Emotional abuse is a form of abuse, characterized by a person subjecting, or exposing, another person to behaviour that may result in psychological trauma, including anxiety, chronic depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder. It can then take the form of either emotional abuse or mental abuse, and in both cases is as harmful as any physical form of abuse. It is important to recognize psychological abuse, as it is anyway difficult to be recognized, since it is not visible. The invisibility makes the identification relatively more difficult.
Mental abuse is a form of violence that affects the mind, often leaving the abused feeling worthless and lacking empowerment. According to mental health specialist Kathryn Patricelli, types of mental or emotional abuse include verbal and psychological abuse and both can be extremely hurtful.
Verbal abuse occurs when “one person uses words and body language to inappropriately criticize another person. Verbal abuse is characterized as a mental abuse because the abuser will taunt the abused, making her feel unloved and unworthy of respect. This type of abuse prevents healthy lifestyles and activities because the abused feels she is unable to reach goals or participate in healthy behaviours. Psychological abuse is a means for altering the abused person’s sense of reality, often in a manipulative way. Patricelli says that psychological abuse can occur in a paedophilic relationship in which the abuser tells the abused child that he caused the abuse himself by tempting the abuser.
WHAT IS EMOTIONAL ABUSE?
Emotional abuse is an attempt to control; in just the same way that physical abuse is an attempt to control another person. The only difference is that the emotional abuser does not use physical hitting, kicking, pinching, grabbing, pushing, or other physical forms of harm. Rather the perpetrator of emotional abuse uses emotion as his/her weapon of choice.
Commonly, the perpetrator of emotional abuse does not know that they are being abusive. Rather, they may be aware that they feel insecure about whether or not the partner loves them, so they feel compelled to accuse the partner of cheating, blame them for their unhappiness, or constantly check their voice and text messages, etc. The accusations, the blame, and the constant checking up are forms of emotional abuse.
OTHER SIGNS TO IDENTIFY EMOTIONAL ABUSE INCLUDE:
• Intimidation and threats. This could be things like shouting, acting aggressing or just generally making you feel scared. This is often done as a way of making a person feel small and stopping them from standing up for themselves.
• Criticism. This could be things like name-calling or making lots of unpleasant or sarcastic comments. This can really lower a person’s self-esteem and self-confidence.
• Undermining. This might include things like dismissing your opinion. It can also involve making you doubt your own opinion by acting as if you’re being oversensitive if you do complain, disputing your version of events or by suddenly being really nice to you after being cruel.
• Being made to feel guilty. This can range from outright emotional blackmail (threats to kill oneself or lots of emotional outbursts) to sulking all the time or giving you the silent treatment as a way of manipulating you.
• Economic abuse, such as withholding money, not involving you in finances or even preventing you from getting a job. This could be done as a way of stopping you from feeling independent and that you’re able to make your own choices.
• Telling you what you can and can’t do. As the examples above make clear, emotional abuse is generally about control. Sometimes this is explicit. Does your partner tell you when and where you can go out, or even stop you from seeing certain people? Do they try to control how you dress or how you style your hair?
HOW TO IDENTIFY ABUSE?
The turning point of differentiating between normal behaviour and abuse includes what the behaviour makes you feel. If it makes you feel small, and controlled, puts you in a position where you can no longer express yourself freely, makes you double think all your choices and decisions, affects your self-esteem negatively, then the relationship consists of emotional abuse. Moreover, just because your partner in the abusive relationship has not yet had any of these effects on you, doesn’t necessarily mean that the behaviour doesn’t classify as abusive.
Any behaviour meant to control your freedom to express, and simply be yourself without criticism, does include some amount of abuse which should be taken care of right in the early stages before it gets worse.
Many unhealthy relationships involve aspects of emotional abuse. The aim of the emotional abuser is to chip away at your feelings of self-worth and independence. In an emotionally abusive relationship, you may feel that there is no way out or that without your partner you’ll have nothing. It can feel as destructive and damaging as physical abuse, and can severely impact your mental health. It’s common for physical abusers also to dish out emotional abuse as a way of maintaining power and control over you.
