Toxic Relationships: Recognizing Signs of Abuse

Written by Angela Atkinson

“Poisonous relationships can alter our perception. You can spend many years thinking you’re worthless… but you’re not worthless, you’re unappreciated.” – Steve Maraboli

Would You Recognize Abuse in Your Own Relationships?

How can you miss the fact that you’re being abused?

While domestic abuse in any category is unacceptable, one area that is often overlooked is emotional and mental abuse, which is common in toxic relationships, especially when a narcissist is involved. Sadly, chances are very high that either someone you know and love – or you yourself – are in or have been in an abusive relationship.

People forget that there are many different types of abusive relationships – but it’s important to remember that both mental and physical abuse can be destructive and the scars take a long time to heal.

Related: 44 Warning Signs You’re Being Emotionally Abused

The Humiliation Factor: No One Wants to Admit They Accept Abuse

So, how can you possibly “miss” the fact that you’re being abused? The problem with abuse is that most relationships don’t begin with abuse. Instead, there are subtle shifts along the way, silent reprogramming until the abuser feels confident that they can control the relationship.

In most cases, by the time the abuse becomes recognizable, the victim has been so brainwashed that she or he (men can also be victims of abusive relationships) doesn’t recognize the actions as abuse and actually takes the blame for his or her predicament.

Related: How do you help someone in an abusive relationship with a narcissist?

Sadly, narcissistic abuse victims often can’t be convinced that they’re experiencing abuse.  They’re so busy justifying the behavior of the abuser that they don’t see it for what it is. In many cases, the simple answer is that it’s hard to admit you’ve allowed this to happen. But if you recognize some of the following patterns in your own relationship, it’s quite possible that you are in fact, a victim of abuse.

What Are the Warning Signs You’re Being Abused by a Narcissist?

Did you know that statistically, more women experience emotional abuse than physical violence? Consider this: More than 1/3 of ALL women who have been married have experienced emotional abuse. Specifically, 35% of all women who are or have been in married or common-law relationships have experienced emotional abuse, as opposed to the 29% who have been physically assaulted by their male partners, according to Statistics Canada.

Tip: don’t assume that these statistics put female narcissists in the clear. There are many reasons that women are less often reported as abusers, but the fact is that both male and female narcissists are abusers, and you might be dealing with either one. But in any case, if you’re in a relationship with an abusive narcissist, these are the red-flag warning signs of which to be aware.

1. You are isolated, more than you used to be.

  • Have you been cut off to some degree from friends or family?
  • Does your partner seek to drive a wedge between you and other people you’re close to?
  • Does he make you choose between him and others that love you?

These are all signs of the beginning of isolation. An abuser knows that his power over you must be absolute in order to have the true dominance he seeks. Friends and family members are competition – not to mention potential witnesses to the abuser’s bad behavior.

2. You have no control of your money.

Does your partner control the finances? You should be equal partners when it comes to money matters.  If your partner holds all of the power financially then he has power over your ability to stay, leave, spend money, and make decisions. Read About Identifying and Overcoming Financial Abuse

3. You really are “missing” the signs that someone else may consider obvious.

Narcissistic abuse is incredibly pervasive. Maybe these “obvious” signs actually sort of snuck up on you or because you’re not ready to admit you’re being abused (and who could blame you?).

  • Even if you think it’s not a big deal, be honest with yourself – does your partner ever physically hit you, even if it seems innocent?
  • Does he/she ever strike at you in anger, verbally or physically?
  • Does he/she call you names, put you down?
  • Does he/she humiliate, control or make you feel inferior?

These are all signs of abuse at the hands of your partner. Some insults are more subtle than others – as are some of the physical violence against you.

Checklist: 158 Signs of Narcissistic Abuse

Early signs of narcissistic abuse might include your partner playing too rough and then becoming upset or agitated when you indicate that you’ve had enough. And, in this video checklist, you’ll find 158 signs that you’re dealing with narcissistic abuse in a toxic relationship (under 13 minutes long). Grab a pen and paper, and make a tick mark for each one that you’re dealing with.

Are you dealing with narcissistic abuse? 

Still not sure? Take this toxic relationship self-assessment and gain further insight into your situation. In addition to helping you determine whether you’re dealing with narcissistic abuse, you’ll be directed to free healing resources based on your answers. As inclusive as this list seems to be, it does not by any means cover every possible sign or indication that exists for mental or physical abuse in relationships.

Chances are that if you feel you’re being abused, you’re right.

You can always seek advice and guidance at a local women’s shelter or domestic violence center if you suspect you’re being abused and would like help. Or, if you’re NOT experiencing physical abuse, you might benefit from a little support from a narcissistic abuse recovery coach.

Thoughts? Share them, along with your relevant experiences, in the comments below this video.

Do you need help and support in your narcissistic abuse recovery process?

How can you get support in your healing? Start with your friends and/or family members who may understand and be willing to support you. If you don’t have supportive or understanding people around you, which is often the case for survivors of narcissistic abuse due to the fact that narcissists have a tendency to isolate you, you may need to look at some other options. Here are a few to consider.

Please note: If you’re experiencing physical abuse, you have to take immediate action to get yourself to a safe place so you can figure out what to do next. Please, stop reading and start taking action right now. Check out this page for emergency domestic violence resources.

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  • Angela Atkinson

    Angela Atkinson is a certified trauma counselor and the author of more than 20 books on narcissism, narcissistic abuse recovery, and related topics. A recognized expert on narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder who has studied and written extensively on narcissistic personality disorder and narcissistic abuse in toxic relationships since 2006, she has a popular narcissistic abuse recovery YouTube channel. Atkinson was inspired to begin her work as a result of having survived toxic relationships of her own. Atkinson offers trauma-informed narcissistic abuse recovery coaching and has certifications in trauma counseling, life coaching, level 2 therapeutic model, CBT coaching, integrative wellness coaching, and NLP. She is a certified trauma support coach and certified family trauma professional. She also has a professional PTSD counseling certification. Her mission is to help those who have experienced the emotional and mental devastation that comes with narcissistic abuse in these incredibly toxic relationships to (re)discover their true selves, stop the gaslighting and manipulation, and move forward into their genuine desires – into a life that is exactly what they choose for themselves. Along with her solution-focused life coaching experience, Atkinson’s previous career in journalism and research helps her to offer both accurate and understandable information for survivors of abuse in a simple-to-understand way that helps to increase awareness in the narcissistic abuse recovery community. Atkinson founded Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support, the SPANily Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support Groups and the Life Makeover Academy. She offers individual and group coaching for victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse here at and at NarcissisticAbuseRecovery.Online.

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