Sometimes abuse is hard to identify. It’s not always as shocking and obvious as the classic slap across the face. Some forms of abuse—verbal, mental, and emotional abuse—are not as easily recognized.
With some kinds of abuse, victims may go years with only a vague feeling that something is wrong—a feeling that something is wrong with them.
In light of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, it’s important to raise awareness to the subtle signs of abuse. It’s also good to recognize that anyone can be a victim or perpetrator of abuse, regardless of gender.
1. You lack healthy examples.
If you didn’t grow up with examples of healthy and loving relationships, especially from your parents, abuse might appear absolutely normal to you.
So often, victims of abuse internalized the messages they received during childhood and believe that there is something wrong with them, not with how they are being treated.
2. You believe your abuser loves you.
Your abuser says they love you, spends time with your family, takes you out to your favorite restaurant—but then they threaten you, lie to you, or ignore you.
You may think, “Am I just being dramatic?” You may justify, “They’re probably just having a bad day.” Or worse, you may have a negative core belief that echos, “Maybe they’re right about me and I deserve this.”
You hold on to a belief that they love you and wouldn’t intentionally hurt you, so you recolor their abuse through these lenses.
3. Other people think your abuser is a good person.
Since other people think your abuser is great, you really must just be crazy, right? People outside of your relationship will likely never see the side of your abuser that you have seen. To others, they seem kind and charming. They tell others how much they care about you. They may even have others convinced that you are the abusive one and they are really trying to help you change.
Gaslighting is making someone question reality. This can be as simple as when they tell you they will take out the trash that night, then deny they ever made that promise the next day. Gaslighting can be done through big lies, but it’s mostly done through a slow buildup of many small lies.
Triangulation is pitting people against each other. Your abuser might tell your mom that you are a cheater and a horrible person. At the same time, they may be convincing other friends and family that you are a narcissist. Then, your abuser might come to you and say that your friends agree with them—everything is your fault. This is all about destroying your relationships with others and keeping you in isolation.
Abusers can have absolutely no problem apologizing, but they don’t mean it. They will do whatever they need to do to appease you in the moment, but they won’t change. This can feel like an emotional roller coaster—being hopeful when they apologize and then plunged back down when you see that it meant nothing.
Abusers love to turn things around on you. They will often claim that you are abusive in the very ways they are. If you go to them to express how you feel hurt, you will suddenly realize that the conversation is now about how they are hurting. You will find yourself comforting and apologizing to them, and your needs will remain unaddressed.
You may get blamed for your abuser’s actions. If they yell at you and call you names, it’s because you somehow deserve it. If they lock you in a room until you stop crying, it’s because you should be able to control your emotions. Your abuser will never take responsibility for their actions.
Your abuser will tell you you’re exaggerating how you’ve been hurt. Instead of caring for you, they will try to convince you that what they did was best for you and it wasn’t wrong. This is another way to get you to question yourself.
1. Your abuser was drawn to you because of your qualities.
It can be embarrassing to admit to yourself (let alone anyone else) that you were abused. You might feel like you were so obviously weak, that anyone could see it from a mile away. What you need to know is that abusers look for people who are kind, caring, nurturing, and real. You were not abused because you deserved it.
2. It will feel like no one understands or believes you.
Because silent abusers are so subtle, it will be rare to find someone who understands what you’re going through. Silent abusers act in ways that make you sound crazy when you try to describe what you’ve experienced. They also only show their carefully cultivated good side to everyone outside of the relationship.
This can feel isolating and destructive. For many people who experience abuse, they feel like they have no support from their friends and family. They feel as though they have lost all sense of community. It can feel challenging and painful to rebuild their lives.
Going to counseling and finding safe people who can relate are a huge part of the healing process.
3. Your abuser will never think they did anything wrong.
Once you realize you’re being abused, you will want your abuser to know what they’re doing. People in this situation tend to believe that if they can just explain it well enough, the abuser will understand what they’re doing and stop. This won’t happen. You won’t get an apology. Your abuser won’t fix it. Their brain just doesn’t work this way.
4. You deserve better.
Everyone has the right to be treated with:
5. It’s your choice.
If you are in an unhealthy or abusive relationship, you have a choice to make. You need to decide what is healthy and safe for you—no one else can make this decision for you. Putting healthy boundaries in place, stepping away from the relationship, or even ending the relationship might be necessary. You don’t need to stay in an unsafe, toxic relationship.
Many people who have been in abusive relationships find themselves depressed, lonely, tired, anxious, and confused. They need healthy people around them who can speak truth into their lives.
There is nothing wrong with you. You have been lied to—this is not what love looks like. You have value. You are worthy of relationship. You are lovable.
It is so important to surround yourself with healthy people who model healthy relationships.
1. Unraveled: Managing Love, Sex, and Relationships
Being part of a Pure Desire group can be a great place to start your healing journey. Unraveled will give you the tools you need and a safe, confidential place to not only process your pain and trauma, but experience love and acceptance like never before.
I highly recommend Unraveled for any woman looking to find health in her relationships.
2. Other Resources
These books are helpful in understanding what abuse looks like and how to create healthy relationships:
Safe People by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend
Will I Ever Be Free of You? By Karyl McBride
Why Does He Do That? By Lundy Bancroft
Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend
The Covert Passive Aggressive Narcissist by Debbie Mirza
Should I Stay or Should I Go? By Lundy Bancroft
The Verbally Abusive Relationship by Patricia Evans
Codependent No More by Melody Beattie
The Gaslight Effect by Dr. Robin Stern
We were designed for relationship with God and others. If we have experienced abusive or toxic relationships, it’s crucial that we get help from a clinical professional and a safe group that will help us discover what healthy relationships look like.
For more information about Pure Desire’s counseling program and healing groups, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Begin your healing today.
1. Mirza, D. (2017). The Covert Passive Aggressive Narcissist: Recognizing the Traits and Finding Healing After Hidden Emotional and Psychological Abuse. Monument, CO: Place Publishing.
2. Evans, P. (2010). The Verbally Abusive Relationship: How to Recognize It and How to Respond (3rd ed.). Avon, MA: Adams Media.
Elisabeth has used design to support causes she believes in for over 10 years. During her six years at Pure Desire, she has created everything from images for social media to web pages to book formatting and design. Elisabeth is blessed to have experienced the healing Pure Desire has to offer in her own life and be a part of communicating that hope to others.