Abusive Relationships: Recognizing the Threshold

Tyler Haughn

For Madeline Mehler, a junior fashion design major, emotionally abusive relationships are a harsh reality.

“I had to ask permission to be myself,” Mehler said.

Emotionally abusive relationships are much more difficult to see than physically abusive relationships because there are no physical signs that can act as a warning, Mehler said.

“I didn’t know it was happening until after I got out of the relationship,” she said. “A lot of characteristics in their language disguise their tendencies as affection and protection, but it is actually toxic.”

Pamela Wind, a staff psychologist at University Health Services, said emotionally abusive relationships are a prevalent concern because many people struggle to identify when a relationship has become unhealthy.

“For people who are struggling in abusive relationships, part of the struggle is recognizing it for what it is,” Wind said. “That can be an extremely difficult process. Recognizing that someone is exercising power and control over them is difficult. This is where the emotionally abusive relationship piece comes in.”

Nearly half of all women and men in the United States have experienced psychological aggression by an intimate partner in their lifetime, according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

Megan Kraus, a senior human development and family studies major, said she felt pressured in her past abusive relationship and felt like she had to be working herself up instead of just co-existing.

“The point of dating is not to win the graces of somebody,” Kraus said.

Kraus said her former partner told her she was blowing her emotions up way out of proportion. She said she did not have permission to tell other people about the abuse.

“A common theme of it (abuse) is being told to keep quiet, and that gives a substantial reason to be quiet about it,” Kraus said.

Kraus said more exposure on emotionally abusive relationships is needed to have a more open conversation and turn misconceptions around.

Mehler and Kraus both cited jealousy, anger and distrust as characteristics of their former relationships.

For Kraus, coming out of her past relationship has affected her current relationships. Whenever something good happens to her, she said she feels like it will be gone in a fleeting second.

“You put up a lot of walls, and for people to infiltrate that is very scary,” Kraus said. “When a good thing is present, you expect it to leave. This is a threshold that I feel I get stuck in.”

Mehler said she compares being in an emotionally abusive relationship to the metaphor of a frog being placed in boiling water. If you put a frog in a small pot of water and you start to turn the heat up, it would not jump out until it is too late. Whereas if you boiled a pot of water and then proceeded to place the frog in it, it would jump right out.

Kraus said that the road back to confidence can be a long journey for people coming from an abusive relationship.

Tyler Haughn is the student health reporter, contact him at [email protected]