Words do Hurt: Five Forms of Abuse that Aren’t Physical

While domestic violence is often thought of in its physical forms, emotional and psychological abuse can be just as devastating, with a much longer timeline for recovery. Experiencing trauma also draws on our most intensive coping mechanisms, sometimes causing survivors to turn to substance abuse or other harmful behaviors as a way to process their experiences. Here are five forms of non-physical abuse commonly found in abusive relationships that you should always be on the lookout for, and ready to run from.

  1. Controlling your movements. Setting firm rules or boundaries for where you’re allowed to go and when is often introduced into relationships in a positive context, but ultimately the intention of these rules is to police your behavior. You are always free to make your own decisions about where you go and why, even if that means leaving your significant other.
  1. Isolating you from others. Just when you need your close friends and family the most, an abuser will work to isolate you from them and any help they provide. Instigating fights and fanning the flames of existing arguments are both effective tactics an abuser might choose to distance you from your closest confidantes.
  1. Putting you down. Intentionally saying something you know will be hurtful to someone else is verbal abuse. Even though people often try to disguise insults in humor, sometimes going so far as to say a joke can’t be hurtful, what matters is how what’s said makes you feel. If you notice you feel a little worse about yourself after you see a specific person, reflect on how they speak to you and take stock of how often they build you up or try to break you down.
  1. Following you. What starts as a surprise in the parking lot on your way home can quickly become a full blown case of stalking. Being followed around against your will and surprised with a note on your car or a touch on the shoulder can be incredibly invasive, making even public places feel dangerous. Don’t be flattered when a partner drops by your house or job without warning; use it as an opportunity to be clear about your boundaries and demand they be respected.
  1. Gas-lighting. Occasional arguments are a normal part of any healthy relationship, but if your significant other refuses to ever see “your side” of a disagreement to the point that they question your understanding of reality, it’s a sign that something’s not right. Trust yourself and trust your instincts; people who love you will support you and encourage you to grow, not cut you down.

Abusive relationships center around power dynamics as one partner constantly struggles to assert dominance over the other. While some techniques a dominant partner may engage in can seem innocuous, little things have a way of adding up over time. By being aware of these small behaviors and flagging them before they grow bigger, you can try to prevent abusive behaviors from escalating. Always do what you need to do to stay safe, even if that means ending a relationship over one of these behaviors.