I just finished listening to a podcast from this weekend’s Emotional Abuse Recovery and Resilience Summit put together by Stacy Brookman, a Resilience and Life Storytelling expert.
She interviewed Natalie Hoffman, a writer and life coach for women of faith into destructive relationships, who also runs Flying Free, an education and support Community. Her new book, Is It Me? Making sense of Your Confusing Marriage will be released in November 2018.
Hoffman says that one of the most important things we can do to avoid an emotionally abusive relationship is first be aware of what to look for. More importantly, however, is that we are invested in our own well-being, and that we are able to refuse to move forward in any relationship with red flags.
Saying no to something that feels good is very difficult, but it is exactly what is necessary during the beginning of a potential emotionally abusive relationship when an abuser is “love-bombing,” or attempting to influence us by demonstrations of attention and affection.
Natalie provides a list of 10 specific red flags, contrasted with what a healthy relationship would look like, which she has listed on her own website, www.flyingfree.com. I have summarized the red flags themselves below.
1. When you try to have a discussion about a problem, your partner doesn’t attack the issue, but attacks you.
2. When you ask your partner to stop doing something, he will deny, shame, minimize, or blame you for the problem.
3. You have lost who you used to be and are instead trying to be what your partner wants.
4. Your partner may use the Bible to control and shame you.
5. Your success elicits your partner’s criticism. Your partner often rains on your parade.
6. You can’t trust your partner all the time.
7. When something happens, your partner says it didn’t happen (known as “gaslighting.”) This creates confusion and self-doubt in you.
8. When you have a setback or feel sad, your partner ignores or gets irritated at you.
9. In order to resolve conflict, you have to give in or sweep it under the rug.
10. You feel you must set aside your own desires and needs in order to keep your partner happy.
These red flags might not start at the very beginning of a relationship. Natalie believes that they really appear when you make your needs known. Until that point, when you are giving, kind, and doing whatever your partner wants, of course everything is wonderful. This is why the test is to instead watch what happens when you establish strong boundaries early on.
For an abuser, life revolves around that person, not you. Hoffman recommends that one major test you can do to really decide if someone is right for you is to not have sex at the beginning of the relationship. Does the person still want to stick around?
Another very telling quality of abusers is to not take responsibility for themselves. They will deny, make excuses, blame you, and minimize whenever is something wrong. They will look outside of themselves in order to manage their pain. They need to always be right. And if this is the case, then it means that you are always wrong, and therefore responsible for their behavior.
We women in particular instinctively want to nurture people. We want them to feel better. We want to help others, to save the world . And this appeasing of someone else’s needs perpetuates a dangerous cycle.
So what can be done?
First of all, it is sometimes easier for someone outside of the relationship to see the red flags. We ourselves can often become so emotionally invested, and want a relationship to work, that we really need to try to have friends we are open to and honest with.
Secondly, it is important to approach a new relationship slowly and with really good boundaries. Natalie recommended a book called Boundaries by Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend.
Thirdly, we must pay close attention to our new potential partner. Is he interested in our life, interest and goals? Or is he trying to fit us into his? A good person, someone looking for a multi-dimensional relationship wants to be open, honest, and vulnerable.
In contrast, abusers are usually disconnected to their own emotions.
So what to do if you are already involved in an emotionally abusive relationship? I’ll share what Natalie said about that in my next post Thursday morning!
For more information on the excellent content from this summit, please go to emotionalabusesummit.com.