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Emotional abuse - is it happening to me?
What exactly is emotional abuse?
Emotional abuse is hard to define and it is equally hard to find accurate statistics on the subject. Many people are unaware that they are affected and it can be surprising just how many of us have been victim to this kind of abuse at some point in our lives.
It can be as simple as name-calling. This immature behavior is something many of us have experienced as children and might be brushed off as nothing ("sticks and stones can break my bones but names will never harm me"). The reality is, however, that it can cause untold amounts of emotional damage - the kind of damage that isn't so easy to see.
The easiest way to describe emotional abuse is behavior that causes emotional pain and scarring inside. If someone's behavior repeatedly makes you feel hurt, worthless or upset, it is likely that it amounts to some form of emotional abuse.
But doesn't everyone fight sometimes?
Of course people have their disagreements and their fights and, at times, people say things that are hurtful in the heat of the moment but in a healthy relationship people calm down, apologize and discuss how their feelings have been hurt. More importantly they learn from their mistakes and become more aware of how they are making each other feel.
However, if you are repeatedly being emotionally hurt by someone, the relationship may not be healthy and it might be time to make a change.
What are the signs?
Emotional abuse is usually about one person's need to control the other in some way. The abuser gets something out of exercising power over the victim.
It can involve many different behaviors from subtle to extreme and it is sometimes very difficult for the victim to step back and see the situation for what it is.
Stop for a moment and think about your relationship. Do any of the following things happen to you?
- name calling
- putting you down/telling you that you are worthless
- embarrassing you in front of other people
- controlling who you see or when you go out
- excessively monitoring what you are doing
- stalking you
- threatening to harm your pets/family/friends if you don't comply with something
- blaming you for all arguments/fights
- telling you that you "make" them commit negative behaviors
- humiliating you
- subjecting you to peer pressure
- threatening to commit suicide if you break up with them
- confiscating your phone/keys
- telling you what to do, wear or eat
- starting rumors about you
- sulking/giving you the silent treatment
- mocking all your opinions
- controlling all the finances
- generally bullying you
Sometimes the abuse happens so often that the victim starts to believe what their abuser tells them - that they are worthless/ugly/stupid, that they won't be able to find another partner, that they should be grateful that they're even in a relationship. Their confidence disappears and they become a shadow of their former self, enduring the abuse because they believe their abuser is right.
In some cases the family and friends of the victim will take a long time to figure out there is anything wrong because abusers can turn on the charm in public, only to change completely behind closed doors.
What victims hear from their abusers
Check the power and control wheel for signs of abuse
What can I do about it?
If you are worried about your relationship, you might want to sit down and decide what is acceptable and unacceptable for you and share those expectations with your partner. Explain to them that you are not willing to accept negative behaviors within your relationship and talk about how it makes you feel.
If your partner reacts negatively or angrily it could be a sign that you may need to end the relationship for good. They may get defensive and try to blame you for their behavior. It can be difficult to be strong in the face of your partner's excuses but a relationship without mutual respect is going to be unhealthy and unhappy. Remember that you cannot change how your partner acts towards you by arguing or forcing the issue. If he or she is not concerned about how you feel, it is a sign that the relationship may not be working.
However, if your partner is concerned about how they are making you feel and is willing to listen to your opinions and possibly seek professional help you may want to decide to give the relationship another chance. Couples counselling can work well if both parties are equally invested in improving the relationship and are willing to work hard to make things work. It is important to remain realistic, though, as not all relationships can be mended in this way.
There is light at the end of the tunnel
Who to contact for help
0808 2000 247
1800 737 732
1300 789 978
Is there help available online?
There are many organisations available for support.
Try the following websites for advice:
Online directory of helplines/support around the world:
Useful list of organisations in Australia, US and Canada:
Just remember: you deserve better in life and you deserve to be happy. This is NOT your fault, no matter what anyone tells you.
What if it gets dangerous?
Sometimes abusive situations can escalate quickly from emotional to physical abuse and it is important that you look out for your safety at all times. If you feel uncomfortable or in danger, listen to your gut and stay safe.
Remove yourself from any situation that makes you feel comfortable and go to a safe place where you can speak to someone you trust. If you cannot remove yourself and you feel that you are in danger, call the police.