Emotional abuse is an uncomfortable reality, a social taboo. As such, it is the least talked about yet most common form of abuse. It is insidious and subjective in nature. Due to language and cultural differences — depending on the individuals, the setting and the culture — some abuses are simply overlooked because they are intangible, invisible and physically immeasurable, so they can easily be “played-down,” brushed-off or ignored. So much so that it is not uncommon for victims themselves to not even realize that they have been, or are being, psychologically violated.
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me” is absolutely inaccurate. On the surface emotional abuse may seem like “only words” and perhaps that doesn’t appear to be severe or dramatic, but the effects of emotional abuse are very damaging, run deeper and have longer-lasting effects than physical abuse. Physical scars heal within a relatively short time, whereas the psychological effects of emotional abuse lingers and effects the victim in many facets, if not every facet, of their life, rooting at their core and stemming without.
So what is emotional abuse?
For starters, emotional abuse is more than random angry words or verbal offense.
It is a consistent or regular series of events, incidents or patterns of behavior that occur (repetitively) over time. Whereby the abuser, using various means involving words manipulates, gains and maintains psychological and physical control over the victim. This behavior may or may not be intentional. Regardless, it is completely damaging to the victims confidence and self-esteem.
Methods of manipulation include verbal offenses, insults, teasing, bullying, threats, terrorizing, criticism, ignoring, isolation from supportive family and friends, rejection, degrading, blaming, punishment, humiliation, neglect, criticism, aggressive orders and/or demands, shaming, ultimatums, name-calling, finger-pointing, raging, ignoring, gas-lighting — which refers to intentionally confusing the victim on a regular basis to cause self-doubt and uncertainty to make decisions on their own or accurately access a situation.
Lured into this relationship under false pretenses, often times, especially at first, victims — and sometimes their tormentors — may not even recognize the cycle of abuse that they’re trapped in.
Together, tormentors are menacing and victims are uneasy. Coexisting in an emotionally muddled scenario where the tormentor disregards their victims feelings, subjects him or her to constant or frequent criticisms, aggressive behaviors and/or being ignored — while keeping them close in a seemingly copacetic relationship.
Victims often have a hard time understanding why they feel as bad as they do. They don’t necessarily see the mistreatment as abusive. They have developed coping mechanisms, such as denial, to deal with the stress brought on by the abuse they have suffered and are continuing to endure.
This confusing emotional cluster has a deep and profound effect on the victims ability to maintain integrity, a balanced self-image, self-respect and confidence because emotional abuses are personal and cut to the core of the victim’s psyche where they are internalized and leave lasting impressions such as fear, anxiety, confusion, feelings of insignificance, distrust, emotional neediness, unworthiness, ugliness, a feeling of undeserving, unlovable, deserving of blame, unlikable and deserving of punishment. The effects of long-term emotional abuse can cause severe emotional trauma in the victim, including depression, anxiety, and post traumatic stress disorder.
Emotional abuse is used to conquer and control the other person, and quite often it occurs because the abuser has their own issues that they have not dealt with — perhaps as a result of being abused themselves. They didn’t learn healthy coping mechanisms or how to have positive, healthy relationships. Instead, they feel angry, hurt, fearful and powerless.
Abusers tend to have high rates of personality disorders including borderline personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, and antisocial personality disorder. Although emotional abuse doesn’t always lead to physical abuse, physical abuse is almost always preceded and accompanied by emotional abuse.
This can happen anywhere — home, work or any other place; and within any type of relationship.
Signs of emotional abuse.
- makes fun of you in front of other people.
- puts you down, both privately and publicly.
- shares your personal information with others without your consent.
- uses any perceived failure on your part in public to embarrass you, in private to maintain your low self-image.
- regularly disregards and/or demeans your feelings.
- ignores your suggestions.
- discredits your ideas.
- repeatedly crosses your boundaries.
- ignores your requests.
- disregards your opinions.
- doesn’t seem to notice or care about your feelings.
- disregards your needs.
- has an inability to laugh at themselves .
- cannot tolerate others laughing at them.
- intolerant of any seeming lack of respect.
- uses “teasing” and/or sarcasm to put you down or make you feel bad about yourself.
- plays the victim.
- has difficulty apologizing.
- views you as an extension of themselves rather than as an individual yourself.
- denies any emotionally abusive behavior, on their part, when confronted.
- passive-aggressive behavior in the way of subtle threats or negative remarks to frighten or control you.
- accuses you of being “too sensitive” in order to deflect their abusive remarks.
- treats you like a child.
- you feel like you need permission to make decisions or go out somewhere.
- tries to control you, the finances and how you spend money.
- corrects or reprimands you for your behavior.
- tries to make you believe that you are always wrong and that they are always right.
- gives you disapproving or contemptuous looks or body language.
- makes cutting remarks under their breath.
- regularly points out your flaws, mistakes, and/or shortcomings.
- trivializes you, your accomplishments, and/or your hopes and dreams.
- calls you names.
- gives you unpleasant labels.
Abandonment (emotional) –
- doesn’t show you empathy or compassion.
- Is emotionally distant or emotionally unavailable most of the time.
- pouts or withdraws to get attention or attain what they want.
- uses neglect or disengages to punish or frighten you.
- withholds sex as a way to control and manipulate.
- blame you or accuses you of things that you know aren’t true.
- blames you for their unhappiness.
- blame others in lieu of taking personal responsibility.
- blames you for their problems.
- blames you for any difficulties they may endure life difficulties.
- makes excuses for their own poor behavior by blaming it on someone else’s actions.
- all about “the show,” they will blame you if their or your appearance is not nearly flawless in the public eye.
- projects their moods and/or feelings onto you.
- regularly uses your success to gain acclaim.
The first step in healing from an abusive relationship is recognizing that you are involved in one.
If you recognize the patterns described in a relationship that you are involved in — be careful.
Realize and remember that you have the right to feel good about yourself, to love yourself, to love your life.
No one has the right to bully and belittle you. Keep in mind that you are most likely not dealing with a psychologically stable-minded individual, you do not want to do anything to place yourself in harms way.
Take steps to educate yourself — this is free and easy, simply reading whatever material you can, online or at the library.
Become a student of yourself, discovering the ‘you” that exists beneath the nonsense.
Hear your own voice, give yourself permission to listen to it and honor your feelings — you DO have feelings that you, and only you, own.
Everyone learns to walk one step at a time.
This this is not a race — it’s a challenge to discover and love yourself.
Go slowly, but proceed with purpose — YOU are waiting at the finish line. Taking these steps, investing the time, using caution will lead to the bloom of a beautiful new liberated you and you will have a new-found independence.
You are with it!