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5 Signs of Emotional Abuse You Should Watch Out For


Maybe your partner doesn’t hit you, but he constantly compares your body to other women. Maybe he doesn’t push you around, but he tells you how stupid and worthless you are whenever he’s been drinking. Maybe he tells you you’re crazy. Maybe he doesn’t hurt you physically, but he might as well because you feel that the emotional scarring runs deeper than the physical ever could. 

Writer and artist, Zahira Kelly, created the hashtag #MaybeHeDoesntHitYou to start an important conversation about the non-physical domestic violence that women experience every day. Across the internet, stories of verbal, emotional, financial and sexual abuse were outpoured by women in heterosexual relationships about the non-physical intimate partner violence that they experience regularly.

As collegiette women we need to be equipped to recognize the signs of emotional abuse so that we can engage in healthy relationships with partners who respect us, and also take action if we aren’t being treated like the queens we are. Below are common types of non-physical relationship violence that you may not be aware of. They are just as harmful as physical abuse and need to be acknowledged and understood so that everyone can recognize the signs of a dangerous relationship and take action. If any of this is triggering from a past or current relationship, please reach out to The National Domestic Violence Hotline for support.

1. He treats you like property instead of a person.

You alternate between living as an isolated trophy girlfriend and being micromanaged into a Stepford wife. It’s confusing as hell, but whatever way he treats you always leaves you feeling like you don’t belong to yourself. This feeling means that your partner is exercising coercive control over you in which he intimidates you while simultaneously isolating you from everyone else, so that he can essentially mold you and treat you however he wants.

“My boyfriend dictated every aspect of my life,” says Caitie, a junior at Biola University. “I let him control the way I ate so that I would stay skinny. He told me who I could and couldn’t hang out with. He told me how I should feel about my family, and what career path I should go into. Every time I let him influence me, all of the things he did and planted in my head were all to his benefit. I can’t believe I lost myself for so long. None of what he made me was actually me, but I was scared to stop going along with what he said because I knew he would leave me.”

Christina Kaviani is a campus psychologist and the coordinator of SAFER at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, which is an organization that provides education and support resource for addressing sexual assault, sexual misconduct, dating violence, domestic violence and stalking. She has found that the problem coercive control is a prevalent issue within college relationships just like Caitie’s.

"This cycle of emotional abuse and total life control can only be stopped if we educate young women," says Kaviani. "It takes an internal recognition to see the cycle of violence their relationship keeps them in, but first colleges need to provide information on relationship violence so that women can recognize it at all. The difficulty is that college women often deeply love their partners, and won’t be willing to act against him or challenge his control."

This type of emotional subordination is a key factor in emotional abuse. Never let your partner take advantage of you or degrade who you are. You are strong, and this is something that can be overcome by reaching out to your support systems or a college counselor. You are not in this alone, and you are capable of regaining a life independent of him.

Related: I Was a Victim of Domestic Abuse on Multiple Occasions

2. He either takes your money or makes you feel guilty for spending his.

Financial abuse is even less talked about than emotional abuse, but it occurs in 98 percent of all abusive relationships. Our experiences with financial abuse as collegiette women might be different than those of a married couple, but it still sneaks in to relationship violence in college. A lot of us college students are poor AF, so it can be nice to date someone who has money in college, because it means a free dinner every now and then. The dark side of this is that you may have found yourself in a position when you rely on your partner for money, or vice versa, and that money becomes something to hold over you so that you don’t leave the relationship.

“I’m a first generation Mexican college student, and I could barely put myself through my first year of college by myself,” says Claudia, a recent graduate of the University of California, Los Angeles. “My sophomore year I started dating this guy who was really well-off financially and his family was really well-off. We dated for a long time, and because of that he felt responsible to help me out with money and some bills when he could because it wasn’t a hardship for him and his family wanted to help. I can’t believe I didn’t see the signs of financial abuse the first time he coerced me into having sex with him. He had helped me with a car payment and later that night wanted to have sex. I was on my period, and I said no, but he made me feel guilty by bringing up that he helped me with cash and that I should have sex with him. This sort of thing happened for another year until I left him, and then he stalked me for almost a year after our breakup.”

