12 Subtle Signs You’re Being Psychologically Abused by Your Partner

By Nicole Yi According to psychotherapist Avery Neal, over 50 percent of Americans, both men and women, have been in a psychologically abusive relationship — and that statistic only includes those who report it. Psychological abuse is often carried out through manipulation and control tactics. Though it doesn’t leave any visible scars, it can be just as traumatizing as physical abuse. And because it may not seem as extreme as physical violence, many people overlook the warning signs and suffer in silence. Any degree of an abusive relationship is still an abusive relationship, and should not be ignored. If you can relate to some or all of the questions below, it could be a sign that you’re being “subtly abused,” according to Neal. Does your partner use humor to put you down? Does he or she make you feel bad for being overly sensitive? Does your partner play devil’s advocate, leaving you feeling defensive and unsupported? Is your partner evasive, not answering your questions or concerns directly? And does he or she get defensive or imply that you’re crazy or jealous when you ask for transparency? Does your partner seem really loving, but is intense and overinvolved (calling or texting incessantly)? Does your partner lack empathy for you and/or others? Did your partner come on really strong in the beginning, wanting to get too serious too quickly? Or was your partner charismatic and charming and overly engaged, especially in the beginning? Do you have to work hard in your relationship to please your partner, feeling that it’s harder and harder to get warmth and approval? Does it feel as if your partner works against anything you need or want? Do you feel like you’re going crazy or do you feel guilty for having negative feelings about your partner, especially because they seem so logical and has a reason for everything? Do you trust your partner to make the decisions even when you’re not there? Do you feel unheard, invalidated, missed, put down, made fun of, like you’re always apologizing? Just because the signs aren’t glaringly “abusive” doesn’t mean they should go ignored. “Some of these behaviors are really hard to identify because they’re not as obvious as with physical abuse,” Neal told POPSUGAR. “That’s why I think it’s so important to look at some of the behavioral patterns of the abuser, but also how you feel in a relationship.” It’s also important to note the consequences of staying in such an unhealthy situation for a long period of time. In addition to having self-doubt and low self-esteem, the effects of staying can range to more severe damage: anxiety, depression, substance abuse, self-harming behaviors, and suicidal thoughts. “Depression and anxiety...

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Mirror, Mirror: Healing Our Earliest Reflections

Our parents are our first mirrors. As we grow, we look to our primary caregivers to give us feedback and help guide us through a world unknown. What gets reflected back to us is the basis upon which we form our first self-impressions. Based on these reflections, we begin to develop a self-concept as we identify ourselves more with certain attributes, less with others. This initial self-concept doesn’t take into account that our parents may not be all knowing and that they might have their own filter based on their experiences. Nevertheless, these early reflections can largely influence our self-esteem, as well as being a determining factor in our overall sense of worth and our propensity for resilience. We believe our mirror to be reliable, the source of greater knowledge, and our compass. If our mirror shows us that we are deeply flawed, it must be so. That’s why if our parents reflect back criticism, disapproval, or ambivalence, we are more likely to feel insecure, unworthy, or ashamed. On the other hand, if our parents reflect back warmth, encouragement, approval, and acceptance, we learn that we are worthy. We learn that mistakes are inevitable and that they do not determine our significance and self-worth. As life presents its challenges, though we may struggle, we have the fundamental belief in ourselves that we are capable of getting through it. In addition, we are less likely to tolerate mistreatment because we are better equipped to consider the source of the mistreatment, rather than blindly believing it because it parallels the messages we received in childhood. So, what do you do if your first mirror was less than ideal? Consider the Source Keep in mind the environment in which your parent was raised. It is likely that he/she received the same messages. This is not an excuse, but it helps to separate what isn’t really about you, but is instead a product of your parent’s past. The most scarring messages personally attack the other person rather than respectfully addressing the problematic or undesirable behavior. These criticisms can make you believe that there is something profoundly wrong with your character and who you are. De-personalizing messages that have been deeply hurtful can liberate you from a lifetime of faulty beliefs about yourself. Evaluate Your Relationships When you believe damaging messages, they color the way you view yourself and what you think you deserve in relationships. This makes you more susceptible to abuse, because you’re more likely to tolerate mistreatment. It’s not a far stretch to enter into and stay in relationships that reinforce those negative early messages, believing that if more than one person says them, they must be right. While constructive self-reflection...

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Setting Boundaries Is an Act of Self-Respect

