When you meet someone to whom you are romantically attracted, most people don’t ever think for a minute that the relationship will turn abusive. Most of us hope to live a fairy tale love story and ride off into the sunset deeply in love.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen for a lot of people. Many find themselves in an abusive relationship.
If you’ve never been in one, you might wonder why someone would ever tolerate that negative behavior toward themselves. Well, it’s not as simple as it sounds. From the outside looking in, it’s easy to say, “why don’t they get out?” But from the inside, it’s a much different experience for most people who are abused.
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How Does it Start?
Believe it or not, most abusive relationships start out just like any other. The abuser is typically very charming and charismatic. The abusee falls for the “act” they are putting on and, as a result, probably falls in love with them.
But that’s not the REAL person. The real person, deep down, is abusive.
It happens slowly. To explain better let me use a metaphor.
Let’s say you like to eat frog legs (I know most people don’t, but remember, this is just an analogy). So, one day you catch a frog yourself and intend to cook it by boiling it in hot water.
If you drop the frog into boiling water, it will be shocked and try to get out. Because of the suddenness of the change, they notice it immediately.
But, if you put the frog in room temperature water first, and then slowly, very slowly, turn up the heat toward boiling, then the frog won’t really notice until it is too late. It happens almost without the frog knowing it.
You see, that’s what happens in abusive relationships most of the time. The abuse starts slowly, and then apologies come. And then forgiveness. Then more abuse, and more, and more, until it finally escalates into full-blown abuse.
That’s why it’s sometimes difficult for someone to recognize when they are in an abusive relationship.
What Are the Signs of Abuse?
In order to get out of an abusive relationship, you first have to admit to yourself that you are in one. You can’t change what you don’t recognize. Again, that might sound like an easy thing to do, but it’s not for many people. So, here are just a few signs that you are in an abusive relationship.
“B*tch,” “Wh*re” and many other horrible names can be used when the abuser is angry. They use these words to degrade you and ruin your self-esteem.
See, an abuser can’t really abuse you if you love yourself – because you won’t stand for it. That’s why they have to call you names.
In addition to name-calling, any other kind of insult will be flying your way, too. They could call you fat, dumb, a slob, idiot, “no one likes you,” or anything else. Again, this is the abuser’s attempt to continually destroy your sense of self and self-esteem.
Gaslighting is a psychological technique of manipulation that makes someone question their own sanity. You are constantly second-guessing yourself. You frequently ask yourself, “Am I too sensitive?” and feel confused or even crazy.
You might even find yourself apologizing all the time even if you think you’re not really wrong. But the abuser makes you THINK you are wrong.
4. Jealous and Controlling Behavior
Unfortunately, most people think jealousy is a sign of love. But really, it is not. It is a sign of insecurity and anxiety.
If someone is jealous, they will naturally try to control your actions, such as, “You can’t talk to that guy at work.” They will eventually try to control your whole life if you let them.
In more extreme abusive relationships, the jealous and controlling behavior can lead to social isolation. In other words, the abuser won’t let you see your family or friends anymore. Because if they do let you, they might try to talk some sense into you and convince you to leave your abuser.
6. Blaming You for Everything
They never take personal responsibility for anything – because everything is “your fault.” This could also be a part of the gaslighting strategy as well. They think they can “do no wrong,” and therefore, YOU are the person who needs to change – not THEM.
7. Physical Violence – Even If Just Threats
Most people know that physical violence is a sign of an abusive relationship. However, perhaps you grew up in a family where you or someone else was physically abused, so you might think it’s a “normal” part of a relationship.
Let me assure you – it is NOT. Even mere threats of physical abuse is abusive behavior.
How to Get Out of an Abusive Relationship
Now that you know some of the signs of an abusive relationship (although there are many more), let’s talk about how you can get out.
1. Document Everything
Write everything that happens to you down in a journal or diary. The reason for that is two-fold:
First, it will help you to NOT question your sanity. Documenting what you said and what they said (and did) really helps put things into perspective.
Second, it can serve as documentation if you need to file a restraining order or have to prosecute them in some way. There are apps out there that can help you. For example, if your abuser is degrading and threatening you, then you can hit a secret button on your phone and it will start recording them.
