Not a “Hot Girl Summer” but a Healthy, Healed, Whole and Uplifted Girl Summer Part Two  

Signs of Emotionally Abusive Behavior 

Table of Contents

(1) If your partner brandishes a weapon amid a heated argument or disagreement, they are emotionally abusive.

After a heated argument with my partner, I stepped outside to call one of my good friends. I was frustrated beyond comprehension, and I knew that she would be able to help me process and sort through my feelings. As I spoke to my friend, he opened the side door and glared at me as if he was plotting my murder.

It was like looking into the eyes of a demon who’d recently escaped from the pits of hell and sought to wreak havoc in the material world. The glare lasted for a solid thirty seconds. Scary shit.

He then walked away, retrieved a knife, and proceeded to sharpen it in my presence. This is undoubtedly an intimidation tactic; it didn’t work on me, though!

I continued on with my conversation because who the hell is he to keep me from speaking my truth!? I also believed that he wasn’t capable of inflicting physical harm. He couldn’t possibly hurt the person he claimed to love so deeply, right?

My response to this situation, if I’m being honest, is concerning. I had become accustomed to the chaos, accustomed to the highs and lows of the relationship, addicted even. I had confused chaos with love, and I hadn’t realized I was in grave danger.

(2) If your partner intimidates or threatens your support system, they are  emotionally abusive!

My ex-husband and I reached a point where all we did was argue.

The house was no longer my sanctuary; it was infiltrated by his lies and infidelities. I no longer desired to be in his presence. I became increasingly apathetic about the future of our relationship.

All I wanted was some damn peace. Fortunately, a young woman who I’d met during my time with the Peace Corps remained in the country, so I had someone I trusted to talk to about everything I was experiencing.

One afternoon, she invited me to dinner so that I could get the relief I needed, much to my ex-husband’s dismay. When she came to the house to pick me up, he was on his worst behavior… #noexaggeration.

He used his stature, chiseled body, and noxious words to intimidate. Her desire to protect me from his abuse was viewed as a personal affront.

(3) If your partner consciously and routinely exercises the “pity play”, they are emotionally abusive!

The pity play is effective in eliciting sympathy. When you are sympathetic to someone’s cause/feelings/situations/etc, you are more cognizant of how your behavior and actions will either exacerbate or ameliorate their problems (well, this is how healthy individuals think).

Although the pity play was a staple in my marriage, the most jarring experience was when my partner threatened to commit suicide because I wanted to end the relationship.

This is called a coercive suicide threat, and he made this threat several times. I do not take suicide threats lightly, so naturally I wanted to appease him, which meant staying in the relationship and working out our issues….issues that I did not create by the way. Imagine how manipulative you have to be to place the value of your life in someone else’s hands. 

It is also important to note that the pity play is associated with vulnerable narcissism and sociopathy. This is not something to take lightly. 

Note: I was confident that my ex- partner would not commit suicide because of his history of emotional abuse and manipulative behavioral patterns; however, I am NOT a clinician, so if you are concerned about your partner’s well-being, please request assistance (refer to the Suicide Support By Country document). I am only speaking from MY experience. 

(4) If your partner deprives you of food, they are emotionally abusive!

Food depravity is an act of control that engenders helplessness and dependency. Contrary to popular belief, it is a form of emotional and psychological abuse.

I was left in the house for 6+ hours (sometimes days) without food, and I later found out that he was going to sleep with other women…er….let’s call them unsightly catastrophes (yes, I’m throwing shade!). Now, this is a complicated issue because I am always questioned about my level of autonomy (which is actually a covert form of gaslighting, but I won’t get into that here).

I get asked all the time: why didn’t you leave the house and purchase your own food?

I don’t think that’s a fair/appropriate question to ask.

I would reframe the question to this: What factors influenced your decision to remain in the house? The language in the first question places the onus with the person who is being abused. The second question permits consideration of the social, environmental, and cultural experiences that inevitably influenced the outcome. 

 My ex-partner’s manipulative tactics ensured that I remained in that house so that he could cheat in peace.

Let me provide a couple examples: 

  1. We were not in a country where English was the dominant language, so I made a conscious effort to learn the lingua franca (Sierra Leonean Krio). He regularly ridiculed my attempts to communicate in Krio, making me feel linguistically incompetent despite having experienced language teachers rate me as “intermediate high” in Sierra Leonean Krio, which meant I could generally navigate the country with ease.