Establishing healthy relationships means establishing healthy boundaries and clear and respectful guidelines for how we want to be treated by others. ________________________________ If you’ve ever been to therapy or read self-help books, you are likely to have come across the term, “setting boundaries”. In the past, I would skim over those words or nod my head in agreement with my therapist without giving this idea much thought. It wasn’t until I found myself exhausted from pouring so much of myself into everyone else, and resentful when I felt mistreated, that I realized I needed to perk up and learn what I could do to set my own boundaries. A boundary is a physical or metaphorical line between ourselves and others. Setting a boundary means requiring better treatment by others and not allowing someone else to run us over. A boundary provides a protective parameter around us, allowing us to operate comfortably within it. Depending on our personalities and life experiences, some of us have stronger boundaries than others. Women, in general, tend to struggle more with setting healthy boundaries. Often there is an underlying fear of rejection or fear of being unloved if a boundary is set, which feels like it could easily threaten closeness. In order to avoid jeopardizing that closeness, many of us will sacrifice our feelings, needs, and wishes. The problem with foregoing boundaries is that we invariably invite and tolerate mistreatment. We may not understand why we feel irritable, angry, sad, or resentful. Or, we may wonder why we’ve developed depression, insomnia or a shopping addiction. However, if we look more closely, we may see a consistent pattern of neglecting ourselves in an effort to appease others. This can happen in any type of relationship: spousal, parent-child, between siblings, friends or co-workers. The more we are afraid to say, “No, that’s not okay,” the more permission we give the other person to continue behaving as they are. If you’re thinking that setting a boundary will make you come across like a mean, selfish witch (like I was) — it won’t. There are many ways to start commanding respect without losing the softer qualities you like about yourself. As for the fear of losing closeness with another if you set a boundary, relationships actually tend to improve when clear guidelines are in place. I am not saying that it is easy for the other person to adjust to your new boundary, but as long as you are consistent, he or she will learn to adapt with a little time (unless you are in an abusive or controlling relationship wherein the other person punishes you for speaking up). If you have a hard time believing me, think of...

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What Does Self-Compassion Really Mean?

For most of us, self-compassion is a theoretical concept that sounds nice if only we had the energy to ever get around to it. We know it’s something we should master for our own personal development, but what does it really mean and how do we truly get accustomed to incorporating this practice into our daily lives? Practicing self-compassion means slowing down and becoming actively aware of how we are talking to ourselves. Most of us develop a pattern of negative self-talk, engaging sometimes in an even abusive dialogue with ourselves. We replay these thoughts or words over and over again in our minds, tearing ourselves down in the process. The end result is that we feel insecure and unsure of ourselves, believing these negative thoughts to be true. When we talk to ourselves the way we would to our best friend for instance, we take ourselves out of the destructive critical looping pattern to which we’ve become accustomed, and we change the dynamic. Rather than obsessing over our infractions, beating ourselves up in the process, we begin to encourage ourselves. This gives us the strength and confidence to move forward with self-assurance, unencumbered by our self-defeating dialogue. If you find it difficult to get to a place of self-compassion, it may be helpful to visualize yourself as a baby. As a baby, you were completely innocent and pure. You were a blank canvas, worthy of love and kindness. Would you ever call yourself (as a baby), pathetic for being afraid or lonely, for instance? No. You would comfort a baby by reassuring her that she’s all right, that she’s safe. How would you talk to yourself as a baby? Start there. As we practice self-compassion and move away from self-criticism and judgment, we begin to view those around us more compassionately. The way we talk to ourselves is the way we tend to talk to or about others. This means that the person who is most critical of another is also deeply critical of herself. When we acknowledge that we ourselves are doing the best we can, we are able to acknowledge that others are doing the best they can as well. Rather than judging others for not being this or that (usually stemming from our own opinions about the way they should be), we accept who they are and can embrace it. Our own compassion for ourselves actually leads to deeper and more authentic relationships based on understanding and validation. Self-compassion is an ever-evolving practice. It is natural for certain circumstances to trigger negative self-talk, criticism, insecurity and judgment. Simply observing what is happening and becoming aware of how we are treating ourselves is actively practicing self-compassion....

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Learning: Exercise for the Brain

Everyone knows that in order for a muscle to get stronger it has to be exercised routinely, not only by incrementally increasing the weight, but also by exercising it in a variety of different ways so that it is consistently challenged. Our brains are no different. From the second we are born our brains are eagerly engaged, actively absorbing and processing what is going on around us. Throughout childhood, this continues as we look around trying to make sense of our world and how we fit in to it. Children are accustomed to continually learning new things, often failing at tasks until they’ve practiced enough to have them mastered. This is expected. But, as we get further along into adulthood, many of us lose our curiosity and excitement around learning something new. We fall in to our strict schedules and routines, primarily engaging passively in what we already know. Though our familiarity with our already mastered tasks is comfortable, we do not gain any of the fantastic benefits associated with learning something novel. The following are some of the top reasons why learning is so important for us. Learning is fun. Our children are good reminders of this. Remember when you were little and you first learned to skip? You didn’t care if you were perfectly coordinated, you just got excited at the idea that you could move your feet in a way that somewhat resembled a skipping pattern and you laughed at how fun it was! Because children are so much less inhibited than adults, they know how to have more fun. When we stop taking ourselves so seriously, believing we need to have it all figured out, we open ourselves up to unlimited possibilities for having fun by learning something that excites us. Learning Promotes Personal Growth. Learning something new reminds us how much we still don’t know. As anyone who has felt foolish as they tried something new for the first time can attest, attempting to master something in which you have no previous experience is certainly humbling! Remaining humble is important because it keeps us more open and willing to experience new things, which directly facilitates personal growth. Learning Boosts Confidence. Learning something new boosts confidence for a couple of key reasons. First, it gets us engaged with ourselves, fostering a deeper connection and sense of self. As we know ourselves better, and enjoy ourselves more, we develop more self-confidence. Second, when we learn a new skill, it gives us a sense of accomplishment. We have mastered something we did not know before and we can add it to our repertoire of knowledge. We take pride in our knowledge and accomplishments, both of which are...

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