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Am I In An Abusive Relationship?

Human relationships are complex, and there are many moving parts based on the

experiences and characteristics of the persons involved. We learn a lot about

relationships through our family of origin and dating experiences during adolescence

and early adulthood. How might one know if a romantic relationship is abusive?

couple holding hands


Let’s consider characteristics of abusive relationships. In the beginning, there is typically idealization. This may include behavior, such as “love bombing,” which is when a person demonstrates excessive attention, admiration, and affection for the sole purpose of influence and/or manipulation. During this stage, it may appear their love for their partner is unconditional, and mistaking intensity for intimacy is common. Partners may identify areas of concerns during this stage but often ignore any “gut reactions” because

of how good it feels to be needed by another person.  


Idealization is then followed by devaluation. It is during the devaluation phase that

insults and shaming occur, although subtle in the beginning. The abuser works to create

mistrust of others in order to increase the partner’s dependency on them. To others, the

“put-downs” may seem like teasing, and the partner may begin to identify with what the

abuser is saying or implying. There may unpredictable outbursts as well as inconsistent

application of rules by the abuser. “Gaslighting,” which is behavior intended to cause the

partner to doubt their own perceptions, may also occur. The abuse can be psychological

or physical, and maintaining control over the partner is typically a priority for the abuser.

The partner often works hard to please the abuser in an attempt to return to the “love

bombing” phase. Once the abuser has gotten everything they can from the partner, they

may no longer see the partner as useful. The abuser is now more apt to “discard” the

partner unless they see something of value that will further benefit them. “Love

bombing” may also be resumed by the abuser if the partner tries to leave the

relationship in an attempt to maintain control.

Abusive relationships often fragment a person, making it difficult to see self as a whole

person. Self-esteem can be negatively affected through this experience, but a pattern of

unhealthy relationships is not inevitable. Healing from abuse is possible through

education, processing of trauma, and learning to love one’s authentic self.

Kempe, A. (2023). After Self-Betrayal: Strategies to Help Clients Find Their

Authentic Selves. Narcissistic Abuse and Gaslighting Treatment Course: Help

Clients End Emotional Manipulation and Reclaim Their Lives from Toxic

Relationships [PowerPoint slides].

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