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For the millions of fans of the insanely popular HBO show Game of Thrones, Sunday marked the start of the highly anticipated penultimate season. The coming episodes are sure to contain epic battles, dragons, feuding families—and lots of shockingly brutal violence. In seasons past, much of the series’ most gruesome violence was wielded against women, and it has been downright hard to watch, even in a fictional capacity.   

At first glance, our modern world looks much different than this medieval-inspired dystopian fantasy. Yet, writers David Benioff and D. B. Weiss are realistic in this: Abuse takes on all kinds of hideous, degrading forms, and it can be extremely hard to escape, especially if you’ve missed the warning signs. According to the experts, these aren’t just red flags alerting you that the relationship might not work out. Depending on your situation, these red flags are telling you it might be time to get out.

01. You have that feeling of walking on eggshells.

According to many abuse victims the earliest warnings of danger weren’t so much concrete signs as intangible impressions. Often, they had a gut feeling that they pushed aside; a feeling that in retrospect they realize was spot-on. “People all too often talk themselves out of that innate feeling, not trusting that their instincts are correct,” explains Nicole Iannelli, of Ocean State Mental Health Counseling. “[But] the first signs of domestic abuse are those innate instincts that people ignore.”

Do you feel like nothing you do is ever good enough? That your partner's mood can switch from sulky to livid with the wrong step? If you find yourself constantly questioning your feelings, or making excuses, you might have to trust your gut on this.

02. You’re constantly blamed for things totally out of your control.

We’re not talking about blaming you for making a mess because you left your dirty dishes out again. We’re talking about him blaming you for his behavior (i.e., “It’s your fault I’m acting this way.”).

The psychological term is “Projective Identification,” according to Beverly Hills family and relationship psychotherapist, Dr. Fran Walfish, author of The Self-Aware Parent. “Essentially this means you get blamed for no fault . . . [but] the Abuser relates to you as if you did something wrong. When you get upset and deny it they confirm your behavior as justification for the accusation.”

This extreme blaming game is the kind of manipulative behavior that stimulates a toxic concoction of fear, anxiety, guilt, and shame to the victim, when in all reality the victim did nothing wrong.

03. You’re often guilt-tripped or pressured into doing things you don’t want to do.

If guilt is his biggest motivator, you have a problem. If he uses it to push you into sex you’re not comfortable with, or if he uses guilt in wanting to track your every move, these are particularly critical early warning signs.

“One client of mine had her phone taken playfully by a guy on their first date,” shares Jason B. Whiting, PhD, LMFT Professor of Marriage and Family Therapy at Texas Tech University. “He said that he wanted to see who her friends were, and get to know her. As their relationship progressed, he increased monitoring by scrolling through her computer, making her turn on location services for her phone and texting throughout the day to let her know he was aware of her.” Eventually, he became erratic and violent when she resisted these tactics.

04. He doesn’t want you to hang out with your friends.

In the early days, if a healthy relationship is going well, he’ll want to meet your friends and your family. If it continues to go well, he’ll want to mesh with your friends and family and will want to incorporate them into your lives.

If, however, he seems to be doing the opposite—and tries to isolate you, and at times seems even hostile or jealous with your family—it’s a warning sign, according to Dalila Jusic-LaBerge, LMFT, of Be Here & Now Counseling. “He creates this ‘wonderful” romantic world of only two of you. He doesn’t want to be too much involved with the outside world. He shows jealousy even when it comes to your family and friends. He can make you feel guilty for not ‘cherishing’ his love enough and for needing other people in your life.”

If it seems that his excuses for not wanting to know your friends and family is coming from a place of control, you’re not with the right man. “One of the biggest signs before abuse is control,” shares Dr. David Simonsen Ph.D. LMFT. “Control of who you are allowed to associate with. Control of who you can or can't talk to.”

05. You’re constantly battling mind games.

Ever heard the term “gaslighting”? According to Julienne B. Derichs LCPC, it’s often an early indicator of abuse. It comes from a famous 1944 mystery-thriller Gaslight (also Angela Lansbury’s first movie), in which a husband takes deliberate attempts to drive his wife insane by questioning her perceptions to hide his criminal behavior, purposely telling her she misplaced pictures, denying strange footsteps in the night, and telling her that the gaslights were not actually going dim. “In today’s terms, [gaslighting] causes a victim to question their own feelings, instincts, and sanity, which gives the abusive partner a great deal of power,” explains Derichs. “[It is] abusive because it denies the reality of your significant other.” It involves denial, purposefully “forgetting” important interactions, as well as discounting or minimizing a partner’s experience of your reactions. If this sounds familiar, and if he’s constantly telling you that “you’re too sensitive,” or if “you’re making a big deal out of nothing,” or, “you’re crazy,” it might be time to get out of the relationship or seek the counsel of a therapist.

Abusive relationships don’t always seem as horrible as they really are, especially when they start. “There is a cycle of violence/abuse that is common in abusive relationships,” explains Christene Lozano of Meraki Counseling, “the honeymoon period, the tension building phase, and the explosion (violence), then circling back to the honeymoon period. It is a vicious cycle.” Far from fantasy, many women today are subjected to physical and emotional abuse in their relationships. So if you find tension building, and these signs sound familiar, it’s a good idea to leave before there’s an explosion. And always remember, abuse can happen to anyone. 

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, get professional help from The National Domestic Abuse Hotline professionals or someone you trust.

Photo Credit: Verne Ho