They tend to feel strongly about their actions and will try to edify their victims through empty platitudes or Scripture taken out of context to align with their perceptions and justify their behavior.
Sometimes the power and control they exert is not easily seen or detected by victims, friends, or family. It can be insidious and toxic in small and discrete ways.
5 Signs of an Abusive Relationship
For the remainder of this article, I want to illuminate 5 subtle behaviors associated with power and control in an abusive relationship.
Minimizing can feel like death from a thousand cuts or even make you question your own perception of reality. Maybe it’s a person telling that you shouldn’t feel the way you feel, or that you are overreacting to the situation you are in.
Often times, people like friends and family will try to minimize the circumstance to help assuage the pain or grief you are experiencing. This is not abuse, but a misguided attempt to help you. Conversely, the abuser may appear to be giving the same help, but they are using your feelings and thoughts to reduce your own sense of self and forge themselves as the author of how you should and shouldn’t feel or think.
You may recall what happened after a large fight with your spouse or a drunken night on the town. The following day you remember the hurtful things that were said and felt, but your partner downplays the event and paints a much more amiable and faded picture of the truth.
When our partners minimize the truth and try to subdue the way their actions, words, or hands hurt you, they are not sharing in a relationship but are dictating from a script of half-truths.
2. GaslightingAnother form of abuse takes the form of gaslighting. What is gaslighting?Manipulating someone by psychological means into questioning their own sanity.Many — if not all — romantic or platonic relationships have engaged in making the other person feel crazy at some point in time.
Being on the receiving end can be a frustrating and emotionally crippling thing to experience. This abusive tool is used both consciously and unconsciously when couples argue or fight. It may sound like the abuser is accusing you of having a false memory, when it is evident that isn’t the case.
For example, the abuser may tell you that you told them you don’t like certain food, people, or movies when you do. This subtle and insidious form of manipulation may pause you momentarily and cause you to question your own memory.
The tactic is not violent or black and white in its purpose, so the victim often looks within to question the oddity. You may have heard, “Don’t you remember we talked about it last week, and you said yes?” This form of abuse normally comes from a highly intelligent abuser and is not easily roused by your suspicions or rebuttals.
3. Using the Children as Manipulation
Children can also be at the center of abuse in many ways beyond them being the immediate recipients. Many grown children wear the hurt and baggage from years of abusive manipulation drawn through them by means of a parent wanting to exert their power and control.
This is often most evident when a parent uses the child’s love as the linchpin to their agenda. I counseled a father who continually made suicidal threats when he spoke to his children about having a relationship with their mother.
The father knew that his children loved him and used their love as a wrecking ball against his wife. He was unable to see the long-term damage he was placing upon his children because his own hurt and grief over losing his wife was too unbearable.
He was helpless to fathom a world where the women he loved could leave him and his children could still love both completely without complete understanding. His fire fueled his ambitions to draw a wedge between his wife and her children out of a place of desperation and sadness.
4. MoneyMoney, money-money-money. What else is there to fight about? It always seems to sneak its way into so many conversations, tasks, thoughts, and feelings. The bottom line is that it is an important part of everyone’s life and there is little to do to get around it.
But when does it become a tool of abuse? In a relationship, it becomes abusive whenever there isn’t clear transparency about how, when, and where it is earned and used.
Yes, you heard me correctly. Professionally, I see this form of subtle abuse as the most evasive and condoned. When you give your partner an allowance for the week, you seem to be partners but are now in a top-down relationship of authority.
The receiver of the allowance is told through this action that they lack financial skills and are unable to make wise decisions beyond the scope of their partner’s wisdom.
Please don’t confuse this with a relationship in which someone with a substance abuse, gambling, or negative history is receiving an allowance as a temporary solution to the larger problem. I am talking about a relationship where one of the two is given less, not privy to, or does not have access to money based on gender roles, biases, or cultural reasons beyond the aforementioned situations.
The final form of power and control in an abusive relationship that I want to discuss is isolation. This can often be the most misunderstood and confusing form of abuse. You may have a friend or a family member who you used to be very close with and after they started dating someone new, you drew less and less close.
Often times in many relationships we lose track of old friends and family based on the new rigours of attending to our new partner, and this is compounded further when you have children. But, sometimes beyond the children and tending to their spouse’s needs, another form of distance has been created to hedge against you rekindling the friendship.
The abuser may not want their new partner to continue their relationships with friends and family based on a myriad of reasons. But, the one reason above all is that they want to control what their partner does.
All the forms of abuse mentioned above can be tools to isolating their partner from the outside world. When the abuser can control and minimize the amount of time spent with people outside of themselves, they can lull the abusee into a pseudo Stockholm Syndrome state of mind where they become their abuser’s biggest ally and are unable to see themselves as sequestered from outside perspective and reason.
Christian Counseling for those in an Abusive Relationship
A relationship should be a nest where the parties are free to fly, search, and learn because they know the nest is a safe haven and encouragement to self-explore is a daily meal.
If you find yourself angry at me, yourself, or your partner after reading this article, I want you to take some time and reflect on the feelings and thoughts you have. I want you to sit in those thoughts and feelings for a while. Just sit in them.
What are you feeling here and now? What is it about the information I provided that has made you despondent or hot to the touch? Sometimes when we hear or read something for the first time, we have this deep unnerved feeling of already knowing the information but that we have never consciously processed it. This is the human interconnectedness that flows through all of us and I urge you to listen closely to the moment and reflect on your role in the dance.
If you would like the guidance of a Christian counselor to help you sort through the negative aspects of your abusive relationship and help you find a way forward, please don’t hesitate to contact me or one of the other counselors listed in the counselor directory.
“Talk to the Hand”, Courtesy of Philipp Wuthrich, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Magic Light Globe”, Courtesy of Rohan Makhecha, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Left Out”, Courtesy of Katherine Chase, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Nest”, Courtesy of Hannah Schulte, Unsplash.com, CC0 License