Caren Anderson is a student counsellor at NAIT and has spent her career counselling toxic and abusive relationships.
When asked about the signs of an abusive relationship, she mentions many different things.
One of the signs includes insults and criticisms. Such criticisms are destructive and made to make the toxic partner feel superior.
“Verbal attacks and criticisms can definitely be a form of emotional and verbal abuse,” said Anderson.
She also mentions how these signs are easy to notice from an outside perspective, but difficult to see them when inside a relationship.
Another sign of an abusive relationship is a term Anderson uses called Gaslighting. Gaslighting is mental abuse that is meant to make the target question their perception of things and question the trust they have in themselves.
“You’re questioning your thoughts, your feelings, your actions, and you end up losing self-confidence,” said Anderson.
Anderson then describes how a toxic partner will manipulate a situation to make themselves look great and have the other person take the fall, resulting in lost self-confidence.
She also mentions how people might stop practicing self-care. How suffering partners will do as much as they can to preserve a relationship, and sometimes sacrifice their own well-being to do so.
“You often feel like the relationship is your responsibility to fix, or I need to do something better, or more of. And so that becomes this focus, and you just feel… frozen, and stuck, losing that sense of self,” said Anderson. “Self-love and care is so, so important, and when we lose that, we lose our sense of self.”
Anderson also added that a way to identify if somebody is toxic is by their communication patterns and concern for other people in their lives. She identifies how a person will shut down and use a tactic called the silent treatment.
“Having a fight in a relationship isn’t always toxic, but if your significant other is always shutting down when you try to bring up something that is bothering you… or gives you the cold shoulder, that’s an example of the silent treatment,” said Anderson.
Along with these specific examples, Anderson outlines the feeling of needing to walk on eggshells around a toxic partner as a sign of an unhealthy relationship.
As a tip of what to do if people suspect they are in an unhealthy relationship, Anderson urges people to research what healthy relationships and what unhealthy relationships look like.
“Reach out in any way you can, even if it’s not in person. Whether it’s through counselling at NAIT, or through Alberta Health Services… just reach out as much as possible,” said Anderson.
Students can reach out to NAIT student counselling if they are experiencing similar situations.