By Sandy M. Fernandez
In one study, 77 percent of college women copped to being, or having been, in an abusive relationship. Experts don't have a single, set definition for emotional or psychological abuse, but it's generally described as any behavior-short of physical violence-used to manipulate, degrade, humiliate, or punish another person. This can be extreme Lifetime movie stuff: threats, stalking, vandalism, phone or email monitoring. But, just as often, it can be more subtle: overreactions that keep you walking on eggshells, underhanded compliments, barbed advice that's allegedly for your own good, even offers to "help" by managing your money, career, or relationships with others.
Most of these relationships won't escalate to physical violence. But some will and it's difficult to tell until it's too late. The best thing you can do for yourself-or for a friend you suspect might be in such a situation-is to know the warning signs. Here are four actions you might be tempted to write off as annoying or insensitive but experts say are serious red flags.
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1. He wants you all the time
One reader told us that her boyfriend would always pressure her into having sex with him, even when she'd say she didn't want to. This comes in different forms: pressuring you to send naked pictures, have unprotected sex, or any other sexual behavior. It can also be a boyfriend who just happens to show up anytime you want to be alone or with friends, or the guy that won't stop calling your phone. He doesn't accept your personal boundaries which is dangerous because if you ever try to leave, the threat of losing control sends him over the edge.
2. He goes MIA
Does he leave for days at a time or ask you to leave whenever you get into a fight? Sudden withdrawal or rejection like this is proven to wreak havoc on your mind. We need interactions with others to stay sane, and when your loved one takes that from you, you suffer the same dynamic that can lead to developmental delays in neglected infants.
Related: 6 Surprising Signs You Should Break Up
3. He wants to "protect you"
When he starts trying to take over your responsibilities and makes you dependent on him, it can escalate into something more dangerous. One reader describes how her ex would manage her music career, including taking over the planning process of a video. One day when he thought she emailed her ex, he hit her. Since then, she always advises that extreme jealousy or a guy who feels threatened does not mean he really likes you-it's a dangerous sign!
4. His jokes are always on you
Does he always tease you and get tell you "can't you take a joke" when you say he hurt your feelings? The response should always be "I'm sorry." Long-term psychological abuse can be more harmful to your health than physical abuse according to many studies. So when he makes fun of your "big head" or has nicknames like "ugly" or "buttface" for you, it isn't called "affectionate teasing." In fact, it's emotional abuse.
Related: What Do You Consider Cheating?
Controlling boyfriend? Believe it or not, there's an app for that.
Love Is Not Abuse
Originally developed to educate parents of teens, this app mimics the persistent, reptitive texting and calling typical of an emotionally abusive partner. If it reminds you of your own relationship-or a friend's-you know you're in trouble.
Circle of 6
This app helps you call or text a close group of confidantes with a quick, subtle press of a button. Among the messages you can send, "Call...me. I need an interruption."
Mary Kay: Don't Look Away
Available for the first time ever, Mary Kay's sponsorship of loveisrespect allows you to text "loveis" to 77054 to speak with a peer advocate. You can also call or chat online 24/7 for support. Loveisrespect.org
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