    He even went as far as comparing me to his British niece, listing all the reasons why she was capable of going out on her own and why I was incapable.  When you have someone who constantly chastises your abilities, especially when it’s someone you love and respect or someone who is more knowledgeable about a specific concept/subject matter, you begin to feel low. He made me believe that my language skills were not sufficient enough to navigate the country without him. I had reached a point where I didn’t trust myself anymore. 
  1. The way he described me and my relationship to the country was discouraging. To him, I was clumsy and inattentive and boujee and rigid and ignorant and insensitive, so I couldn’t possibly find my way without him guiding my every step. One day, I leaned into my Oshun goddess energy and left the house without “his permission.” Unfortunately, I was almost robbed and kidnapped in broad daylight, but a group of Sierra Leonean men were able to deescalate the situation and drive off the perpetrators (thank Gawd!).

    I immediately called my ex-partner. Instead of consoling me, he proceeded to scold me and remind me why I should never leave the house without him. He constantly reminded me that as an American woman, I had a giant target on my back, that people would always be looking to take advantage of me. Framing my desire to leave the house as an issue of safety was very effective in keeping me in that house. In reality, this was an isolated incident. I lived in Sierra Leone for close to a year and NEVER had anyone threaten my safety, and I rarely felt unsafe. Looking back, the evidence did not align with his poorly constructed narrative about who I was and what I was able to handle. 

There are many other situations that influenced my decision to remain in that house such as him taking the keys so that I couldn’t leave, etc. 

The effect:

Eroded self-esteem and confidence. Activated helplessness and dependency (no desire to be independent, which if you know me, is FOREIGN and UNCHARACTERISTIC). Robbed of my autonomy and agency. I deemed the world an unsafe place for someone like me; therefore, I needed to protect myself from the dangers of the world. 

I was terrified of leaving the house without him… even food wasn’t enough of an incentive to leave.  I ate when he felt like feeding me, and I learned to survive on breadcrumbs instead of the freshly baked, sumptuous, aromatic loaves of bread that I fucking deserve! I was so deprived and malnourished that I celebrated and affirmed mediocrity. I stopped focusing on all the issues in our relationship and became hyper focused on satisfying my hunger. It’s also important to note his abusive tactics were disguised as acts of care and compassion, allowing him to mistreat me with no reduction or loss of love. 

(5) If your partner uses sex as a peacekeeping or deflection mechanism, they are emotionally abusive!

This was a common occurrence in my relationship. Anytime I attempted to challenge my partner about his problematic behavior (serial cheating, pathological lying, etc) he would try to distract me with sex. Our conflicts were rarely resolved to my satisfaction.

The problem is that sex clouds our judgement (i.e. “The big O” is distracting), so we cannot make rational decisions. If you are having sex after every argument, I implore you to ask yourself: what is the purpose and function of post-conflict sex, and who/what does this benefit or serve? When answering this question, I encourage you to move beyond somatic pleasure and focus on whether sex meets your emotional and psychological needs. 

(6) If your partner requires you to silence yourself, they are emotionally abusive!

My ex-partner was always perturbed by my curiosity and inquisitiveness. I could hear the frustration in his voice every time I posed a question. I remember we were walking in Aberdeen, a coastal neighborhood in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

We saw one of his acquaintances at a nearby bar, and that person proceeded to greet my husband and failed to greet me, which is strange because Sierra Leoneans have a greeting culture.

I asked my husband why his acquaintance didn’t greet me, and this turned into an explosive, very public argument. As I reflect on our toxic relationship, this is how many of our arguments commenced. I ask questions to show that I am engaged, to show that I care about the world around me, and to mitigate confusion, so his reactions to my questions were especially upsetting. I view the world as my intellectual playground; therefore, I’m going to ask questions and side-eye those who loathe curiosity.

Honorable mention: A partner who loves you wants you to have clarity!

(7) If your partner portrays you as unstable, dysfunctional, unwell, or petty when you make rational claims about their poor behavior (i.e. you have evidence to substantiate your claims), they are emotionally abusive!

This is called gaslighting, and I would argue that this is the #1 indicator that your partner is emotionally abusive. I suspected that my partner was unfaithful and had several text message threads to support that claim. After showing him what I discovered, he looked me dead in my face and said (verbatim), “I didn’t expect you to go to these lengths. I’m so shocked and surprised by your behavior.”

He did not address any of the evidence; instead, he chose to attack ME, to sink his teeth into how I responded to his inappropriate behavior. If that’s not a guilty mf, then I don’t know what is!

Respond accordingly if this behavior ever shows up in any of your relationships. Naivete, a wavering sense of self, and low self-esteem make gaslighting an effective tactic. Also, please don’t ever let your partner turn you into a private investigator! This was such a low and embarrassing moment for me. This may be an unpopular opinion, but uncertainty and confusion are grounds for dismissal. 

(8) If your partner harms you and subsequently feigns empathy, doesn’t show concern/empathy, or sticks their head in the sand, they are emotionally abusive! 

