I work with a lot of women trapped in toxic relationships that involve abuse because, one, I have grown up seeing my own mom trapped in one, and two, my training as a trauma therapist has invariably brought me closer to this kind of complex trauma. I have been doing this for quite a few years and yet, every single time I hear a woman’s story, it makes me want to put my arms around her and tell her that her story breaks my heart.
I read a quote yesterday that said “If you look at someone with rose colored glasses, red flags just look like normal flags”. This is exactly what happens in toxic/abusive relationships. So much closeness gets established so quickly in the beginning (a manipulation tactic known as ‘love bombing’) that the victim starts to see everything with rose colored glasses. Today in a session where I’m working with someone who has been physically abused by her husband and boyfriend of over a decade, she said that I’m now starting to see all the red flags that were always there even when we were in a relationship.
She recounted an incident where once at dinner she was extremely uncomfortable because it was very spicy. When she asked him for a glass of water he refused saying that she shouldn’t have water in the middle of a meal because its not healthy. She couldn’t bear the heat from the food and had some water. What happened later is unthinkable. He emptied a full water keg over her head and made her eat all that spicy food all at once. She was just a young woman in her 20’s. Can you imagine? But what struck me more than hearing about this gut-wrenching incident was what she said after this. She said, “At that time I didn’t know that this is also violence”. This jolted me. I realized that a lot of women believe that violence is only when he hits you repeatedly, daily, openly. I know some of you are reading this and saying “Of course this is violence! How can anyone not see that?” But guess what? The toxin of an abusive relationship erases that kind of logic. And that’s why I’m writing this today. I’ve decided to create a series of posts that peel the layers of an abusive relationship. So if you’ve been riddled with self-doubt about your relationship, I’m hoping that this will help you bring some clarity. So in this first post, lets see what all constitutes violence/abuse.
Physical Abuse– Slapping, punching, choking, kicking, shoving, banging or pushing against a wall, throwing an object with the intention of causing hurt, exposing you to distressful conditions like eating spicy food, shutting you out in cold or hot weather, locking you up, depriving you of food/water/sleep, restricting access to amenities in the house (one of my client’s husbands would put a lock on the AC so she couldn’t use it in summers).
Financial Abuse– controlling how you spend your own earned money, keeping a tab on your accounts, not giving you money for basic expenses, making you beg for it, insisting on having all your banking and financial passwords, taking your salary, making you feel like despite earning your own money you’re not in charge of it (this is the reason a lot of outwardly successful women are not able to break out of abusive relationships)
Social Abuse– restricting your contact with friends and family, making you feel like your friends are ‘bad people’ and gradually removing them from your life, constantly feeding you negative thoughts about your close ones, making sure you can’t interact with neighbors, restricting your online access and checking your phone and passwords
Emotional Abuse– Threatening you with violence or taking away/destroying your loved objects, demeaning you, body shaming you, putting you down, making you feel worthless, telling you that it’s your fault that they are treating you like this (an abuser’s favorite dialogue – “I do this because YOU provoke me”!), emotional blackmail with threats to leave, you divorce you, or taking away your children.
So there you go. ALL of this constitutes violence! Please know that you do nothing to deserve this treatment. IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT! Stay tuned for the next post in the series and I hope that you find your inner courage If you want to read the true story of a woman who escaped from the clutched of abuse, click here!
This article has been written by Prachi S Vaish who is the founder of The Emotional Wellness Initiatives and our specialist for relationships and recovery from trauma. To book an appointment with her you can click here.