Verbal Emotional Abuse
What is Emotional Abuse
Any behavior designed to undermine and control someone else through fear, humiliation, manipulation or intimidation is emotional abuse. This can present itself in the form of verbal abuse, constant criticism or fault finding. Through these tactics the abuser makes their victims feel that they are inadequate and inferior and erodes their self-esteem.
Contrary to what some people believe, not all forms of abuse are expressed through physical violence. Emotional abuse can and often does lead to physical aggression but the abuser uses manipulation tactics as opposed to physical abuse.
Emotional Abuse - The Unseen Pain
What Influences People to Resort to Emotional Abuse
The need to control other people or degrade and belittle them often stems from a lack of self-confidence and low self-esteem. Abusers are psychologically and emotionally immature and may have been the victim of, or witnessed, an abusive relationship during childhood. As a result these people accept abusive behavior as the norm.
Emotional abuse does not discriminate against race, socioeconomic status, religion, culture or gender. However, in heterosexual relationships the victim in the majority of emotional abuse cases is female.
According to statistics on spousal abuse, emotional abuse occurs 6% more often than physical abuse. In view of the fact that emotional abuse is not considered a criminal act and that most cases go unreported until they eventually culminate in physical abuse the figure for emotional abuse is in reality probably much higher.
Almost 40% of women experience some type of emotional abuse either by a partner or someone with whom they have an intimate relationship. All victims in emotional abusive relationships have a very high risk of becoming physical abused. Emotional abuse is an attempt to take control of the partner - both mentally and/or emotionally.
As with all other forms of abuse the victim is bullied into living a life where the victim is in constant fear of the abuser and inevitably change their behavior and lifestyle to please the abuser.
In situations where the abuser becomes anxious of losing control over the abused or where the abuser feels guilt caused by any of his/her own actions the abuse tends to escalate. This will then allow the abuser to pass the blame of his own actions onto the abused and once again gain control over that person.
Social beliefs can also influence some men into believing that they are the stronger sex and have a right to discipline a wife or girlfriend that is disobedient.
Alcohol and drug misuse can aggravate but cannot cause emotional abuse. Emotional abuse is a personality disorder, however abusers often hide behind substance abuse as a means to justify their behavior.
None of the above reason are an excuse to be an abuser as any form of abuse is in violation of the basic human rights of the person being abused.
Emotional Abuse Can Be More Traumatic Than Physical Abuse
Who Becomes Victims of Emotional Abuse
People do not willing enter or stay in an abusive relationship but people who were verbally abused as a child often find themselves in abusive relationships as an adult. These people may not have learned how to validate their own feelings and perceptions and develop their own viewpoints. Despite the fact that emotional abuse is destructive these individuals are more likely to accept emotional abuse as normal, even comfortable.
Abusers transfer their own feelings of inadequacy, powerlessness, fear, hurt and anger to their victims. This allows them to feel more in control and avoids the issue of their own insecurities and self-perceptions.
People who are subjected to constant emotional abuse lose their sense of self-worth and no longer trust their own perceptions. Over time the victims lose all sense of self and ultimately become incapable of forming a realistic judgment of the situation. The end result is that the victim's self esteem is so low that they cling to the abuser firmly believing that they deserve to be treated this way.
Emotional abusers are masters in the art of manipulation and convince their victims that they are worthless and that no-one else would want them. The victims then believe that they have nowhere else to go and lack the self-confidence to be on their own.
Emotional abuse leaves wounds that are much deeper and lasting than physical abuse. It is also much more difficult to talk about and explain to the outside world. The abuser normally has a dual personality or "two faces". The "Mr Nice Guy" - everybody's friend, loving spouse, successful, life and soul of the party is the face that they present to the world and the emotional abuse is reserved for the victim.
If they suspect that their victims are strong enough to seek help they are known to spread rumors about their victims instability. This makes it even more difficult for the abused to walk away from an abusive relationship and they stay for fear of being labeled neurotic. In an attempt to conceal their abusive behavior they often isolate their victim keeping them away from family and friends.
Emotional abuse is the greatest indication of potential physical violence, especially where a woman is called names to humiliate and belittle her. Emotionally abusive partners have also been known to commit murder or murder-suicide. People who are subjected to emotional abuse may become suicidal.
Emotionally Abused People Can Become Suicidal
Tactics Used By The Emotional Abuser
The emotional abuser is invariably egocentric and as such can place unreasonable demands on his victim, expecting them to give all their time and attention to the abuser. In doing so they are denying their victim of any right to privacy and time of their own. They expect their partner to be at their beck and call and will still be dissatisfied irrespective of how much they are prepared to give of themselves.
