Seeing the subtle signs of abuse
The One Love Foundation was founded in honor of Yeardley Love, a student at the University of Virginia, who was beaten to death by her ex-boyfriend. In her presentation, “The Difference Between Healthy and Unhealthy Relationships,” Kate Hood refers to Yeardley’s death as a “tragedy no one saw coming.” She goes on to explain that there were indicators of danger, which her family and friends may have noticed, had they known what to look for. In abusive relationships, one partner seeks to gain, and maintain, power and control over the other. This is accomplished through the use of various manipulative tactics.
Love bombing involves showering someone with flattery, affection, and nearly constant communication and attention. As the other person is swept up into a dizzyingly fast-paced relationship, they often feel as though they have found the ideal partner.
- “I miss you!”
- “Can I see you again tonight?”
- “I feel like I have known you forever.”
- “I’ve never felt like this before.”
- “Are you there?”
Unfortunately, in abusive relationships, those same traits that were praised during love bombing are later devalued. This devaluation may come in the form of insults, criticism, contempt, belittling, patronizing, sarcasm, mockery, or jokes at the other’s expense. One of the early signs of an abusive relationship is the devaluation of former intimate partners.
- “You’re going to wear that?”
- “You wouldn’t understand, it’s too complicated.”
- “I suppose some people might like their food burnt…”
- “You let every little thing get to you.”
- “Grow up!”
Triangulation is used to pit two or more people against one another. This can occur in a number of ways. The abusive partner may display, or allude to the existence of, a romantic rival to stir up jealousy and insecurity. Conversely, acting as a “go between,” spreading rumors about multiple people to one another, in order to become the source of “accurate” information also constitutes triangulation. Abusers may be actively recruiting people outside of the relationship to take their side in conflicts.
- “Everyone agrees with me about this.”
- “You can’t trust them. They want to see you fail.”
- “They are not really your friends. I heard them talking about you yesterday.”
- “Alex is a nice person, but so clingy…”
- “Even your best friend is concerned about how you’ve been acting.”
Sudden or explosive displays of anger might be used to intimidate a partner. When anger is used as a weapon to silence someone, shut down a conversation or topic, or push someone to behave in specific ways, it is called brandishing anger. Tears can be used, or brandished, for the same purposes.
They get angry (or cry) whenever:
- I ask them to help around the house
- I bring up finances
- I want to go out with my friends
- I ask about what happened the night they didn’t come home
- I think about ending the relationship
Abusive partners are constantly increasing, suddenly shifting, or setting unachievable expectations. In the Disney movie Cinderella, when the stepmother told Cinderella that she could go to the ball, but only if she completed all of her chores, she was setting an unrealistic expectation. The stepmother was intentionally setting Cinderella up for failure.
- “This is not what I wanted.”
- “You cleaned the house, but not the car.”
- “I would like all of this done by tomorrow.”
- “I suppose this will have to do…”
- “Anyone can get lucky once in a while.”
- “I am shocked this worked. I truly expected you to fail.”
Gaslighting is a potent form of emotional abuse, used in toxic relationships, to manipulate someone to such a degree that they question their memory, perception, and ultimately their sanity. The abusive partner will lie, deny, and distort the truth to cause uncertainty and doubt. The impact of this technique is dependent on the consistency with which it is applied. What is called into question may range from where the person just set their keys down, to whether infidelity or physical abuse has happened.
- “That is not how I remember it.”
- “That didn’t happen”
- “I never said that.”
- “I wasn’t even here last night.”
- “I swear, I never touched it. You must have lost it.”
We all have rights and responsibilities in our relationships.
We have the right to:
- Have our boundaries respected
- Express our thoughts and feelings
- Feel safe
- Spend time away from our partners
- Decide to end the relationship
If you, or someone you know, may be in an abusive relationship, there are resources that can provide information, options, and support, including:
- Student Counseling Services
- Title IX
- Illinois State University Police
- Student Health Services
- Mid Central Community Action
- The National Domestic Violence Hotline
If you are interested in learning more about intimate partner abuse, consider attending Survivors Local Stories of Domestic Violence at the Normal Theater on September 30th!