Both men and women are equally capable of being in an abusive relationship, as well as being emotionally abusive themselves. The most common reason for people turning abusive is the environment they are placed in. overbearing parents, excessive preference for controlled behaviours, little or no space to express yourself, etc. are all environmental factors that resist healthy development and growth of individuals, hence making them emotionally abusive in their future relationships. The attitude patterns they have observed while growing, ultimately end up becoming internalized in them, and without even releasing the harmfulness of them, people start exhibiting them in their behaviours.
WHY DON’T WE TALK ABOUT IT?
The reason emotional abuse does not get enough light is because it is difficult to identify. Often people don’t realize that they are being abusive to the other person, as all their actions are protected by the simple blanket of “love”, and more than that, others also believe their unhealthy and toxic idea of love and keep giving in until it is too late for them to get out of it. It takes years and years before one finally realizes and categorizes the relationship as abusive.
More than the lack of identification, the inability to accept such major flaws in another human you seem to commit to with all your heart is also difficult, so, more than them hiding under the idea of love, often it’s the victim giving them this kind of protection. This protection is more for the victim, from the harsh reality he/she may not be ready to deal with as opposed to the protection for the abuser.
A common characteristic displayed by emotional abusers is the GASLIGHTING EFFECT they have on people. Gaslighting, emotional abuse that can drive a person crazy, is a form of manipulation that can lead to the victim questioning everything they have ever known to be true. This basically included them swearing how they never said a particular thing you can’t seem to forget, they tell you that you’re crazy and paranoid and overly sensitive and invalidate your experiences, hence alienating you from your family and friends and everyone else who cares about you so they can have complete control. An important key to avoiding gaslighting emotional abuse is trusting your instincts, holding firm in your long-held beliefs, and identifying the red flags for what they are — the crazy-making manipulation of a gas-lighter.
When you allow someone to subjugate you through emotional abuse, you may stop feeling your own sense of self and your life or work may become dominated with trying to please them and meet their expectations. It may degrade your sense of personal value. But that is not the way to live life. You must live your life with your whole being and not with a sense of obligation to another person. The only validation that matters is self-validation: what you think of yourself. If you are the subject of emotional abuse, here are some techniques that may help you to restore or maintain your sense of dignity and self-confidence.
1) Recognise that you are not the problem
This recognition of the abuser is the first step towards recovery. Accepting that the flaws lie in your partner and not in you, give people the strength to walk away and also give them a sense of clarity, something they had lost since a while. This recognition gives context to your situation, and things that did not make sense to you at all are now incidents that you can comprehend and rationalize, and hence accept.
2) Don’t live in denial
Do not live in denial and make excuses for them if they are emotionally abusive. Accept that you have been abused and that the abuse may have had a detrimental effect on your mental and emotional state. Acceptance is part of the solution. Once you have accepted the problem, put in place a strategy that will help you recover and gain control of the situation.
3) Set boundaries
If you are in a relationship for the long-haul with an emotionally abusive person, it is important to set very clear boundaries that must not be crossed. It is also important to create consequences if those boundaries are crossed. If you are keen on enforcing boundaries, they will serve as a powerful deterrence.
4) Confront them directly all the time
As a lot of times, the abuser may not realize the ways in which he is harming you, confrontation seems to help. Understanding and then making them understand the things which are not acceptable may also give them a clearer picture in terms of what to change, moreover, this also prevents them from taking advantage of your weakness as you can be considered strong enough to stand up for yourself.
5) Stick to the ‘knitting’
Emotionally abusive people are bullies and are very good at derailing you with their manipulative and self-serving arguments. If you have decided that you are going to confront them on an issue, ensure you put your point over simply and concisely.
They will try to make you feel guilty or make the confrontation seem unwarranted. But it is important to put things clearly into perspective. You are actually confronting them because of the specific behaviour that they are exhibiting.
Ultimately, dealing with emotional abuse on your own can be very exhausting. A lot of people around you who care about you will give all their help and support, except a lot of times it may not be enough. Emotional abuse can also lead to trauma and then seeking professional help to overcome it to engage in healthy lifestyles becomes extremely important. A therapist or a counsellor is a trained individual who exactly knows how to help you, and can make this experience less traumatic and painful than what it is.
FINALLY, DO NOT DWELL ON THE PAST. LIFE IS TOO SHORT TO LIVE IN THE PAST. LOOK TO THE FUTURE AND ALL THE NEW POSSIBILITIES FOR COMFORT AND HAPPINESS THAT ARE WAITING FOR YOU.