In college, it’s best to keep money separate from your relationship, because you never know what will happen with your partner. It’s dangerous to give your partner financial power over you because it’s an easy tool of manipulation and coercion. In fact, try to avoid mixing money and relationship dependency until you’re actually married with a bunch of kids and have to pay the bills as a unit. Until then, go dutch, and each buy your own Taco Bell.  

3. He manipulates you into uncomfortable situations.

While your partner may not physically force you to do something, intimidation and coercion are severe verbal forms of domestic violence. He uses tactics, deception and manipulation to corner you into a situation. This is a psychological form of consensual assault that’s not okay.

“When I was in college I was repeatedly psychologically coerced into having unwanted sex, drinking and generally making decisions that were emotionally harmful, and my partner knew it, and he continued to manipulate me so he could get his way,” says Kaviani. “Now, I see this same thing everyday with the young women I counsel, and I’m happy to share my testimony with them. My college partner was a master manipulator, and he knew how to read me. He would guilt trip me, tell me I was stupid and acting like a pussy or threaten to leave me whenever I challenged him. If your partner ever uses emotionally degrading tactics on you, it shows a sign of disrespect, and may even be a greater indication that this person is suffering from a personality disorder.”

A partner who truly values and loves you would never force you into anything, plain and simple. Do not allow yourself to be vulnerable to manipulation, and always consider your own needs above anything else when under this kind of pressure. Remember that you can always say “no” and that your partner will hopefully have to respect that.

Related: My Boyfriend Sexually Assaulted Me & I Didn’t Realize It

4. He purposefully makes you feel insecure about yourself.

Let’s be real—as college women we are already riddled with insecurity about everything, and we don’t need some loser telling us that we have fat thighs or cellulite as chunky as chili. Still, verbal abuse where you partner constantly puts down your physical attributes happens—a lot.

“He compared me to all his ex-girlfriends,” says Whitney, a senior at the University of Massachusetts. “He would compare my body to random women he saw walking on the street. One time he said I should try to look more like a video game character, which was an elf. What?! He didn’t say this kind of stuff all the time, but to this day it sticks with me.”

Even if your partner is saying something that hurts you unintentionally, you need to bring it up in a neutral and safe space, and approach the subject very sincerely. Don’t immediately blame them, and tell them how horrible they are, but make sure they know that their words are not okay.  You especially need to address the issue if he is purposefully making you feel like crap about yourself. This type of verbal abuse will haunt you for years. If someone is going to be critical and negative, ditch them. They’re not as important as your self-worth.

5. He makes it your fault—always.

Have you ever approached your partner about a sensitive subject, only to find yourself put in the position of the bad guy? You go to talk to him about a habit that upsets you or something he said to a friend that hurt your feelings. Suddenly he’s yelling at you, telling you that you’re imagining things and lying his way out of being accountable for his actions. He makes you feel crazy, and you start to believe it.

Let me tell you, there is NOTHING WORSE than making a woman out to be a confused psychopath all because she has feelings or opinions.

My freshman year of college I found myself in a long-distance relationship with my high school boyfriend. When he got to college he quickly developed harmful drug and alcoholic abuse tendencies that caused him act in ways that dishonored our relationship. Needless to say, I was pissed, and would openly confront him about his actions to try and work through them, but was met with a brick wall. More like a brick wall shooting fireballs at my face. After three years of dating me, he decided to tell me I was crazy and that he hadn’t been doing anything wrong. I had imagined everything because I secretly had trust issues and this was a manifestation of my problems. I believed him. I spiraled into severe depression, thinking that I actually was crazy until the moment he broke up with me. Two months after our relationship ended he admitted I had been right all along, but by then it didn’t matter because I was left with depression and anxiety, and scars that would long outlive him.

Take note ladies—if your partner ever makes your feelings your “fault” or tells you you’re “crazy,” then you punch them in the face and sashay away.

If you take away anything from this, please understand that emotional abuse is more often than not a precursor to physical abuse. Do not let the significance of emotional abuse go unrecognized, and encourage yourself and your friends to engage in dialogue and action that ends it. Resources and further information on abuse can be found through your college’s counseling office, in the Breaking the Silence Handbook and through the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Every woman should be safe and respected in her relationships and we will get there, one positive relationship at a time.

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