How Do You Know If You Are In An Abusive Relationship…

(Including That With Your Government?)

If you answer ‘yes’ to all of these questions but you are happy in your relationship, that’s OK?! Your relationship may well be abusive but, at this point in time, it’s obviously making you happy and so perfectly OK with you. In that case – and it is often the case at the beginning – do nothing. Or perhaps explore just a little? Enjoy! At all times, be aware…

Always be aware: in every relationship.

On the other hand, if you are not happy – and you answer ‘yes’ to at least 9 of these questions – consider that you may be in a toxic, abusive relationship. The only answer, however sad, may well be to make changes!

I don’t think it is ever possible to completely change a narcissistic, anti-social person (or organization) but with work it may be possible to get them to change one or two of their behaviors and make life more comfortable. Meanwhile you may need to change many of your behaviours because it is likely they will be unable (or simply unwilling) to change very much.

I also think it’s paramount to pull out a bit and look at your individual needs and expectations – and reality – in a bigger-picture way and over the longer-term. Again, a counsellor will be able to do this work with you – it’s very difficult to do alone. Journalling also helps a great deal.

The same applies to all the relationships in your life, including romantic relationships, that with your boss, a friend, your sports team or any other relationship… Including that with your government.

Almost all of these relationships will have started out well. Often unusually well or even ‘to good to be true’. This is a hallnark. Abusers are great manipulators and often skillful. We also become very good at supporting abusive behaviour and so very attractive to the abuser. The roots of this ‘enabling’ behaviour in us may well come from childhood. I believe that if we explore and understand our reactions, emotions and history, our brain will automatically correct the course of our behaviours. Sometimes that change will happen in one large, sweeping, ‘aha’ moment. Sometimes so slowly we can hardly appreciate the changes. Much of this will depend on the benefits your mind sees resulting from your enabling actions.

Slowly the relationship will deteriorate. Sometimes quickly. Sometimes slowly. Often life becomes one great big calamity. Drama! It may take a while for you to wake up and see the wood for the trees and your friends, who are not quite so invested as you, will often see the relationship more clearly. It’s a good idea to introduce any new friend to your close friends (or family) and watch their reactions and, maybe, consider their opinions.

If You Find Yourself In a Bind, How Should You Proceed?

In every situation, find some good counselling so that you can thoroughly explore this relationship and the effect on you. Explore explore explore! I can’t stress that enough. Talking ‘out loud’ with another person uses a different part of your brain. Step by step, you will see more clearly. Always.

We all deserve to be happy. All of us: good girls and ‘bad’ girls (whatever that looks like?!) I’m a woman so I have written this from a female perspective but exactly the same apples to both sexes: women are often abusers too. All colours, regardless of any circumstance or status, can be on this continuum. Any religion. Don’t feel in a rush to explore. Take your time and then decide what you need to do in order for you to be happy. How do you need to do this? Do you even want to make a change? You may well choose to see if you can ‘alter’ some of your (perhaps both of your) behaviours in order to make your life more comfortable. This whole process may take quite a while and a good counsellor will help enormously.

Are you in a marriage with children,? You may want to separate temporarily while you work independently. It may be possible to reunite at a later date – and in fact I always hope for reconcile for my clients.

Consider too that only if you push for changes – or even leave your partner – will they have the opportunity to acknowledge and consider the chance to work on their own issues. Which are likely significant. Many – if not most – abusers (and abused…) were themselves abused as children. They also have the right to live an authentic and happy life. We all have an absolute right to be happy.

Further abuse in itself may slow down ‘healing’. Especially if the situation has deteriorated and includes physical abuse. When you are right in the middle of active physical – or emotional – abuse, it is difficult/impossible to explore it thoroughly.

When the abuse is tyranny – organizational, institutional or government abuse of some of its people – that is a very scary situation. A separate article explores this phenomena and I encourage you to go there. In the meantime, finding a like-mind to your own – or even a group of like-minds – helps enormously. Being alone is terrible. Feeling lonely and helpless is, I believe, the very worst thing.

Most important – in all circumstances – is to dial back and look at your situation in the context of weeks, months or even years. At the moment, or at first glance, it may look panicked and desperate and ‘right now’. Time really does heal all wounds… Which is an infuriating thing that well-meaning people often say. However… Rarely is anything quite as desperate as it seems at the time. Like every other trauma, it is unfair. A shock. Sudden. Unexpected. Very alarming. Terrifying.

You will survive. People survive rape, torture, terrible accidents, attacks. This is a loss. Like any other. Although often it looks ‘normal’ for a while? Even harmless. Yes it is very unfair. You have been thrown into Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief, the first of which is denial.

Consider going to a local group. Or a local rally. Listen to other people’s stories. Explore what is going on.. You will find acceptance, friendly faces and lots of useful data and information. You are doing something – exploring – and that is the greatest of help.

One step at a time.

First, The Questionnaire.

Ask yourself These Questions: Does He, She or They…

  1. Make it uncomfortable if you go out without permission? (Yes. Again, at the beginning, this can even seem “caring” and for a short time could have been reasonable.)
  2. Tell you what to wear? (You must wear this veil… Or wear high necklines and below-knee hems…)
  3. Monitor your phone and emails? (Yes. To begin with unnoticeable or even caring but there is escalation over time.)
  4. Control your finances? (Yes. Again to begin with seems kind and generous but ends up with you, somehow, being unable to afford to live.)
  5. Control what you read, watch and say? (Yes. To begin with I didn’t realize that there was any news other than what I was told. Bit by bit I realized ‘there was more’. Then comes censorship… For a while I worked for the Red Cross, holding workshops in schools about abuse. I would have to watch carefully for the child with the ‘deer in the headlights’ look in their eyes as they realized that everything they had believed was – perhaps – wrong…
  6. Monitor everything you do? (You are told it’s ‘for your own good’. And certainly to begin with, that could be true… But, surely, as an adult…)
  7. Punish you for breaking rules – and somehow, for a while, you believe that you deserved this punishment…
  8. But the rules keep changing? (This is textbook abuse and as with every type of abusive relationship, this escalates. The idea is to keep you off balance. Always feeling behind and slightly ‘in shock’ and breathless)
  9. Tell you that the abuse is for your own good – or the good of others… (Somehow, for a while, you even feel ‘grateful’… How on earth could that be? Slowly, you realize. There is never a legitimate reason to hurt someone else. Physically or emotionally.)
  10. Pretend to know better than you – despite any data you might have? (You are inferior. You don’t know as well. They are just doing this for you. At least be grateful )
  11. Ignores you and forbids you to question? (If you ask a reasonable question, you are ignored and not treated with respect. Every human – and animal? – deserves respect.)
  12. Tells you that you’re crazy and no one agrees with you? ( For a year I followed ‘the rules’ – Now that I am questioning them, I have been told that I am selfish and insulted…)
  13. Calls you names and shames you? (By now, my self esteem is low and they heap on the insults and shame.)
  14. Gaslights you, attempting to change your memory of events? (I try and calmly explain but whatever I say and however I say it, history is rewritten and I am always ‘wrong’. Even when I’m right. I cry myself to sleep.)
  15. Plays the victim when things go wrong? (They can’t deal with our ‘nonsense’ right now – because of a migraine or some other illness. They are so patient… Despite you causing them such heart or head aches…)

If you answer ‘yes’ to at least 9 of these questions, it is very likely that you are in an abusive, toxic relationship… With your partner or a friend (or in the government or institution you are part of).

Find a good counsellor.

Explore 3 parts:

  1. the here and now,
  2. the history
  3. and the possible future. Take a deep breath. Make your moves with caution and courage. Good luck!