People often try to hide when they are in a situation that is toxic or abusive. I say this because many years ago, I hid the reality of my relationship from even the people closest to me.
As time went on, my reality became harder and harder to hide. The happiness I claimed to be feeling was questioned because I could barely smile. When I tried spending time with friends, my phone would blow up with calls from my controlling ex-boyfriend.
Although I am no longer in that situation, I am often reminded of it by my clients or friends in unhealthy relationships. Even if they haven’t admitted it to themselves, there are certain phrases I will hear that are huge red flags.
If you hear the following phrases from a friend or loved one about their relationship, I would pay very close attention.
“It’s just because they are concerned.”
My friend, Kate’s phone went off again, for the sixth time in the thirty minutes that we had been at dinner.
“I’m so sorry. James gets worried when I’m out without him.”
“That sounds… like it could be controlling.”
“No, no, not at all. He’s just concerned about what I’m doing or who I’m with. I mean, he trusts me but not other people… you know?”
All I knew was that I had said something similar in the past to a concerned friend and that control is all too often disguised under the guise of concern.
“They make me feel guilty if I want any time alone.”
My co-worker looked incredibly exhausted when she got into work. Glancing across our shared workspace, I hesitated and then asked if she was okay.
“My boyfriend doesn’t ever let me have a moment to myself.” She confessed after a bit of small talk. “We live together and are talking about our futures, but if I want to spend time alone, he takes it as a personal attack. I haven’t been alone in over a year.”
In some cases, the desire to be with our partner all the time can stem from codependency.
In other cases, it is a warning that your partner wants to keep you from having time to think because there may be toxic/abusive aspects of your relationship together.
“I never feel confident anymore.”
When I began dating my narcissistic ex-boyfriend, I was extremely outgoing and confident in my own skin. By the time I left the relationship, I had no idea what I had liked, who I was, or what I deserved.
A partner shouldn’t be expected to “make” us feel confident. Ultimately confidence has to come from within ourselves.
If you are in a relationship where you are constantly being torn down and criticized, you will begin to doubt yourself, and your insecurity will take front and center stage.
“I have to check in whenever I am out or go to a new place.”
In college, I knew a girl, Jane, who had been dating her boyfriend, Ted, for a few months. Things had seemed fantastic at the beginning of their relationship, but she grew visibly anxious as time went on.
One night she went out with a group of friends and said they should go to another restaurant to get dessert after finishing dinner. She said she needed to let Ted know first. After her friends probed, she finally told them the truth.
Apparently, Ted demanded to know everywhere she was and required her to share her location with him whenever she was away from her apartment. If she didn’t provide him updates for the entire evening, he would call her endlessly until she responded.
“They make fun of me for being too emotional/it was just a joke.”
My relationship with my mother has always been a bit of a sore subject, as I haven’t seen her in almost a decade. Years ago, when I was dating a narcissistic older man, I explained how sorrowful I was about losing that bond with my mother. Instead of validating my feelings or even just listening, he scoffed.
“Who cares? You need to let it go. I’m tired of listening to you whine about it. You’re a baby.”
A couple of weeks later, I brought up how much his words had hurt me, and a dumbfounded look fluttered across his face. “I was joking. Why are you so sensitive? Obviously, I didn’t mean that!”
Later on, when I told my closest friend about what had happened, she told me I had been invalidated and gaslighted. At the time, I didn’t even understand what she meant but would later learn that they are two of the most manipulative tactics an abuser can use.
When in the midst of a toxic relationship, I didn’t tell anyone outright that I was being abused because I was oblivious to reality. Only when I let, some of the truth slip were my friends and family able to identify that something was terribly wrong.
It is vital to remember that many abuse victims do not outwardly say that they are in a toxic/dangerous relationship. The only glimpse of something wrong will almost always be in their words and actions.
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