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How to Tell if Someone Has been Emotionally Abused.

Updated on June 14, 2014
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Andrea loves to write on the zodiac, Myers Briggs, and texting. She is an expert on romance and relationships. She also has two cats.

Going through emotional abuse can take years to recover. As people we are becoming more conscious of our own emotions while also how we treat others. Emotional abuse can come in the form of making fun of another for their emotions, oppressing emotional reactions, being yelled at senselessly, chauvinism, neglect, comparing children to other children type favoritism, and manipulation (to name a few). Emotional abuse is usually a frequent occurrence rather than a single episode. This can make people feel unsafe, concerned at how they express themselves, and also seek poor aids for help. Emotional abuse is a serious topic. You are in charge of your emotions, but you will have your own set of emotional reactions. It isn’t right for someone to make fun of you for crying. It isn’t right for someone to continue to belittle you when you are crying.

  • Here are some indicators that someone may have been through emotional abuse.

  1. They tell you. Unless someone has an incredibly weird reputation, admitting that you have been through emotional abuse is a sensitive and vulnerable confession.
  2. Fight or flight responses. If suddenly there is an uproariously aggressive situation, the person may remember something from the past causing them to find sanctuary.
  3. Odd triggers to normal things. Perhaps one of their parents used to make fun of them while ordering food in a line, so maybe now they like to order food on their own in fear that someone is going to cut them down.
  4. They may have a sincere stronger repulsion to anger, and have a concern that you’ll go too far with your anger.
  5. Suddenly sleeping more or hiding away from people to avoid conflict.
  6. Needing unexplained moments to be by themselves. They may do this discretely, such as going to the bathroom. If it seems to be a frequent escape, and for long periods of time, some amount of emotional distress may have occurred.
  7. Avoiding food altogether, or sudden binge eating.
  8. Being emotionally numb when they once were outgoing, emotionally creative, or more ambitious.
  9. Sudden bursts of anger themselves.
  10. A reluctance to open up emotionally. Be careful, some people are just more private than others.
  11. Sudden ticks during similar conversation topics, such as an odd way of rubbing the eyes, or scratching wrists. Our emotions want to pop out somehow in our bodies if we do not address them.
  12. Odd avoidance of certain topics.
  13. A fear of being lonely or left behind resorting in excessive clinging.
  14. Obsessive behavior such as needing clothes stacked a certain way, the kitchen done in a certain way, needing everything to be completely spotless and spending more time on this priority than anything else.
  15. Negative backhanded comments about others as a defense mechanism or a telling sign that they’ve been treated with a lot of verbal abuse.
  16. Shutting down due to a flashback or odd connection.
  17. Struggling to feel emotion or not crying at all even though sad.
  18. A mixture of emotions at times such as laughing, but feeling restraint.
  19. Yelling, hitting things, damage to self.
  20. Less interest in their favorite hobbies. More interest in destructive habits.
  21. Feeling the need to do things perfectly in fear of reprimand.
  22. Losing track of items due to preoccupation with their mind.

  • How to help someone with indications of emotional abuse?

  1. First listen. Try to direct the conversation toward what you are noticing as fuzzy and see if you can draw it out of them. They may not be aware of their own hurt.
  2. Try to gather in a gentle way if they have received counseling or if they need counseling.
  3. Don’t be too pushy with them. Be understanding and gentle. You might not get it because you haven’t experienced it.
  4. Know that this is probably something they will be dealing with for awhile, perhaps forever in having to manage the scars that can come from emotional abuse.
  5. See if they are in a better environment. Are they out of harm’s way?
  6. Help them to find a creative outlet to express themselves in a safe way such as through writing, music, art, dance, etc.
  7. Watch their social media habits.
  8. Ask them if there’s anything you can do.
  9. Be a safe person for them to talk with.
  10. Try bringing some joy into their lives, find recreation activities, make dinner for them.
  11. See if they may have had suicidal thoughts and how they might be coping.
  12. Ask them what would be their ideal emotional wellbeing.
  13. Know what triggers they have and help them to avoid them.
  14. Emotional abuse can manifest in a number of ways, try to help them see where they might be hiding it in their body or wellbeing.
  15. Encourage them to see a doctor if they never have. Let them know people care.
  16. Be gentle; if you come across pushy, they may cut you off.
  17. If they are overwhelmed by anger, let them know they can’t use that anger on others, that just because they feel angry inside doesn’t mean they should break or hurt things in their surrounding. They need to manage their hurts.
  18. Try writing exercises with them.
  19. Be a confidant. Do not share whatever private information they indulge to you to everyone. Use discernment on the level of hurt they are dealing with in deciding whether anyone else should be involved.
  20. Be loving, give hugs, bring tissues, give compliments, be reassuring.
  21. Have them write a letter THAT THEY WILL NOT SEND to their victimizer.
  22. Pray with them.

How might emotional abuse hurt someone’s life?

  1. Can prevent them from opening up and having intimacy.
  2. Can be distracting.
  3. May lower self confidence preventing job opportunities, romance partners, etc.
  4. Can make it difficult to negotiate in tough times.
  5. Can cause them to have to separate from people in their lives, such as loved ones, family, friends, and co-workers.
  6. Can cause mixed feelings about once highly held philosophical and religious views.
  7. Can make someone feel alone and without support.
  8. Can cause someone to feel better by themselves rather than with community.
  9. Can jeopardize friendships.
  10. May cause irrational or impulsive behavior.
  11. May cause emotional distance from people.
  12. May hide themselves in destructive activities, like drugs, porn, or even excessive exercising.

Emotions are essentially how we respond to the world and how we express ourselves. We should be able to do this freely, without harming others or ourselves. It important to express yourself rather than build up pent up energy. It is important to be in community with others who can help you grow and see you emotionally express yourself. Find outlets where you can do this comfortably. Know that the emotional range of a baby, child, teenager, and adult are all different. Do not put the same emotional expectations on a baby as you would an adult, neither should you put teenagers in the same category as adults because teenagers have a lot of emotions that they are experimenting with and also trying to understand. Those who are younger are generally more sensitive, so don’t belittle them just because they haven’t had as much experience as you.

Eat healthy, get as much sleep as possible, setup a good environment for yourself. Your emotional wellbeing matters. Be considerate of others emotions. Don't be afraid to call for help, or call a hotline that can assist you if you have a problem. Know that you are not alone; it's is better to see someone than struggle in darkness. Journal your thoughts and see if a friend can watch you and be accountable to what you may be going through.


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