Emotional abuse is such a heavy term that you might incorrectly assume you’d be able to spot it immediately and get out of the relationship – at least I thought I would. But it was much more sinister and subtle than I’d thought it would be. Here are the signs I missed in my last relationship that I now know were signs that my ex was emotionally abusive.
He was so “caring.”
When I went out with my besties, I thought it was so nice how he’d ask where I was going and check in with me throughout the evening, even though it was so off-putting for my friends. I later realized it was possessive because he was trying to keep me on a short leash.
He wanted me all the time.
He wanted to see me all the time. If we’d just had a romantic dinner and watched a movie the previous night, he’d call and want to see me again the very next day. It was flattering, but as time went on and this behavior intensified to the point where he wanted me to eliminate the rest of my schedule to see him all the time, it started to make me feel like he was trying to control me.
Guilt was my default emotion.
I was always feeling guilty, like when he’d get angry/sad because I was hanging out with my friends or working on my side hustle instead of spending time with him. It’s ridiculous, but at the time it really messed with me and made me feel like I wasn’t giving enough to the relationship. Meanwhile, having your own space and life is so important. I wish I’d known that.
He made me question my sanity.
It happened in small ways. I’d confront him about something and he’d turn the situation around as though I were crazy. Sometimes he’d just give me a look that said I was loco and I’d start to feel myself shriveling up. For example, once I caught him out on a lie but he managed to make me question myself. Did I really hear him say that or did I imagine it? Geez, it messed with my head.
He was the king of backhanded compliments.
Damn, those compliments are nasty. They’re not even compliments, they’re just ways in which toxic people try to dent your self-confidence. He’d give me backhanded compliments like, “Oh, you look stunning with curly hair, it softens your hard face.” Um, what? Or, “You look gorgeous in that dress… Thinner than you looked the other day. Ugh.
I walked on eggshells.
Walking around on eggshells is the worst thing in a relationship. You’re supposed to feel like you can be yourself and speak freely with your partner, but I was always anxious. For example, if I had confronted him about how I suspected him of being unfaithful (which he had been, BTW), he’d lose his head. It started to make me afraid to question him.
He tried to change my feelings.
This was really subtle, so subtle in fact that I didn’t even notice it was happening for a while. If I expressed how I was feeling, he’d try to tell me otherwise. It was a clear disrespect of my feelings. He’d also love to try to make me feel things I wasn’t feeling. Once, I was a bit sad and he said, “You’re a broken woman.” This was such a blow to me and it made me wonder if I really was. Messed up.
He brushed over his negative traits.
While he was always bringing me down, he had the habit of raising himself up. So, when I told him his rage was upsetting to me, he’d say, “But I’ve got strong emotions and that’s what makes me so passionate.” Um, sure. When he accused me of cheating on him because I didn’t answer his call right away, he said, “I’m not crazy – I’m a sensitive guy who doesn’t want to be hurt.” Ugh. This was also a sneaky way for him to make me feel guilty for confronting or doubting him.
I felt like less of myself.
This was my default setting. Whenever I spent time with this guy, I always got back home feeling drained and like I could sleep for a week. I didn’t feel happy. I was usually moody or just blank. That’s not cool and my feelings were trying to tell me to get out because this relationship was slowly making me disappear.
He always froze me out.
After a fight, he’d give me the silent treatment and not want to hug or cuddle me. It made me feel like I was always the bad guy, almost like he was punishing me. He sometimes did this even when we weren’t fighting just to throw me off so that I never knew what was going on. So sick.
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