Toxic Relationships & The Many Forms of Abuse

Image result for african american abusive relationships

abuse (verb) – use (something) to a bad effect or a bad purpose; misuse. cruel or violent treatment of a person or an animal.

In the settings of our most intimate relationships and otherwise, the word “abuse” has many forms.

If you have a so-called “partner”, “friend”, family member, or co-worker who demeans or belittles you in any way, even without a physical confrontation, that certainly qualifies under the abuse umbrella, as words also carry “assault” potential.

Often, when we encounter abusive situations, our immediate focus is on what we can possibly change about ourselves or fix, via alternative behaviors in hopes of re-framing the abusive person’s orientation.

We say:

” Maybe if I was more like this/that my partner wouldn’t behave as they do.”

We may find ourselves twisting and turning or trying on masks which are ill-suited which gives our partner more power in our psyches than they deserve.

To gain more clarity on abuse, it may help us to investigate and understand some of the forms in which  it can be veiled or cloaked:

attempts to control, manipulation, criticism & put downs (possibly disguised in the form of jokes at your expense), threats, the faux presentation of extreme choices as alternatives and frequent breaches of trust and confidence.

Recognition of these subtleties can help aid us in our confusion for a possible failure to view our partners (or others) in an abusive light because they don’t fit the “typical” profile that we’ve constructed in our minds.

We might think..

“He/she isn’t jumping up and down, screaming all in my face, putting their hands on me, etc… so how could this possibly be abuse?”

After all, the person we’re involved with, work with, etc. may behave drastically different with other people, and in turn be characterized in a more favorable light. However:

“It’s important that we trust our inner radar and the validity of our first hand experience”

and also remember that:

“Abusive behavior can permeate through some of the most placid and self-controlled exteriors.”

What my experience has taught me is that those who employ an abusive arsenal regularly use misdirection and mixed signals as tactics, sometimes coming in the form of vacillating between extreme generosity and withholding or other worldly praise and gut-wrenching criticism.

The hope is that you’ll be so bewildered as to get caught up in trying to decode their motivations. So much that it diverts your attention from the abuse that’s actually happening. In essence, you risk spending more time and energy being “caught up” in the mind of the abuser than devising strategies to distance yourself from the actual abuse that’s taking place.

To emerge from such situations as strengthened individuals, it’s essential that we think enough of ourselves to put US at the center rather than allowing “air time” for people who have clearly and repeatedly demonstrated that they have less than our best interest at heart.

You may discover that the abuse dynamic usually unfolds in a couple of distinct ways:

First, the person who recognizes their partner’s (co-workers, family members, bosses, etc..) words or behavior as a form of abuse calls attention to it, and:

(1) The person who gets confronted asks sincere questions regarding what they’re possibly doing, and makes strides toward fixing or modifying the behavior in question, suggesting a desire to mend, strengthen or improve the relationship.


(2) Concerns are met with an immediate blockade of denial and defensiveness, which in turn prompts an attempt to pathologize you, making claims like; “you’re crazy”, “I’m not doing anything to you.”, “You must be imagining things”, or possibly even telling you that you need to seek “professional help”, like a therapist, etc..

In the case of the latter, it’s essential to reject the abusive person’s attempts at “turning the tables” in attempts to convince you that you’re the cause or reason for their behavior.

In addition, it’s equally important to resist internalizing that message, as you may experience intense guilt, or even buy into that notion, which lends itself to periods of heavy self-scrutiny or even shame because you’ve then allowed yourself to be convinced that you’re indeed – “THE PROBLEM.”

However, upon further and deeper reflection, you may realize that you’ve been searching for a “needle in a haystack” all along, but experienced a momentary lapse of prioritizing an abuser’s opinion over your sense of self-worth.

This is why I can’t emphasize strongly enough,  to face, with courage, the task focusing on our own psychological well-being and sense of personal integration rather than allowing ourselves to be nonsensically enmeshed, or otherwise connected to the possible motives, opinions or feelings of anyone who may have been or is currently displaying abusive behaviors toward us.

Please contemplate this food for thought and digest and or eliminate in a way that serves you.

(photo credit:


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