What is emotional abuse?
If I were to ask you to describe an “abusive relationship” I would lay money on you giving me the following: a man physically hitting/slapping/beating a woman.
Am I right?
Maybe not, but based on the vast majority of internet pages, Facebook groups and television commercials this is the general consensus of an abusive relationship. The fact that this is not only sexist – implying all women are saintly victims – but also blatantly ignores another form of abuse should all be staring at you in the face.
Abuse is any form of treatment where one person asserts control, power and dominance over another.
This treatment can be both physical and emotional. I was the victim in an emotionally abusive relationship, and it has left scars which I don’t think will ever heal.
The difference with emotional abuse over physical abuse is that although physical abuse does leave internal damage, there is always external damage which proves to other people that this is actually happening. .
Emotional abuse damages only internally, eating away at your very heart and soul until there is nothing left. You cannot prove to anyone it is going on, and often disbelieve it is happening yourself.
Victims of physical abuse have foundations, laws, charities, organisations, television commercials all fighting to protect them and offer support, counselling and guidance. Which is a good thing!
Victims of emotional abuse have nothing – they often do not even know they are being abused.
What are the symptoms of emotional abuse?
Have you ever been in a relationship where:
- You understand their feelings, but they never attempt to understand yours;
- They dismiss your difficulties or issues as unimportant or an overreaction;
- They do not listen to you;
- They always put their needs before yours;
- They expect you to perform tasks that you find unpleasant or humiliating;
- You “walk on eggshells” in an effort not to upset them;
- They ignore logic and prefer amateur theatrics in order to remain the centre of attention;
- Instead manipulate you into feeling guilty for things that have nothing to do with you;
- They attempt to destroy any outside support you receive by belittling the people/ service/practice in an attempt to retain exclusive control over your emotions;
- They never take responsibility for hurting others;
- They blame everyone and everything else for any unfortunate events in their lives;
- They perceive themselves as martyrs or victims and constantly expect preferential treatment.
[Taken from This is War: ABUSE – Emotional Abuse]
Well if you have, then you have been/are the victim of emotional abuse.
Abuse is about power. It is about someone asserting control over their partner/family member/friend/loved one so they remain the centre of attention.
They achieve this power in a number of ways:
Mind Games ◘ Silent Treatment ◘ Destructive Criticism ◘ Humiliation (public or private) ◘ Isolation ◘ Making you feel ashamed ◘ Making you feel weak ◘ Using a disability against you ◘ Making you feel crazy ◘ Brainwashing ◘ Putting you down EVEN when it is clear and obvious to the abuser that you are already down ◘ Blatant disregard of your feelings ◘ Demoting your opinions, beliefs, values ◘ Denial of past actions and unwilling to accept any responsibility ◘ Unwilling to discuss or talk about problems unless their rules (and only their rules) are adhered to ◘ Putting the entire blame for everything on you ◘ Insulting your friends and family ◘ Unwilling to compromise ◘ Cutting you off from family, friends, community, social network (enforcing isolation) ◘ That no matter what you do, say or think, it’s never good enough.
The above list is not comprehensive, merely for example purposes only. If you are being abused the abuser may use some, all or none of the above examples; their method of abuse may be entirely different.
There are many reasons why people become abusive. Abusive childhood and a sheltered insecure upbringing are two examples. There may even be psychological reasons at play. Often it comes down to a lack of insecurity.
Their insecurity with themselves pushes them to justify their reason for existing. In order to feel good about themselves, in order to ascertain that they deserve a place on this earth they need to retain control of all situations and relationships around them.
They do this by attaching themselves to people who they see as *weaker* than them, people who will be more easily controlled and dominated. This way they can retain control of the situation and the person.
The abuser, in all honesty, may not even be aware that they are being abusive – because to them this behaviour is normal, and even when challenged, will not admit to themselves to being wrong as this has implications on the very self-worth that they are trying to prove to themselves.
A sizable number of experts believe that emotional abuse has more damaging and far reaching effects than physical abuse, and I – far from being an expert – agree with them.
Emotional abuse can lead to:
Low self esteem ◘ Fearfulness ◘ Inability to trust ◘ Sleeplessness ◘ Anxiety ◘ Physical complaints with no medical basis ◘ Stress ◘ Underachievement (due to lack of belief) ◘ Self blame ◘ Self deprecation ◘ Extreme dependence ◘ Depression… ◘ Social Anxiety… ◘ Other mental health problems…
What can be done?
So little is known about emotional abuse that it is only recently that the effects have started to be recognized. Detecting emotional abuse – unlike physical abuse – is difficult as there are no clear indicators or signs that someone is being abused. Adding to the problem is that there is no consistent definition as to what constitutes emotional abuse, so it is hard to effectively conclude whether it is taking place.
Remember that if you are being abused it is not your fault!
You have done nothing to deserve this treatment, you do not deserve to be punished in this way, there is absolutely no excuse for what is being done to you.
The best advice that I can give, if you believe that you are being emotionally abused, is to talk to someone that you trust. Explain to them the situation, how it is making you feel and know that there is always someone there who knows how you are feeling – you are not alone, and there is help available.