2. Pack an Emergency Bag
You never know when you are going to have a chance to leave. Kind of like when you have a baby, you just don’t know when the moment is going to strike.
So, pack a bag and have it ready to run out the door when the time is right. And if you have children, have theirs packed too. If your abuser has kept you isolated, this is especially important because maybe they don’t even let you leave the house – and as a result, they keep a close eye on you.
3. Have a Plan
It’s one thing to leave, but it’s another thing to know where you are going. If you have supportive family and friends, then the most obvious choice would be to live with one of them.
However, if your abuser is really crazy and violent, that could also potentially put them in harm’s way. You could also go to a women’s shelter or any other place that helps abused women.
Wherever you go, you have to have a plan set in stone before you leave.
4. Save Money in a Secret and Accessible Place
This will be a lot easier if you have your own job. However, even if you don’t, you can try to find money around the house and slowly save enough until you have some to leave.
Perhaps get a secret job where your abuser won’t find out if possible. But obviously, you don’t want to have your abuser know. It’s best to keep it out of the house with a trusted family member or friend if possible. Or even open your own secret bank account at a different bank.
5. Alert Your Family and Friends
If you have supportive family and friends, you will need to alert them of your plan. Tell them exactly what is going on in the relationship so they know that you could be leaving at moment’s notice.
If you’ve been in an abusive relationship for a long time, they might not actually believe you are leaving “this time” (think “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.”) But assure them that you are serious this time and have them help you follow through with your plan.
6. Block and Disengage with your Abuser
Unfortunately, many people who are successful at leaving abusive relationships just sabotage themselves by going back. You can’t do that! I mean, what’s the point? In fact, your abuser will probably get worse because you had the courage to leave them, and that will make them angry!
So, STAY AWAY. Block their phone number. Block them on social media. Don’t post on social media so they can’t find you.
Completely disengage with them so you can move on with your life. That is the ONLY WAY. Because if you don’t, then they will make you think that they “changed” with their apologies and empty promise. I guarantee you that they won’t change – so don’t believe them!
While most people think of men as being the abusers in a relationship, it can also be the other way around. There are plenty of men in the world who are being abused by women, but they are probably too afraid/proud to admit it. It doesn’t matter your gender – abuse is abuse. And it needs to stop.
Remember this: You need to get some counseling or therapy before you enter into another relationship. You need to figure out what it is about you that allowed the other person to abuse you in the first place. There are many reasons, and many are unique to each individual. But you need to sort that out within yourself so you don’t attract another abuser the next time.
It might sound near impossible to leave an abusive relationship, but it’s not. Many people have done it before, and you can too.
More Relationships Advice
Having high self-esteem is important if you are aiming for personal or professional success. Interestingly, most people will high levels of self-esteem act in similar ways. That’s why it’s often easy to pick them out in a crowd. There’s something about the way they hold themselves and speak, isn’t there?
We all have different hopes, dreams, experiences, and paths, but confidence has its own universal language. This list will present some of the things you won’t find yourself doing if you have high self-esteem.
1. Compare Yourself to Others
People with low self-esteem are constantly comparing their situation to others. On the other hand, people with higher self-esteem show empathy and compassion while also protecting their own sanity. They know how much they can handle and when they can offer a helping hand.
In the age of social media, however, social comparisons are nearly ubiquitous. One study found that “participants who used Facebook most often had poorer trait self-esteem, and this was mediated by greater exposure to upward social comparisons on social media”. Basically, you will feel worse about yourself if you are constantly getting glimpses into lives that you consider to be better than yours.
Try to limit your time on social media. Also, when you do start scrolling, keep in mind that each profile is carefully crafted to create the appearance of a perfect life. Check yourself when you find yourself wishing for greener grass.
2. Be Mean-Spirited
People with low self-esteem bully others. They take pleasure in putting other people down. People with positive self-esteem see no need to down other people, choosing instead to encourage and celebrate successes.
If you find that you feel the need to put others down, analyze where that’s coming from. If they’ve had success in life, help them feel good about that achievement. They may do the same for you one day.
