Abuse, by proxy
Oksana Tashakova
Friday, May 25, 2012

If your partner tries to control your 
behavior — and, in a sense, your life — you could be, potentially, in an abusive relationship. Learn to recognize the signs.

More signs of such abuse include:

  • You feel afraid of your partner
  • You avoid certain topics to avoid angering your partner
  • You feel like you can’t do anything right in their eyes
  • You feel as if you deserve mistreatment
  • You wonder if you’re crazy yourself

Signs of controlling behaviour in an abusing partner include:

  • Being excessively jealous and possessive
  • Controlling where you go or what you do
  • Keeping you from seeing your friends or family
  • Limiting your access to money, the phone, or the car
  • Holding you accountable for every penny
  • Constantly checking on you

Abusers often destroy a person’s self-esteem over time. Does 
your partner...

  • Humiliate or yell at you?
  • Treat you so badly that you’re embarrassed for your friends or family to see?
  • Ignore or put down your opinions or accomplishments?
  • Blame you for their own abusive behaviour?
  • See you as property or a sex object, rather than as a person?
  • Threaten you, your children or your family?
  • Prevent you from working?

You’re not alone. Nearly 7 in 10 women have suffered controlling behavior in a relationship. A survey of 603 women found that 68 per cent had experienced controlling behavior and nearly 1 in 3 women reported being in an outright abusive relationship. Controlling relationships are on the spectrum of abuse.

Most women don’t realize that they’re in an abusive relationship when they’re in a controlling one. That’s because the signs are subtle and escalate over time. The best way to determine if you’re a victim of a controlling relationship is to check whether you are experiencing any of the following:

Loss of self-recognition: Feeling 
like you don’t know who you are anymore, as if you’re becoming someone unrecognizable.

Chronic fear: Feeling like you’re losing yourself or becoming powerless

Fantasizing about escape: Having frightening thoughts about running away, taking your life or an accident taking your partner’s life so that you will be free

Questioning reality: Controllers deny, lie and rationalize so much that you may have trouble trusting your own sense of what’s happening in every situation

Isolation: You find yourself increasingly alone because of how a controller has worked to cut you off from others

Lying: You distort the truth to yourself and others to deny anything is going wrong

Domestic abuse occurs when one person in a relationship tries to dominate and control another. Domestic violence is when that abuse is physical but there are many other kinds of domestic abuse.

Controlling behavior isn’t something that gets better over time. Instead, such behavior usually escalates into more aggressive forms of abuse.

Does your partner dominate in the relationship? Make all of the decisions and expect obedience? Do they treat you like a child? A servant? A possession? Does your partner humiliate you? Call you names? Does he or she intimidate you physically or with threatening looks, actions or threats?

Such behavior doesn’t just affect you in the short term. A controlling relationship can damage your self-esteem over the long run and prevent you from being able to experience intimacy or trust. Children who witness such relationships can suffer from guilt, lack of trust, fear of losing control or fear of being controlled.

How do you get out of such a relationship? First, gather support. It’s likely that you’ve been denying and lying to others as well as enduring isolation. Tell people you can trust what is going on and seek out professional help as well. This support system can help restore and reinforce your sense of worth and your courage. This network can also provide you with a safe haven because controlling people can react with violence when thwarted.

Leave your partner decisively. 
It’s unlikely to be effective and most likely, dangerous, if you try to withdraw little by little.

The hardest thing to come to terms with whether you’re considering leaving such a relationship or have left one is that you may experience the Stockholm Syndrome. Named after hostages in a bank robbery bonded and supported their captors, this syndrome occurs in abusive and controlling relationships too.

Emotionally bonding with an abuser is a survival strategy. You may find it very difficult to think about leaving your partner and you may go beyond defending them to attacking people who try to extricate you from the situation.

Stockholm Syndrome occurs when a person believes an abuser would carry out threats, when the abuser proffers small kindnesses or disclose personal information that instigates hope, when a person is isolated from perspectives other than that of the abuser, and when the victim feels that escape is impossible.

Cognitive dissonance refers to the discomfort we feel when our beliefs and ideas don’t seem to be normal or positive in practice or when we find ourselves in positions that contradict our basic beliefs about the world or others. We seek to lessen this difference by changing our ideas when we can’t change the situation.

Another reason Stockholm Syndrome occurs is because traumatic events created emotional bonding. This survival strategy may have existed from a time when survival depended upon staying in relationships rather than risking death by starvation or predators.

It’s hard for someone with damaged self-worth to forgo the investments they’ve made in a relationship.  So much emotion has gone into the ordeal, and children or financial ties can also cloud one’s judgment. Some people fear losing social status.

Counselling is a necessary part of disconnecting from an abusive relationship and if you’re a family member, friend or witness, take care not to activate strong Stockholm Syndrome effects by pushing someone too hard to leave their partner.

Oksana is a life coach based in Dubai; she’s an expert in stress management, addictions and phobias, relationships, communication skills and emotional pain management.

Visit her: or email her:


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