Maybe your partner doesn’t hit you. Maybe their violence doesn’t leave visible scars.

The cleverness of an abuser knows where to draw the line. At some point, you realize they have actually been in control—it wasn’t a senseless rage—and was doing this for fun. To call it “minor violence” or “common assault” trivializes the ongoing suffering during abuse, but that’s how society and the criminal justice system frames it, so we just go along with it.

Because it’s so covert, you doubt your sanity. No doubt, the person is gaslighting you—telling you you’re too sensitive, and it’s all your fault. These are some of the things (besides physical violence) that suggest your significant other might be abusive.

1. Your partner tries to isolate you.

Your partner might repeatedly say, “Your hair and jacket smell like someone else” to stop me from going out, interrogating you when your “shoes had moved” and even when you took the trash out.

That was when he was getting desperate. Before that, maybe he’d make a fuss about things you just didn’t understand. In retrospect, it makes perfect sense.

If you’re financially dependent, or in the pit of abuse, you may feel extremely isolated.

You’re never completely trapped. To reclaim your connection with your friends and family, simply say, “This may sound strange, and it’s hard for me to say. I’ve been abused by [name], and it became impossible for me to talk to anyone. Still, I’d really like for us to get connected again.”

You’d be surprised at how much your loved ones will help you.

2. Your partner mingles intimidation tactics with pleas for sympathy.

 Your partner might demand passwords to my devices, and eventually you cave in.

You feel like you have nothing to hide. But your partner might read your emails and messages, interrogating you.

Your partner might insist on knowing your whereabouts: “What if something happens to you? What would your parents and the police say?”

Some abusers threaten to hurt children or pets. The mere thought is frightening enough. You walk on eggshells, knowing your personal space might be intruded upon anytime, no idea what might trigger an outburst.

You might receive threatening communications from him, garbled with sob stories, attempts to play both hero and victim. You’ve never needed to be saved by anyone, much less him.

3. Your partner tries to control your actions.

You might like beautiful clothes. So when he says you need to change, because you are “too dressed up for work,” you are confused. You looked decent and professional. “I know best. I’m older and more experienced,” he insists.

If you do what he suggested, it was evidence that you were “up to no good.” If you didn’t, he’d use it against you for months. It’s a classic case of damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

Maybe your abuser doesn’t try to control what you wear. But he may control the way you fold the clothes, clean the house, speak, or do any number of other activities.

The more trivial and banal, the more degraded you feel and the less personal space you have. It’s a powerful tool for emotional manipulation.

4. Your partner coerces you to do things you’re uncomfortable with through emotional subterfuge.

Your decisions are never respected, and somehow, they are always about him.

The abuser believes they are entitled. He might tell you how tolerant and kind he is, then flip the script and call you demanding or sensitive—sensitive, because you wouldn’t let him micromanage your actions.

5. Your partner tries to manage your reality without your knowledge or consent.

Names might disappear from your phonebook—which your partner had obviously deleted—and he might even point that out, saying you were playing mind games. Emails are deleted without you ever having seen them. This is another example of gaslighting —a technique in which abusers try to skew your reality, making you doubt your sanity and judgment.

If he did something physically abusive—like throwing an iPad at you or pointing a knife at you—he might insist he was too intoxicated to remember but would plead remorse. As time passed, he might rewrite the story, saying he remembered everything and you were lying. If this happens to you, hold on to your gut instinct—your abuser is lying.

6. Your partner casts you as the villain.

After dealing with one of his episodes, you might often try to recover by going for a massage or a walk. But he’d then accuse you of being abusive: “Do you expect me to think that you’re not punishing me by going out?”

If you walk away after his repeated taunts, he could say you were being “abusive” for triggering his fears of abandonment. Never mind that anyone has the right to use the bathroom without being told she’s being unfaithful in the first place.

But when you check yourself, you are the one fleeing from your own house over and over again. You are the one shaking in fear. And you are the one who sometimes wants to end your life.

7. Your partner uses your empathy and love to make you feel guilty.

Other abused women may have told you how their empathy is used against them. You can’t help a person who adamantly refuses to change anything and only wants to feed off your energy. Women who are especially empathetic are actually often bait for psychopaths, sociopaths and narcissist—exactly because of that sensitivity to the feelings of others.

Research shows that abusers eventually become violent. You can become so desensitized that you accept things you never would have tolerated before as normal.

Some people I work with feel guilty for even entertaining the thought of creating an exit strategy. They feel trapped by the guilt of betraying him by telling a professional.

You might still want to believe he is a good person. That he could change. That he loves you. That he could love you.

You owe it to yourself to keep yourself safe. If you don’t honor and protect yourself, who will? You are so much more precious than your abuser would have you believe.

For many, the steps to an exit happen slowly, over time.  You start to mentally organize your belongings, so you can exit easily when the time comes. Eventually,  you might fee like you can started to discard and donate things in small batches; you can corral your important documents and scan key ones. You can lock down your devices, hard drives, and Kindle accounts, changing every password you have.

You can start absorbing information about psychopaths and narcissists when and where you can without him knowing.  You can pin everything you want in your new home on a secret Pinterest board. It could be a place of beauty and light—and it can smell divine. It can give you something to look forward to. You can arrange to rent a friend’s spare room if you need an emergency out.

You might be still holding on to some invisible hope, though. Thinking, maybe he’ll check into rehab. Maybe he’ll change.

If you need personal help healing from abuse, contact me, Courtenay Monfore, for a free, 15 minute confidential phone consult to get you safe and feeling in control again.