In March of 2019, I sustained a full thickness/third degree burn on my right calf as a result of my ex-partner’s negligence and poor decisions.

I will never forget the horror of watching my flesh burn as it came into contact with the motorcycle’s exhaust pipe and the subsequent painlessness. I will never forget watching my ex-partner stare at me in utter silence as I screamed and cried uncontrollably on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere. I will never forget how challenging it was to look at my calf for the first two weeks of my recovery. I will never forget the swelling, the itching, the throbbing, the soreness, the bleeding, the limping, the daily dressings, the erroneous diagnosis. I will never forget how I grieved for my former body.

But most importantly, I’ll never forget his scolding, his condemnations. The callousness. How he prioritized his wounded ego over my pain. How he treated my injury like an inconvenience. 

Public Service Announcement:

Stop turning scars into spectacles; this demonstrates a severe lack of etiquette and decorum. Scars are often accompanied by traumatic narratives, and not everyone is willing to share, though some will acquiesce under immense pressure.

I try to remain calm and collected, but I am triggered when strangers inquire about my scar. 

I know…. I know. Many people believe that our triggers are our responsibility, and I agree. But I also believe that we are not entitled to bodies and stories that are not our own, and asking somebody to contextualize the marks on their bodies suggests that we are entitled to those things. I usually keep it covered with pants or a long dress, but I no longer want to hide my body. Instead, we can avoid re-traumatizing people by asking tasteless, insensitive questions. 

(9) If a partner love bombs you and then gradually becomes colder, less kind, and less empathetic, they are emotionally abusive!

At the beginning of the relationship, my ex-partner showered me with gifts: perfume, ginger ale (it’s one of my favorite beverages and is difficult to get in Sierra Leone), a television and DVD player, movies, groceries, and a host of other helpful items. 

After falling hard for the antics, the loving, caring, and empathetic person I once knew dissipated, but I still clung onto hope. I waited for the man with the charming demeanor, the man who crooned to my spirit, and the man whose words were like poetry to return for three years. He never did.

(10) If your partner chips away at your identity, they are emotionally abusive! 

This happens gradually and implicitly, which is why it can be so difficult to detect.

Chipping away at your identity includes isolating you from loved ones and forcing you to discontinue your most beloved hobbies to name a few. My ex-husband, on several occasions, tried to convince me to move to his country of origin (Sierra Leone, West Africa), even though that didn’t align with our long term goals. I believe that he wanted to abuse me in peace. I didn’t have any family in Sierra Leone.

I had established relationships with people because of my Peace Corps service, but those people lived in the provinces, lightyears away from where my ex-husband lived. Connectivity issues are prevalent, so remaining in contact with my family and friends back home would be more challenging, though not impossible.

And while English is the country’s official language, [Sierra Leonean] Krio is the lingua franca. I can speak and understand Krio at an intermediate level, which leaves space for error and miscommunication. Essentially, he was setting me up to depend on him for everything!

This is not a recipe for a healthy relationship. Healthy relationships require two whole individuals whose energies complement each other. A healthy partner will respect your individuality and encourage you to express yourself. A healthy partner pours into you and inspires you to cultivate your talents and skills. A healthy partner does not “spirit murder” you.  

(11) If your partner sabotages your attempts to exit the relationship, they are emotionally abusive!

Without going into too much detail, my ex-partner has made divorcing him unnecessarily difficult.

This is particularly cruel because of how poorly he treated me. His desire to keep me in the relationship had nothing to do with love and everything to do with control and manipulation and his ludicrous quest for power.

Losing me also meant losing the comforts of the relationship such as sex and financial support to name a few. These are obviously not healthy reasons to maintain a relationship! 

(12) Honorable mention: If your partner lacks substantive social relationships (i.e. always falling out with people and it’s always the other person’s fault), they might be emotionally abusive).

My ex-husband was always in conflict with someone: his family members, friends, or even random people on the street! I also noticed that his relationships were purely transactional. In other words, if the relationship didn’t benefit him somehow, he was uninterested and apathetic.

Public Service Announcement:

I say might because I believe that folks are removing toxic people from their lives more frequently. If this is applicable to your partner AND there are other signs of emotionally abusive behavior, you should view this as problematic. 

I still have a difficult time understanding how someone who claimed to love me could be so cruel, so malevolent, so wicked. I had sacrificed time, money, and a plethora of other resources to sustain this marriage only to receive poor treatment in return.

Serial infidelity, pathological lying, incessant gaslighting, and other forms of betrayal hurt me to the core, but this wasn’t the worst part of the relationship. That man sought to steal my freedom, my joy, my peace, my stability, AND my sanity with glee (sadistic bastard). And THAT is an unforgivable offense. 

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