Emotional Abuse- the Problem Less Talked About
Are you a victim, or survivor?
Physical abuse, domestic violence, violent relationships... Physical forms of abuse are often visible, and discussed first when we refer to abuse in general. Even overt verbal abuse (name-calling, swearing, repeated degradation) gets a lot of talk time. But what about emotional, mental, or psychological abuse? Although the scars from these forms of violence cannot be seen on the outside of the body, they are nevertheless extremely detrimental and long-lasting, and the effects of emotional abuse must be part of the greater discussion of harmful behaviors in relationships.
If you have been the victim of emotional abuse in a relationship, I think you know what I'm talking about. You've felt the pain of your partner using all kinds of hurtful tactics to undermine your self-esteem, your confidence, your worth. You have spent days or weeks or months or years trying to put your finger on what it is that just doesn't seem right about your relationship- am I being unfair? Did I say that too harshly? Am I not understanding? Why do I feel so badly? Am I just with the wrong person? Should I not have been so upset about that? You can drive yourself batty as you wrack your brain for answers. How many of you have been put through the wringer with the following tactics?
- Your partner decides how, when, and what will be communicated in your conversations
- You are not permitted to contradict your partner
- Your partner uses guilt trips, confusion, and crazy-making (gaslighting) in your interactions
- Your partner's actions don't match his or her words
- You are discouraged from your own interests, or your partner tells you that you can do what you want, but then becomes angry when you do
- You are deprived of your privacy
- Your partner wants to know everything you do, and with whom
- Your partner teases you mercilessly, then says you are too sensitive or can't take a joke when you become upset
- Your partner cannot listen to you, and cannot allow your opinions
- Your partner uses symbolic aggression to intimidate you (direct or indirect verbal threats, blocking the door, using "looks" and tone of voice)
There are many more power games you may encounter in an emotionally abusive relationship, such as brainwashing, inappropriate restrictions, isolation, even over-protection or "caring." All of these tactics can have a devastating effect on your heart and mind!
The good news is, we don't need to remain victims of such treatment! Many more people are recognizing the horrible, yet often subtle erosion of the self that occurs when individuals are locked in an emotionally abusive relationship, and many more people are talking about it. We can all benefit from this talk. We can all evaluate our own feelings about our relationships, learn about what red flags to look for, and seek help in becoming survivors.
I'm not a doctor, or counselor, or even a self-proclaimed expert on this subject- I'm a survivor.
If you are worried about whether or not your relationship is emotionally abusive, there are steps I've learned that you can take to be healthy:
First, take care of yourself. If you are depressed or anxious, see a doctor for help and to rule out any medical issues. Then do at least one thing each day that brings you joy- exercise, meditation, reading, taking a hot bath, talking with a friend- anything that will boost your mood and reduce your stress.
Second, learn! Read books, articles, e-zines, blogs, listen to audio tapes, watch videos- basically look at everything you can get your hands on that describes how you are feeling, the confusion or distress you are encountering, the mind games you think are being played on you. It helps to see that there is a name for your situation, and that others are in the same boat. You are not crazy!
Third, talk with someone you trust about your circumstances and what you've learned. If you are in danger, look for domestic abuse centers or hotlines- even if you are not being physically abused, these folks know what you are going through and can help you be safe. In any case, try to formulate a plan for yourself. Do you want out of the relationship? Do you want to try to talk with your partner? Do you want to take a break to think more? Often just verbalizing or writing down some potential steps to take is all you need to get yourself moving in the direction you want to go.
Finally, take those baby steps forward. As victims of abuse, we often feel like we're walking around in a fog, and we constantly second-guess ourselves. I know it's easier said than done, but try to throw off that feeling by making small steps toward your goal or plan. You CAN become a happy, healthy survivor.