If you're being abused, surely you must know it, right? That's a commonly held misconception. But abuse is about power and controlling a message. An abuser will often make the victim feel as if it's his or her fault. That's called manipulation. Manipulation creates confusion and wrongly placed blame [source: Stanford]. Ultimately, a victim of abuse can't clearly see that she's a victim -- that is, until someone shines a light on the situation.
Think of it this way. If you've been sick for a long time you may wrongly believe that the way you feel is normal. It's not until you've read about the symptoms that you finally say, "That's how I've been feeling -- you mean there's another way to live?" One thing you wouldn't say is, "Yes, I recognize now that I am sick but it's a sickness that I created and deserve." A victim of abuse never causes the mistreatment. The abuser decides his course of action. It's his choice alone [source: Stanford].
Perhaps the confusion you feel is grounded in the fact that you're in an abusive relationship. Control can masquerade as "protection" or a violent reaction can be labeled as a response to "being hurt." Even cruelty can be called "playfulness" by an abuser [source: LABMF].
Consider the possibility that what you're experiencing is not part of a normal relationship and then review the signs ahead. If these indicators seem familiar and the situations listed are similar to what you live with, it's time to take action.
The classic Hollywood love story involves a couple that knows from the very beginning that they're meant for each other. Maybe it's a simple glance across the room. Perhaps it's a connection on the first date. Either way, there's really no need to wait for a relationship to bloom -- they just know. An abusive relationship has some similar traits. There are also a few distinctions.
An abusive partner is often quite romantic and even sweet, especially at the outset of a relationship. But there's immediacy to his actions. He may feel a need for a quick commitment, saying that you're unlike anyone he's ever met before. The words are nice to hear but the underlying meaning is "I want to gain control as fast as possible." If you feel pressure to have an exclusive relationship or even to get married quickly, this can be a bad sign [source: LABMF].
Picture this scenario. Your partner surprises you after work with a bouquet of flowers and he tells you he's made reservations at your favorite restaurant. The gesture couldn't be nicer, but when you inform him that you have a prior commitment with your best friend he becomes angry and insulting.
Seconds later, he swears he was only joking and he says he loves you more than life itself. These reactions are not your fault, nor are they normal components of a healthy relationship. They're indications you're entering dangerous territory in your relationship and you need to evaluate whether to continue seeing him [source: Center for Relationship Abuse Awareness; In His Steps].
Victims of abuse often buy into the notion that they're to blame for their situation. Nothing could be further from the truth. But, since accusations are frequently hurled by abusers, it's easy for a victim of abuse to eventually begin holding herself responsible for anything that goes wrong [source: Stanford].
An abuser tends to blame others. Rather than say "I'm responsible for my actions," he'll resort to "you made me do that!" If you find yourself having to account for your whereabouts during every moment of the day or if a harmless interaction is deemed to be flirting, take note [source: LABMF ].
Don't convince yourself that what you've been accused of must subconsciously be true. If you weren't flirting, for example, then don't analyze the situation for indications that, perhaps, your partner was right. False accusations, particularly repeated false accusations, are a problem with the relationship not you.
If you're being cut off from friends or family by the person you're seeing, recognize that this is a tell-tale sign. Be aware that abusers often claim that the people who were closest to you are actually meddling in your life [source: In His Steps].
You may be isolated in other ways, too. Take finances. If you no longer have control over your own banking account or credit cards, you're being isolated. If you can't go where you want to go without permission, you're being isolated. All of these forms of isolation force you to have a greater dependence on your partner, which is exactly what he wants. Isolation is dangerous and needs to be taken seriously [source: Help Guide].
Fear comes in many forms and in varying degrees. There's the fear of irritating your partner and having another argument, the fear of being insulted and humiliated in public and there's the fear of being physically attacked. There's the fear of ending a relationship and the fear of continuing with it. Fear, in whatever form or degree, is not a healthy part of a loving relationship. Even if you haven't been physical abused, fear can erode confidence and even compromise your health [source: Center for Relationship Abuse Awareness; Help Guide].
It's common for an abuse victim to minimize the severity of her situation; however, the earlier the disturbing signs of abuse are acknowledged, the easier it is to move on and find a healthier, happier existence.
For more resources on dealing with abuse, visit the links on the next page.
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- Center for Relationship Abuse Awareness. "Warning Signs of Abuse." (Sept. 23, 2011) http://stoprelationshipabuse.org/educated/warning-signs-of-abuse/
- Hidden Hurt. "Domestic Abuse Information." (Sept. 23, 2011)
- In His Steps Ministries. "15 Warning Signs of an Abusive Relationship." (Sept. 23, 2011) http://www.creatingfutures.net/abusive.html
- King, Dr. Jeanne, Ph.D. "Realize it's Not About You." Prevent Abusive Relationships. (Sept. 23, 2011) http://www.preventabusiverelationships.com/emotional_verbal_abuse.php
- Lindsey Ann Burke Memorial Fund. "Warning Signs of Abusive Relationships." (Sept. 23, 2011) http://labmf.org/facts/warning_signs
- Sexual Assault and Relationship Abuse and Support at Stanford. "Controlling and Abusive Relationships." (Sept. 23, 2011) http://www.stanford.edu/group/svab/relationships.shtml