appearing very soon.

IMPORTANT! Usually, abusive relationships begin with small things, with time and confidence, they escalate and turn into bigger ones.  So, basically, abuse can also be extremely subtle.

How should I feel if I’m involved in a P.A.R.?

When you’re in a healthy relationship, happiness is the prevailing feeling.  Maybe not all the time, but most of it.

When you’re in a P.A.R, the prevailing emotions are CONFUSSION, ANGUISH, SADNESS, FEAR, ANXIETY, NERVOUSNESS.  You can have still experience some good moments but they will be much less than the negatives ones.  The relationship can affects other aspects of your daily life and you can even get depressed and don’t be able to find any sense in waking up or living.

Are there any usual behaviors or statements to recognize a P.A.R.?

YES. Here are just some (not all!) of the most frequent habits and statements used by an abuser.


There are so many ways to manipulate but, in an abusive relationship, they will all have one purpose: to make you feel insecure and, therefore, to make you do what she/he wants you to do.

  • Your partner constantly tells you about the horde of people who are attracted to her/him.
  • Another typical situation is that he tells you he’s going to call you today at 6 pm. It’s 6 pm, 6.30, 7, 8, 9 and know nothing about her/him.  You send a text but there’s no answer back.  When you finally get to talk, she/he plays mysterious.

What do you think happened?  She / He did that on purpose to have you thinking about that all the time and to make you imagine all the possibilities why she/he is not calling you.

  • Verbal manipulation has a central role in this kind of relationships. As we all know, the meaning of a sentence is given not only by the words used, but also by the tone of voice, the emphasis and the gestures that come with it.

Listen to the difference in this sentence:

“I can’t concentrate at work because of you” (I’m thinking about you, I’m in love with you?

““I can’t concentrate at work because of you” (you’re driving me mad, you’re responsible if I make a mistake in my job)

Do you see?  The words are exactly the same but the meaning of the sentence is totally different.  The first one intends to make you happy and the second one tries to make you feel guilty and sad.  The last one is manipulative.

The problem with all of this is that, over time, confusion arises and you can begin doubting about yourself and have trouble at differentiating if what he/she tells you is right or wrong.


This is the best to create dependency because intimidation causes fear.  And fear causes submission.  So, if you begin feeling threatened by your couple, you should be careful because that means the relationship is coming to another new (and dangerous) level.

Some usual statements:

  • We do what I say we do
  • You don’t know what can happen to you if you do that…
  • I’ll kill myself if you leave me
  • You can’t leave me alone
  • I’m doing this for your own good
  • You’re misunderstanding everything!



The lack of trust in you and the possibility of you being unfaithful are always there, even if it’s her/him who behaves suspiciously or lies.

Some usual statements:

  • Why is that girl/guy looking at you?
  • What have you done to provoke her/him?
  • You’re dressed like a whore
  • Stop seducing everyone
  • You should wear less provocative clothes



This is one of the worst things about abusive relationships because it points straightly to your self-esteem.  If the person who is supposed to love you more keeps telling you how little you’re worth, you’ll probably end up believing that sooner or later.  And, once you have such a low concept of yourself, you’ll feel too weak and fragile to stand strong and defend your beliefs:

Some examples of daily life humiliation are:

  • She / He calls you names and say hurtful things
  • Your partner constantly criticizes what you do, emphasizes your “mistakes”, and makes you feel useless and worthless
  • She / He depreciate you in front of other

Some usual statements:

  • You’re so stupid!
  • You’re nothing without me
  • You can’t’ think by yourself
  • You embarrass me
  • Shut up. What do you know about that?!
  • You’re such a disappointment
  • What makes you think you know?
  • Don’t pay attention to him/her
  • He / She’s kind of slow/ too dramatic / too sensitive
  • At least I have a serious job

This can lead you to become too confuse to distinguish what is right or wrong.  You’ll probably be mistaken anyway according to your partner’s point of view!

  • CONTROL 24/7

Your partner tries to be in control of your whole life.  This is probably happening in a progressive way, beginning with small and apparently inoffensive questions until you’re supposed to ask for permission or have his/her approval before doing anything.

Remember that control can even get private things like managing your finances, telling what to do with your money or how to spend it.

Some usual sentences:

  • Where have you been all this long?
  • Has anyone called you?
  • Why didn’t you ask me before taking that decision?
  • You should ask me first
  • Send me a photo of where you are
  • Why did you buy that?
  • You should ask me before spending your money

You’re the guilty one!

You become responsible for all of your partners failures, mistakes and, basically, anything that goes wrong, whether you’re there or not.  You are accused of things that are out of your control and you’ll be guilty for his changes of mood of everyday problems.

  • You made me do it
  • You make me angry
  • I didn’t get the promotion because of you

You’re better alone!

Family, friends and, of course, a therapist become new enemies to your pal.  People that surrounds you will listen to you, give you advice and they’ll certainly try to protect you and make you feel strong enough to leave your partner. He or she may try to cut you off from social supports, accusing the people who act as your support network of “causing trouble” in the relationship.

The lonelier you’re, the more you will need her/him.



So, these are only a few examples of what are common behaviors in an abuser but the list is longer and there can be many other different ways of mistreating you.

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