Episode 157: "When does overprotection become abuse?"Support the show
On today’s episode, we’re answering a question from local teens about overprotection.
This is Jessica Skultety. I’m an Outreach and Prevention Manager at Safe+Sound Somerset. We are Somerset County, New Jersey's lead domestic and sexual violence response organization, providing services at no charge to survivors for over 40 years.
So, today's question from local teens is: “Dear Ava, when does overprotection become abuse?”
It’s natural to be concerned for your partner. But what happens when one person is protective so much that the other person starts to feel unsafe? To answer this question, we’re really considering the feelings of the partner who is being protected. Trust your gut. If YOU feel like your partner is overstepping your boundaries or controlling too many of your choices, that might be abuse.
In a healthy relationship, both people need to individually be able to make choices for themselves, set boundaries, and give or take away consent or permission. If one person is not able to do even one of these things, that is a red flag for abuse. Think about it this way: healthy relationships have equal power and control, like they are equal on a balance. Both people are in charge of their own lives and can decide what’s best for them, individually and in the relationship.
Let’s look at this from the perspective of the partner who is choosing overprotective behaviors. Protection is sometimes a result of extreme jealousy, and using that as an excuse is another red flag. Jealousy is natural, but it isn’t fair to your partner to hold this over their head, even if bad things happened to you in the past.
Also, did their partner ask for protection? Does their partner feel unsafe? By assuming that we need to protect someone, we are actually violating our partner's right to make their own decisions, and to let you know what they need. You are assuming their needs, and not asking them.
Sometimes people will say that they are anxious about their partners and worried about their every move. Anxiety is real and can be scary. But it may not be used as an excuse to control other people. Your partner isn't responsible for your anxiety - for causing it, or curing it. If you pressure, guilt, or manipulate their decisions, violate or make them feel bad for setting boundaries, or you aren't listening when they say no to things, you are changing the power balance in the relationship and could be acting abusively.
So, let’s talk about how this might look to the partner feeling unsafe. If you’re thinking that a behavior feels like it’s overstepping your boundaries, that is violating your boundaries. Trust your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right for you, it probably isn’t.
This is going to look different to everyone, but overprotection might look like:
1. A partner insisting that you check in constantly, that you update them everywhere you go and where you are. They might ask or require you to share your GPS location or phone or social media passwords with them.
2. A partner might constantly monitor your social media accounts, or quiz you about who follows you and who you follow.
3. A partner might constantly text or DM you, even if it’s just to say hello. If it’s too much, even if you love them, you should be able to say so safely, and set a boundary.
4. A partner might say that you should spend less time with friends or family, or keep you from seeing them even. This is called isolation, and it’s a control move. Many people who experience abuse have been pulled away from their outer support systems and feel very alone.
5. A partner might insist on or force you to allow them to manage your money.
6. A partner might threaten or verbally or physically attack anyone who shows any interest in their partner whether it’s romantic or a friendship. Even if they’re “just joking” with threats, these should be taken seriously.
7. A partner might try to justify or make excuses for these actions. They might say things like, “This is for your own good,” or, “If you really love me, you’d understand.”
If you are feeling overprotected and can’t talk to your partner about it, and you feel unsafe, you are not alone and there is support and help available. You have a right to be happy, peaceful, and safe in a relationship and in your life.
To speak with an expert about relationship or sexual violence, call or text the Safe+Sound Somerset 24/7 confidential helpline at 866-685-1122 for supportive listening, information, and safety planning.
Want to “Ask Ava” a question? Visit our website at www.safe-sound.org/ask-ava. Thank you for listening today. Join us next time here on Ask Ava.