It is not easy to establish clear parameters that allow us to understand when someone is living an abusive relationship. In fact, there is no single definition of “abuse” that can be applied to all relationships in which there is one person who abuses and one who is abused. Strictly speaking , abuse as such occurs when one of the two parties in a relationship is not on an equal footing and cannot respond to coercion, aggression or intimidation.
Abuse occurs when someone exploits their position of power or “superiority” to control the other’s behavior and adapt it to their needs. Abuse occurs when a person takes advantage of the other’s physical or emotional frailty to put him at his service. And abuse also occurs when there are circumstances in which one person is dependent on the other, and this dependence is used to limit his freedom of action and command him.
Sometimes the abuse is not that obvious, because it is not accomplished by hitting or screaming. Sometimes, a systematic process of disqualification, manipulation and blackmail is simply set in motion, leading a person to become unable to act, respond or decide freely. At the same time, all this is justified by declarations of love or affirmations that one only wants “the good of the other”.
What is certain is that, in all cases, the abuse leaves wounds. It leaves them in the heart and in the mind. It undermines a person’s creative resources and makes life a real ode to fear. For this reason, it is so important to pay attention to some clues that may indicate that you are in an abusive relationship.
Characteristics of an abusive relationship
1. Fear: an unmistakable sign of abuse
Fear is probably the most obvious indication of an abusive relationship. Sometimes it is a clear and evident fear: in the presence of the other, the person always feels under pressure and cannot help but think about the “punishments” or the consequences that the fact of opposing him might entail.
Other times the fear is more hidden. It can manifest itself through excessive scruple to please the other. The goal is not to trigger a change of mood in any way, and for this reason the victim constantly thinks about what he must do to satisfy the other.
2. Excessive control over the actions of the other
In an abusive relationship, one of the two people must continually accountable to the other for everything he does, and even what he thinks or feels. The feeling is that of having lost the freedom to move and act without asking the other person’s permission first, or at least informing him.
This control craze is likely to extend to your finances or even the way you dress or do your hair. Virtually everything you do must first have the approval of the other and if the approval does not come, you will hardly be able to do what you want.
3. Feelings of guilt
In abusive relationships, of whatever kind, there is an almost constant sense of guilt. You feel inadequate and unable to defend the validity of what you say or do. That person who abuses you does not stop criticizing you and, for this very reason, makes you feel guilty.
Two different situations can arise, one at a time or together: in the first case, it seems to you that the other person is right and that it is she who decides what is right or wrong; in the second case, you think he is wrong, but you don’t have the courage to face it. Both scenarios make you feel guilty. In the first case, because you do not meet the expectations of the other; in the second, because you are unable to stop the abuse.
4. Threat and compulsion are always present
In an abusive relationship, one person forces the other to do something they did not want. It can do so through direct aggression, through threats or more subtle blackmail. However, the point is that you didn’t want to do a certain thing, but the pressure of the other forces you to do it.
The abuser has a clear idea of where his power comes from. If it comes from your economic dependence, its direct or veiled threats will be focused on money. If it comes from his physical violence, he will get what he wants by beating you or threatening to do it. If its power comes from an emotional addiction, it will play with your fear of being abandoned. And so on.
You must bear in mind that we are talking about two adults who do not suffer from physical or mental limitations, for the abuse to exist two people are needed. Both are responsible for the abuse and it is not uncommon for it to be reciprocal: while one forcibly forces, for example, the other responds by blackmailing him with victimhood. This is a situation that is essential to resolve because, sooner or later, it will have very negative consequences on both members of the couple.