Are You Dating A Bully? How Violence In Relationships Isn't Always Physical

by Valerie Bevilacqua

When you hear a group of laughing teens, does your mind circle back to high school mean girls? When you see your boss coming toward your desk at work, do you immediately cringe in the fear that you’ll be reprimanded? Well, there’s an explanation for all that.

Recent studies show that the effects of bullying are similar to those of war and other traumas. In other words, victims of bullying can experience PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) symptoms similar to that of a war veteran.

Bullying can change the way a victim walks, talks, acts and reacts to situations. Just as a threat of war can send a soldier into fighting mode, a petty insult can someone to flash back to her timid, schoolgirl self in a way that makes her feel as though she’s reliving the torture.

If the victim feels threatened — whether he or she is actually a bullying victim or not — the sensation can resemble inescapable entrapment.

Bullying is an iteration of emotional abuse, which can be indirect and difficult to dissect. Sometimes, it isn’t about what you say so much as how you say it. Check out these characteristics of emotional abuse:

1. Gaslighting

Gaslighting can be described as a brainwashing mechanism. When someone calls you too sensitive or minimizes your feelings in a different way — especially if your frustration is warranted — this person is gaslighting you. Even if the abuse was unintentional, the effect can still be a feeling of lack of respect.

Other times, like if an abuser presents false information or denies events totally, he or she is acting in a way that is knowingly manipulative, which can cause one to feel unstable or crazy.

2. Criticism And Taunting

We all appreciate a good dirty joke, but even the subtlest attempts at comedy can sabotage a person's self-esteem.

Last year, my friend had a boyfriend who constantly picked on her weight. He jokingly called her a pig, which may seem harmless, but he didn’t stop after she told him that she found his comments offensive. He continuously spoke of her size in a blatantly cruel way, like by telling her she wouldn't fit into the shirt she wanted to buy or saying that it looked like she hadn’t hit the gym in some time.

If a partner habitually criticizes something about you, it's likely a glaring red flag.

3. Mind Control

If someone reprimands you in a way that may alter how you see yourself, someone may be callously seeking to change you. Maybe someone is nagging you about your makeup or screaming at you for finishing the pizza. The actions may escalate to higher manipulations, like forbidding you to see friends or getting scary if you do something the bully doesn’t like.

The bully may claim to only be offering suggestions to help you because he or she cares about you, but proceed with caution.

If someone loves you, he or she will appreciate your idiosyncrasies. If he or she claims to always be correct and you to always be wrong, the goal is to make you believe everything he or she says and to diminish your independent thoughts.

4. Blackmail And Threats

When you're in any relationship, you should feel at ease being yourself. If you oppose anything your partner says, he or she might try to threaten you and make you do what he or she wants instead. You may downplay a "threat" as something that isn't serious or deliberate, especially if the abuser has an illness, disability or some other ailment. But, a loved one should never feel the need to blackmail you.

5. Lying

Deception is an effective method of control. You may never know if someone's actually telling the truth, especially if he or she is skilled at covering tracks or fabricating evidence.

He or she may go so far as to claim to be suicidal. You’ll likely tell yourself that no person would lie about something so serious, but if you prove to be totally reliable in these situations, you'll succumb to feelings of responsibility and codependency. Do not become your bully’s babysitter.

Remember: Relationships are reciprocal and require give and take. While love is unconditional, your partner must requite your loyalty.