Approximately half of women and men in the United States experience mental aggression from an intimate partner in their lifetime, according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
For women, ages 18 to 34 are the time periods where they are most likely to experience intimate partner violence, according to the hotline. Which means we need to have a talk.
Domestic violence doesn’t always look like violence. It’s not always physical abuse or the extreme situations you hear on the news. While those situations are awful and I wouldn’t wish them upon anyone, it’s important to illustrate the emotional and psychological side.
The problem with mental aggression is that it’s based in manipulation and control. Many people experience it without realizing that they fall victim to it. I was one of these people.
When others ask me about my experience, they usually seem shocked that I would “allow” this to happen to me. Many of my friends know that I’m an outspoken advocate for survivors but the issue is that these situations don’t start out with aggression.
When I first started dating my ex, he was a knight in shining armor and he treated me like a queen. Even my dad liked him—which said a lot—and we became a symbol of the perfect couple in our social groups.
But months later, the mental and emotional abuse began, without me even realizing it. There’s a level of manipulation involved that gives the aggressor control over your emotions and self value. Our problems were hidden—no one had any idea—because he had me convinced that all problems should only be known to the people involved.
It wasn’t until after we broke up that I realized the abuse and I’ll never forget that moment.
One of my dearest friends had come over to help me pack up his things. I was crying and venting and talking about all the issues I had never shared with anyone while we were dating. My friend, who works at a women’s shelter, began recognizing signs of domestic violence. She began asking me questions and started writing a list of things I never considered to be examples of mental aggression.
This is why I want to share them with you, in the hopes that anyone out there might realize they’re not alone in this struggle. Here are some signs of emotional and psychological abuse within an intimate relationship:
Financial dependency: at first it might have seemed sweet that they insisted on paying for everything but now they use it against you.
Lack of empathy: any time you get emotional, they might roll their eyes or get angry with you. The goal of this is to make you feel like the crazy one for having feelings. My ex once told me I “needed professional help” for being homesick while living by myself in another country.
Controlling your emotions: my ex would purposefully pick a fight right before something timely and important, like an exam. In return, this would throw me off my game because I’d be stressing about him rather than focusing on what I had to do.
Physically abusing other things: maybe they don’t physically hurt you but they might punch walls or throw things when they get angry with you. One time my ex even punched a metal door so hard that his knuckles started bleeding.
Blaming you for the abuse: no matter what you do, everything is always your fault. Sound familiar?
Cheating on you or flirting with others in front of you: we used to work together and over the summer we were dating, he would flirt with one of our co-workers constantly in front of me. According to the hotline, this is a method of exerting control to show that you are replaceable.
There are so many other signs of mental and psychological abuse and I consider myself fortunate to be out of that relationship. If you resonated with this article at all, I would encourage you to take a look at the National Domestic Violence Hotline website—if it’s safe for you to do so—or contact WISE, the local shelter for domestic violence.
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