Warning Signs Spotlight: Isolation

Please note: Entries within this blog may contain references to instances of domestic abuse, dating abuse, sexual assault, abuse or harassment. At all times, Break the Cycle encourages readers to take whatever precautions necessary to protect themselves emotionally and psychologically.  If you would like to speak with an advocate, please contact a 24/7 peer advocate at 866-331-9474  or text “loveis” to 22522.

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Spending a lot of time together in a new relationship is normal and fun. You are getting to know each other on a deeper level, emotionally and sometimes physically. You may get the “stars in your eyes, let’s only hang out with each other” type feeling because this person makes you feel attractive and loved and excited about life together. But what happens when “let’s only hang out with each other” becomes less of a feeling and more of a command? We call this isolation and it’s a form of control within a relationship. If you are feeling fearful, alone, or trapped in your relationship, you are probably experiencing dating abuse.

Isolation is often a gradual process – like walking down a low grade hill. You may not notice that you’re actually moving down until you look up and suddenly the place you were before is high above you.

Look for warning sign behaviors that create a barrier between you and the people and things you love. For example, when you hang out with friends, does your partner belittle your friends or you? It can start subtly: “Karen is so dumb; I don’t know why you hang out with her.” And turn into more direct threats: “Karen is so dumb and I don’t want you to be like her. If you keep hanging out with her, we’re over.” In addition to verbal threats, body language is an important marker in determining isolation tactics. When you’re out with friends or family, your partner might start to physically distance themselves in the back of the room or become very clingy and hover over you. These acts create a physical barrier between you and the group which can be very uncomfortable for everyone involved. 

Another way abusive partners start the isolation process is to make it extremely difficult and uncomfortable for you to participate in activities you enjoy or be with friends and family. While you are out, your partner may call or text constantly, show up at your location just to “check in,” or insist on picking you up early even if you’re not ready to leave. These actions make continue after you have returned from your activities or being with loved ones. They will do things like picking a fight or using the silent treatment to “punish” you for being away from them. Their “punishment” may include words of blame that guilt you into not spending time with friends in the future. A phrase you may hear is, “You were out there having so much fun, while I was here bored with no one to talk to.”

Another isolation tactic is to establish an “us vs. the world” mentality in your relationship, insisting that they are the only person who TRULY loves you, and anyone who isn’t a fan of them is the enemy. They may say things like: “Why do your parents hate me? They don’t want us to be together. Let’s hang out at my house from now on.”

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Abusive partners use isolation as a way to cut off access to your support system in order to make you feel entirely dependent on them. This makes it harder to recognize behavior that isn’t cool, leave the situation, or get help. Having friends and family to rely on is essential for your emotional and physical health – it’s part of being a Healthy Me! In a healthy relationship, your partner will encourage you to be with people who uplift you, as well as give you the freedom and space to be in activities just like you were before the relationship began.

It’s Time To Talk

Here are a few questions that parents and caring adults can use to start conversations about isolation with the young people in their life:

  • What does your partner think of your friends? Do you all hang out together?
  • What’s something that you get from your best friendship that you can’t get from your partner?
  • I’ve noticed that you’ve been at your partner’s house a lot and I was hoping that we could get to know them better, just like you’ve gotten to know their parents. Do you think we could have dinner together?

What if this happens to me?

If you are feeling cut off from family, friends, and activities you love and you feel safe enough to address it with with your partner, here are a few things you can say:

  • I love spending time with you, but my weekly best friend outings are really important to me.
  • It bothers me when you don’t speak nicely about my family, because I love both of you. It would really mean a lot to me if you all got along.
  • I need alone time – let’s take a day to ourselves so we’ll cherish our time together even more.

Remember, you deserve a healthy relationship where your relationships with family and friends can still flourish and grow! Having freedom and space is an essential part of a Healthy We. If your partner reacts badly when you spend time with others or if you feel like you need to “ask permission” to do so, that’s not respectful. If you notice any of these signs in your relationship and want to talk about it with a peer advocate or if you need help, text “loveis” to 22522.