Emotional abusers have an obsession with control and will go to great lengths in an attempt to control their partner's every move. If their wants are not met they will resort to threats or punishment to get control of the victim's life. Allowing someone to dominate them to this extent will cause the victims to lose any sense of self-respect.
The victims will be constantly criticized and berated for their inability to meet the abuser's needs. Emotional abusers also constantly criticize the partner's size and appearance breaking down their self-esteem until they believe that they are repulsive and worthless.
Isolation is another common tactic used by emotional abusers. They want full control over their victim's lives and try to prevent them from having contact with their friends and family. They may even prevent them from having independent activities such as work, irrespective of whether they can afford for the victim not to earn an income or not.
Due to their own low self-esteem they are overly jealous and possessive and falsely accuse the victim of extra-marital affairs if they even speak to a person of the opposite sex. They often pressurize the victim to have sex with them to prove that they love the abuser. This often becomes their way of making amends after each attack despite the fact that the victim may be in a state of despair and hurting.
Abusers often use children as pawns in their power game and will criticize the partner's parenting abilities. They are also known to threaten to ensure that the victim does not get custody of the children should they decide to end the relationship.
Typical of an emotional abuser in order to maintain full control and power they will make all the decisions. This includes important matters such as family finances, what car to buy, where they live and which school the children will attend. They will withhold information from the victim and not consult them on any decisions.
A more aggressive form of abuse includes false accusations, name-calling, threats, blaming and ordering. The abuser assumes a superior position in the relationship by invalidating and judging the partner thereby undermining their equality and independence.
Aggressive abusive can also be more subtle and be disguised as an attempt to help the victim when in effect these are merely attempts to belittle and control them. This can lead to what is known as learned helplessness where the victim believes that they are helpless and remains passive in a damaging situation because they have been lead to believe that they are incapable of making a worthwhile decision.
Emotional abusers tend to deliberately start arguments as they have this uncontrollable urge to experience a feeling of power and control.
Denying is a very harmful form of emotional abuse and can cause the victim to lose all sense of self-worth. Besides minimizing of the victims opinion on anything they are known to deny that certain events took place or that hurtful things were said.Minimizing or trivializing is a more subtle form of denying whereby the abuser leads the victim to believe that they are over-reacting to events or things that were said. To hurt, humiliate or belittle their victims, abusers will question the victims perceptions, memory and even their sanity.
Constant invalidation of feelings, reality and experiences will inevitably lead the victim to mistrust their own perceptions and emotional experience. Emotional abusers can undermine the victims perception of reality by rejecting, mocking, diminishing, or judging the victim's feelings and opinions in an attempt to control the way the victim feels.
Abusers may often refuse to listen or communicate with their victims and withdraw emotionally as a means of punishment. This is what is commonly known as giving their victims the "silent treatment".
In an attempt to control their victims, abusers play on the values, guilt, compassion and fear of their victims to reach their goals. They may also threaten to abandon their victims in an attempt to expose the victims vulnerability and dependency on the abuser.
Abusers are often very moody people and may re-act differently to a specific situation depending on their mood. Drastic mood swings and emotional outbursts make a relationship with this type of abuser extremely draining as the victim is constantly on edge never knowing what to say or how to act to prevent an attack. This type of abuse is characterized by unpredictable responses and the victim, not knowing what to expect, is permanently on guard waiting for the next mood change which could lead to an outburst.
Characteristics of an emotional abuser
Abusers may demonstrate one or more of the following characteristics:-
- Unrealistic expectations of themselves and others
- Very demanding
- Volatile temper and over-react to minimal incidents
- Evade responsibility in a relationship and do not easily commit
- Excessively jealous and possessive and very insecure
- Have an obsession with controlling their victims and restricting their freedom and rights.
- Very demanding of their victims
- Make all the decisions and never take their partners feelings into consideration.
- Never take responsibility or blame for their own mistakes
- Never admit to the harm they cause - not even to themselves
- Can not empathize with others
- Dual personality
Effects of Emotional Abuse
People who are emotionally abused lose the confidence to make decisions for themselves and tend to agree with everything their partner suggests. They will do anything to please their abuser despite the fact that this is basically an impossible task as the abuser finds joy in criticizing everything the abused does.
In order to justify their staying in the relationship people who are emotionally abused find reasons to excuse the abuser's behavior. This includes having a bad childhood, a bad day at the office but more often than not the victim's tend to blame themselves. Something that they said or did is the reason why their partner is being abusive and they often feel it is their fault.
