Are you used to emotional abuse? While physical and sexual abuse are very serious matters, so is emotional abuse and yet it is so often overlooked. We can’t see any marks or scars, but they are there in the heart and the mind and they are deep.
I was inspired to write this article after a conversation that I recently had with a woman. She shared with me that she had gone to a psychiatrist because of depression and anxiety that seemed to be becoming progressively worse. When he asked her what brought it on, she said she wasn’t sure but began telling him about emotional abuse that had been occuring at home for years. The psychiatrist looked at her and asked her if she had ever been physically or sexually abused and she said no. He then just said “OK”, ignored what she said about the emotional abuse and just moved on to some other questions and wrote her a prescription. This brushing aside of emotional abuse happens in households all over the the world and is often ignored.
One of the problems is that many people don’t know how to recognize emotional abuse, either because they grew up with it and they think it’s normal or they blow it off thinking “at least they don’t hit me.” They become used to it and ignore it until it starts taking a severe toll on their emotional and physical well being. They often wish they were hit instead so that others could actually see what is happening to them. Those who are emotionally abused often begin to doubt themselves and think they are crazy because everyone else sees their abuser in a different light. This is because the abuser often puts on a different face for others and people find them to be ”charming” or “nice.”
So what exactly is emotional abuse and how does it differ from someone who just yells occasionally or says something they didn’t mean because they were upset? In the case of this woman, whenever she expressed her feelings, her abuser would deny them. For example if she wasn’t feeling well physically and had stomach pains, he would say ”no you don’t.” If she expressed that she was feeling sad or upset, he would say “no, you’re not.” He also told her she was heavy and better watch out and do something or else she would become fat. Speaking to someone that way is never appropriate, and in this case the woman is very slender and toned. He also withheld affection from her, which is another way that an abuser keeps control over their victim. This daily repetive abuse had taken such a toll on her that she had fallen into a state of depression and anxiety due to a lack of self-esteem and personal power. The psychiatrist made her feel even worse, as though it was her problem and she was making too much of things. By medicating her, he was completely ignoring the cause of the problem and numbing her to the abuse she was experiencing. I am not saying that medication isn’t sometimes necessary to temporarily help someone with depression or anxiety, but if the cause isn’t addressed the problem will become worse over time, not better.
The following are signs of emotional abuse and should not be tolerated by anyone:
- Belittling – Sometimes this is done under the guise of humor and is often done in public so that the victim doesn’t fight back. An example of this would be having dinner out with friends and the abuser says ”Mary you better not eat that dessert, you know that it always goes straight to your thighs” and then laughs it off. Many times a victim of the abuse will laugh along with their abuser because they have become used to the behavior or they have been made to believe they are “too sensitive”.
- Manipulaton – This occurs in many different ways, one being that the abuser gives everything with strings attached. Anything that the victim receives has an emotional price attached to it. If the victim is in a situation where the other person is the main financial provider in the family it puts them in a very vulnerable position. First of all, it is never a good idea as an adult to put yourself in a position of being at the mercy of another person. Always have your own money, and a degree, certification, or work skills to fall back on.
- Control – Abusers try and control their victims by wording things in such a way as to make the victim start to question themselves. Rather than see things for what they really are, the victim then begins to question themselves. They think “Am I being too senstive?” or “What am I doing wrong?”, instead of “Why is he or she lying to me and speaking to me with such disrespect?”. Another thing abusers tend to do is begin separating the victim from outside support. They even tend to gravitate toward people who don’t have a close supportive family or friends. Make sure that you always have a strong social support system of community, family, and friends.
It is always best to first prevent yourself from falling into any form of abusive relationship whether it’s a partner, boss, or a friend. Be careful if you find yourself with someone where you are apologizing for everything that you do, who always belittles you, or if you find yourself being separated from those who care about you. If you are in an abusive relationship, seek outside help. Not only do you want to remove yourself from the relationship, you also need to do it in a safe way. When you are able to free yourself from the relationship it’s important to take a look at why you attracted someone like that into your life to begin with and why you put up with the behavior so that it doesn’t happen again.
*I would be very grateful if you would consider sharing this article with anyone who could benefit from it. Awareness is a major step in getting out of an emotionally abusive situation.
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