Not every relationship bubbles over with kisses and cuddling. Even your favorite hookup isn’t always all fun and games. Arguments happen. There’s conflict, and hopefully, resolution. Disagreements are a normal part of relationships. There is, however, a difference when the relationship becomes abusive.
In college, emotional abuse, defined as isolating partners from others, using criticism, threats, and verbal aggression, is more common than you’d think.
In a 2000 study, more than half of college women reported being emotionally abused in some way. It’s important to recognize that abusive relationships don’t always mean physical violence. Verbal, or emotional abuse, can be just as harmful, and sometimes more so, than physical abuse. Her Campus spoke with Dr. Steven Stosny, a family violence consultant and author of Love Without Hurt: Turn Your Resentful, Angry, or Emotionally Abusive Relationship into a Compassionate, Loving One, about signs to look for before the abuse begins, and what to do if it starts.
When Mr. Perfect Becomes Abusive
According to Stosny’s article on Psychology Today, sometimes the obvious red flags like anger and violent behavior don’t show until later in the relationship. There are, however, signs to look for before the abuse actually happens. Stosny calls these qualities “very early warning signs” of a potential abuser:
Very Early Warning Signs of Abuse:
- Blaming- Blaming their negative feelings and bad luck on someone else.
- Resentment- Caring so much about themselves that they become insensitive to the feelings and rights of others.
- Entitlement- Believing that they deserve special treatment from others.
- Superiority- Pointing out why they are smarter, or better than others.
- Pettiness- Creating large issues out of small problems.
- Sarcasm - Boosting their own ego by making witty comments about something they don’t agree with.
- Deceit - Exaggerating or telling lies about their own qualities or experiences to boost their self confidence.
- Minor Jealousy- Getting (or even just looking) upset if you talk to, or look at another guy.
- Rushing- Wanting you so much that they don’t care about whether you are comfortable.
“There is more entitlement today,” Stosny says. “People feel entitled to act on their feelings at the moment, regardless of their effects on others. As a culture, Stosny says, we’re addicted to blame; the idea that “if I feel bad it must be your fault.”
Stosny says one example of a blaming statement is: “You're so smart, sensitive, caring, and loving, not like that b***h I used to go out with.” At first, this may seem like a compliment to you, but, Stosny says, when you become the closest person to him, the blame will turn on you.
When it comes to pettiness, “if he makes a big deal out of nothing or focuses on one small, negative aspect of an issue, a relationship with him will be disastrous,” Stosny says.
Briana, a sophomore at Syracuse University, experienced the early warning sign of jealousy in her relationship with her ex-boyfriend. Two months after the two started dating, his jealousy become severe. “If I talked to any guys, he had to know their name and what we talked about,” she says. “He somehow got [the phone company] to send him everyone I’d ever texted or called.”
Stosny says more passionate relationships can turn bad more quickly. “Slower going ones take a while,” he adds.
Once the switch happens, Stosny says these early warning signs become more overtly abusive: criticism of personality, name-calling, demeaning, belittling.
That is exactly what happened in Michelle’s* relationship.
Michelle, of the University of Oregon, met her ex-boyfriend during her sophomore year of high school. He was perfect: Mr. Popular, a football star, and just one year older than she, and of course, cute. “I thought he was way out of my league,” Michelle said.
After a few late-night conversations and casual dates, Michelle was no longer intimidated. “He treated me like a princess and said he was lucky to have me,” she said.
Looking, back, there were no signs of what was to come. “He was completely devoted to me and always doing little things to try to make me happy,” Michelle said. “He was my best friend.”
Danielle, of Davis College, also never would have predicted the behavior of her now ex-boyfriend, Allen*.
The two met in a church group. Allen was two years older than Danielle. “[At the time] I was a little naive about relationships,” Danielle says. “But I still don’t think I would have known it was coming.”