Toxic relationships are complex and can sneak up on anyone.
“The red flags of relationships can be easy to miss, as many signs of a controlling relationship are not overt and easy to spot.” ~ Psych2Go
Here are eight indicators of a family member or partner who is emotionally strangling you:
1. They guilt you.
Hello, emotional manipulation! They use your guilt to make you believe/do whatever they want or need.
2. They want to isolate you.
Isolation is another tactic to gain control, but a wise man once said. “It’s a partnership, not ownership!”
3. They frequently criticize you.
Have you noticed that your confidence has little cracks in it? Constructive feedback is one thing; breaking someone’s sense of self-worth is another. It’s often something barely detectable (at first): the way you dress, your favorite shows, how your laugh sounds.
4. They are superficially charming.
Manipulative people know that if they’re straight-up mean to you, it’ll be easier to leave. So, they sprinkle in some charm and compliments here and there, so you can see a glimmer of “love” or “acceptance” (and now you’re in need of it because they’ve been chipping away at your heart with the red flags above).
5. There are cycles in the relationship.
Yes, there are always ups and downs. This is different. After an abusive incident, there is a sort of rekindling of the “honeymoon period.” Things seem promising again. (They’re giving you just enough to lure you in and keep you right where that want you.)
This honeymoon phase can come with grandiose apologies, gifts, and attention. I think the key here is to take a step back and notice how often this happens and if the gestures match up with their actions.
Are they truly trying to change, or is this simply a phase in the toxic cycle of their need for control?
6. They threaten you.
Whether it’s the threat of violence or an ultimatum of leaving, it’s not okay. It could sound something like:
“If you leave me, I’ll hurt myself.”
“If you talk to him again, I’ll break up with you.”
“If you don’t do X, you’re a lost cause, and I’m out.”
If it’s love, you shouldn’t fear for your safety or the livelihood of the relationship (i.e., them leaving). I learned this one the hard way. If they threaten to leave, let them. Yes, there are times to fight for love. But there are also times when we need to walk away.
I’ve been in plenty of heated back-and-forths with my husband; we never put “leaving” on the table. (He also wouldn’t hurt a fly, so there’s that.) I might say, “I need a f*cking second because I can’t have this conversation in a healthy way when I want to scream in your face,” but neither of us uses our relationship as a tool to get what we want. There is emotional safety.
7. Their love has conditions.
Love is doled out based on your level of compliance or material accomplishments or…(fill in the blank). You might even hear something like:
“You’d be hot if you spent some time on your hair.”
“I’d totally marry you today if you could just relax a little more often.”
8. They try to brainwash you.
A controlling partner can’t have you, this strong, free-thinking human, running the show. No. They have to undermine your beliefs so that they can impose their own on you. They want you to be less sure of who you are so you can be more easily persuaded to their wants, needs, and beliefs.
Love is always tricky. There isn’t a guidebook, per se. And I also recognize that every situation is different. Some of these “red flags” could actually be a “positive flag” in certain situations. The crucial part is differentiating between someone who is giving you less-than-comfortable nudges for your betterment and someone who is trying to squash you into a box they can carry around and control.
For example, with #6 and #7: we should all have boundaries, so, yes, we have certain expectations of the ones we’re in relationships with. But, if they throw in the towel every other day, it’s probably some bullsh*t you don’t want. If you’re with someone who has a drug problem and they’re unsafe to be around, yes, it might be time to walk away. There’s always a flipside.
The video below helps disseminate this information in a better way (although, if you’re reading this, you probably already know or experienced this toxicity in the past):