3. Let Imperfection Ruin Your Day
Perfectionism isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but obsessing over making everything perfect is a sign that you have low self-esteem and can lead to never-ending negative thoughts. This can turn into an inability to solve problems creatively, which will only make self-esteem issues worse.
Those with high self-esteem disconnect from the results and do their best without expecting perfection.
People with that kind of confidence understand that messing up is a part of life and that each time they aim and miss success, they’ll at least learn something along the way.
If you miss the mark, or if your plan doesn’t work out exactly as you would have liked, take a deep breath and see if you can pivot in order to do better next time.
4. Dwell on Failure
It’s common to hear people dwelling on all the ways things will go wrong. They are positive that their every failure signals an impossible task or an innate inability to do something. People with healthy self-esteem discover why they failed and try again.
People with higher levels of confidence also tend to adopt a growth mindset. This type of thinking supports the idea that most of your abilities can be improved and altered, as opposed to being fixed.
For example, instead of saying, “I’m just not good at math; that’s why I did bad on the test,” someone with a growth mindset would say, “Math is difficult for me, so I’ll have to put in some more practice to improve next time.”
Next time you experience a failure, check out this video to help you believe in yourself again:
5. Devalue Your Self-Esteem
People with high self-esteem value their own perception of themselves – they understand that they come first and don’t feel guilty about taking care of themselves. They believe charity starts within, and if they don’t believe that, they’ll never have a healthy self-image.
Self-care is often top of the priority list for people with self-esteem. For some ways to practice self-care, check out this article.
6. Try to Please Others
They can’t please all the people all the time, so confident people first focus on doing what will make them feel fulfilled and happy. While they will politely listen to others’ thoughts and advice, they know that their goals and dreams have to be completed on their own terms.
7. Close Yourself off
Confident people have the ability to be vulnerable. It’s those with poor self-esteem that hide all the best parts of themselves behind an emotional wall. Instead of keeping the real you a secret, be open and honest in all your dealings.
As Brené Brown, author of Daring Greatly, points out, “Vulnerability is about showing up and being seen”. When you embrace each facet of who you are and allow others to see them as well, it will create deeper, more meaningful connections in your life. When that happens, you’ll realize that perfection doesn’t lead to people liking you more.
You can learn more about the power of vulnerability in this TED talk with Brené Brown:
8. Follow and Avoiding Leading
People with low self-esteem don’t believe they can lead, so they end up following others, sometimes into unhealthy situations. Rather than seeking a sense of belonging, people with high self-esteem walk their own paths and create social circles that build them up.
9. Fish for Compliments
If you’re constantly seeking compliments, you’re not confident. People with high self-esteem always do their best (and go out of their way to do good deeds) because it’s what they want to do, not because they’re seeking recognition. If you need to hear compliments, say them to yourself in the mirror.
You can even try some positive affirmations if you need a confidence boost. Check out these affirmations to get started.
10. Be Lazy
People work harder when they have high self-esteem because they’re not bogged down by doubts and complaints. Those with low self-esteem end up procrastinating and wasting their energy thinking about all the work they have to do rather than rolling up their sleeves and just getting it done.
This may also bounce off perfectionism. Perfectionists often feel intimidated by certain projects if they fear that they won’t be able to complete them perfectly. Tap into your confidence and simply do your best without worrying about a perfect outcome.
11. Shy Away from Risks
When you trust yourself, you’ll be willing to participate more in life. People with low self-esteem are always on the sidelines, waiting for the perfect moment to jump in. Instead of letting life pass you by, have confidence in your success and take the risks necessary to succeed.
People with low self-esteem are always in other peoples’ business – they’re more interested in what everyone else is doing than themselves. People with high self-esteem are more interested in their own life and stay out of others’ affairs.
Instead of participating in idle gossip, talk about some positive news you heard recently, or that fascinating book you just finished. There’s plenty to talk about beyond what this or that person did wrong in their life.
The Bottom Line
Self-esteem is to success in life. People who maintain a healthy level of self-esteem believe in themselves and push themselves to succeed, while those with low confidence feel a sense of entitlement.
If you need a boost in your self-image and mental health, avoid negative self-talk and the other mistakes of people with low self-esteem. You’ll be amazed at the difference it makes.