Emotional battering can cause serious health and psychological problems and the victims often become forgetful and find that they experience difficulty in concentrating. The abused often resort to alcohol or drug abuse or may develop eating or sleeping problems. The emotional stress can cause the abused to become physically ill or they may experience abnormal fatigue or anxiety attacks. All people react differently but it is not uncommon for emotionally abused people to suffer depression and to show a loss of interest in the world around them.
Emotional abusers often try to isolate their victims and the victims often find that they eventually lose all contact with their friends and family. As a result of the emotional battering abused people lose their self confidence and fear if they end the relationship that they will be all alone
Emotionally Abused People Condition Themselves to Keep Quiet
Why Emotionally Abused Victims Don't Easily Leave
Victims of emotional abuse often stay in the abusive relationship in the hopes that the abuser will change. They often feel that by changing the way that they act towards the abuser they will be able to change the way the abuser acts towards them. Unfortunately one cannot control other people's emotions and neither can you change their personality.
One of the tragedies is that victims eventually believe all the degrading and hurtful things that the abuser tells them about themselves and truly believe that they are the cause of the problem.
The only possible way for them to walk away from this relationship with any dignity is to realise that the opinions expressed by the abuser are not necessarily their true opinion of the victim but only a means to get them to believe that they are worthless. If the victim has reached the stage where they can no longer distinguish between what could possibly be valid opinions and those given merely to hurt and control them they should seek outside help urgently.
It is very difficult for people who have been in an abusive relationship to just walk out without strong emotions of fear, embarrassment, self-blame and a host of other complex feelings. It is essential that the victims realize that there is a way out of an abusive relationship and there are trained people that will help them to overcome their fears and give them a greater understanding of the situation.
The foremost reason victims do not leave an abusive relationship is their inability to provide shelter and food for themselves and their children although threats, safety, fears and love are also contributory factors.
If you feel you are being abused, or know someone who is, you need to get help. Keeping the abuse a secret doesn't protect a person from being abused - it only makes it more likely that the abuse will continue.
Silence Hides Violence and Any Other Form of Abuse
What to Do if You Are Being Emotionally Abused
The very first step in the right direction is to recognize and admit that you are in a dysfunctional relationship and the victim of emotional abuse. This is a very serious situation to be in and is as bad if not worse than physical abuse. You must realize that you are not to blame for your partner's abusive behavior.
Emotional abusers often resort to aggressive behavior and this could easily lead to physical violence or murder. Have a safety plan in place and take your safety and that of your children seriously.
If your partner has threatened to harm or kill you phone 911.
When you do make a decision to leave your partner seek legal advice.
- Victims of abuse are at the greatest risk of being harmed or killed when they leave.
Recommended Reading - Basic Human Rights
- Basic Human Rights for Self-Development
A professional therapist offers a list of Basic Human Rights for Self-Development including autonomy, self-care, and relationships.
You and Me
the world knows a different you
you tell them i'm crazy and they believe it too
why shouldn't they - you're so gentle and kind
they don't know what goes on in your mind.
if i told them that there is a different you
a person they would loathe if only they knew
they'd probably think that i was to blame
and i'd only be putting myself to shame
cos emotional abuse leaves no scars they can see
you are not breaking bones - you are breaking me
you trample the core of my being - deep inside
taken away my dignity, my respect and my pride.
i can't wait for your leaving in the morning
and dread your return at night
being around you makes me edgy
just waiting for the next fight
what will i be ?- a slut or a bitch?
useless and ugly and an evil witch?
or will it be i'm just a cheap whore
someone nobody loves anymore?
or will you ask me what i did with my day
and then not listen to what i say
waiting to accuse me of lies and deceit
saying i slept with every man on our street
will you throw out the meal i prepared for you
find fault with every single thing that i do
will you punch me with words so hard that i cower
all in an effort to gain control and power.
or will you resort to threats of violence and death
i wish i could tell you to just hold your breath...........
cos you cannot kill someone who no longer exists
who died a slow death caused by words and not fists.
its always the same ending after a fight
you expect me to make love all through the night
when all i want is to be left alone and in peace
in a happy place where the hurting can cease
in this dysfunctional relationship that you call love
you torture me daily without a push or a shove
but the hurt cuts deeper than gashes and bruises could
and my heart bleeds more than my body ever would.
for time will never heal the scars that i bear
i just bury them deeper year after year
and change to who you want me to be
it makes it far easier than me being me
Laura du Toit - 2009
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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.