What comes to mind when you think of abuse? Most of us are likely to assume abuse is always physical. As we walk through Domestic Violence Awareness Month, it is appropriate to highlight one of the most prevalent forms of abuse in our society, which is emotional abuse.
Emotional abuse is a pattern of behavior in which the perpetrator insults, humiliates, and generally instills fear in an individual in order to control them. The individual’s reality may become distorted as they internalize the abuse as their own failings. One can find traces of manipulative behavior or toxic patterns that leave the victim feeling criticized, embarrassed, shamed, blamed, belittled, or downright worthless. This sort of relationship can lead to low self-esteem and undermine one’s mental health. By feeling silenced, the victim may experience strong psychological or physical disconnect from themselves and those around them. The undergone effects of isolation or emotional neglect can often lead to disorders such as anxiety or depression.
Emotional abuse can also be found to impact a person’s neurological patterns, changing their trust and emotive responses towards current or new relationships. This form of abuse can seem harmless, in the beginning, and one may become numb to a consistent, manipulative treatment from a partner, parent, or friend, convincing themselves that the behavior is normal. Why don’t we acknowledge it more?
Emotional abuse is hard to detect because:
- Can be subtle or hard to detect
- It is believed to be less common
- It Is felt and not seen as tangibly as physical abuse
- In the event of gaslighting, one can feel silenced and invalidated
- Victims may assume they are the ones to blame, downplaying their abusers behavior and telling themselves its “not that bad”
Emotional abuse is similar to anxiety or PTSD as it can cause psychological and physical complications within the victim’s mind and body. One can find themselves dealing with moodiness, nightmares, body aches, racing heartbeat, etc. Studies show that severe emotional abuse can be as powerful as physical abuse. Over time, both emotional abuse can contribute to low self-esteem and depression. There are a few signs to look for when identifying this form of abuse.
What are some examples of emotional abuse?
- Making unreasonable demands on the victim
- Expecting the victim to put everything aside and meet their needs
- Demanding the victim to spend all of their time together
- Being dissatisfied about everything
- Criticizing for not completing tasks according to their standards
- Not allowing individual thoughts or opinions
- Dismissing the victim’s feelings during conflict
EMOTIONAL ABUSE IS CONSIDERED DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
Approximately one in four women experience violence by an intimate partner, while one in nine men have been affected. The pain and trauma of all violence is real and can be life-altering for many. According to a study in psychiatry by the Imprint, children who have experienced psychological abuse exhibit trauma-related health issues at the same rate as their peers who have suffered physical or sexual abuse. Emotional abuse often coexists with other forms of abuse, and it is the most difficult to identify. It can be subtle, deceitful, overt and manipulative.
It chips away at the victim’s self-esteem and they begin to doubt their perceptions and reality. An abuser’s goal is to isolate, discredit and silence someone. In the end, the victim feels trapped. They are too wounded to endure the relationship any longer, but also too afraid to leave. So the cycle just repeats itself until something is done.
How DOes one process being emotionally abused?
One must ask themselves if they could be the recipient of this form of abuse or if they could be that someone who is delivering this type of abuse. It is normal to be unaware that they are experiencing emotional abuse. The first step in addressing the abuse is by acknowledging it and recognizing that these feelings are normal, valid and should be addressed healthily. Everyone has a different response to their circumstance. One must take time to reflect and try hard to understand and process their feelings. Once they are in a clear headspace, then they are ready to begin the recovery process. Here are some steps of how to begin the healing process.
Practical steps to take to engage the healing process:
- Find support (someone you trust or an abuse support group)
- Get physically active
- Be more social (avoid isolation)
- Maintain a well balanced diet
- Make rest a priority
If you think you’re in an emotional abusive relationship or know someone who is suffering from emotional abuse, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Facing your struggles with a clear mind, honesty, grace for yourself, and forgiveness for your abuser will ultimately lead to your personal road of healing and freedom.
To conclude, it is important to raise awareness and factual evidence of these toxic patterns within our society and talk about its effects on our culture. However, until we commit to speaking up for those that are being silenced, and stand in the gap, nothing will change. It is our responsibility and privilege to talk vulnerably about emotional abuse in our lives and others around us. If we are honest with ourselves, emotional abuse has probably been a defining factor in forming our identities and life experiences.