“When you stand up for yourself, you are standing up for everyone who will follow your positive example .”
On the occasion of World Mental Health Day, I want to write about an issue that’s less discussed but largely prevalent – Emotional Abuse. Many victims go through emotional abuse without even realizing that they are being subjected to abuse. Unlike physical abuse there is no hitting punching or scars but the damage runs equally deep – perhaps deeper.
What is emotional abuse?
Emotional abuse is an attempt to control, in just the same way that physical abuse is an attempt to control another person. The only difference is that the emotional abuser does not use physical forms of harm. Rather the perpetrator of emotional abuse uses emotion as his/her weapon of choice.
Sometimes, people wonder whether ‘abuse’ is the right term to describe any relationship difficulties they’re going through. They may feel like their partner shouts at them a lot or makes them feel bad, but think ‘abuse’ would be too ‘dramatic’ a word to use.
If your partner’s behavior affects your sense of self worth and makes you feel controlled or as if you’re unable to talk about what’s wrong, it’s abusive. If you feel like your partner is stopping you from being able to express yourself, it’s abusive.
There may be many reasons for partners behaving in this way. They may have grown up in a family environment where there was lots of reprimanding or sarcasm or been in relationships in the past that made them feel insecure. But while this might help us to understand, it can never be used as an excuse for abusive behavior. If you feel like you’re being subjected to abusive behavior, remember you deserve to have a voice, and you don’t deserve to be made to feel scared or small.
Effects of emotional abuse:
When emotional abuse is severe and ongoing, a victim may lose their entire sense of self, sometimes without a single mark or bruise. Instead, the wounds are invisible to others, hidden in the self-doubt, worthlessness and self-loathing the victim feels. In fact, many victims say that the scars from emotional abuse last far longer and are much deeper than those from physical abuse.
Over time, the accusations, verbal abuse, name-calling, criticisms, erode a victim’s sense of self so much that they can no longer see themselves realistically. Consequently, the victim begins to agree with the abuser and becomes internally critical. Once this happens, most victims become trapped in the abusive relationship believing that they will never be good enough for anyone else.
Emotional abuse can even impact friendships because emotionally abused people often worry about how people truly see them and if they truly like them. Eventually, victims will pull back from friendships and isolate themselves, convinced that no one likes them. What’s more, emotional abuse can cause a number of health problems including everything from depression and anxiety to stomach ulcers, heart palpitations, eating disorders, and insomnia.
How to recognize emotional abuse?
Following are some examples of emotional abuse:
Being frequently or constantly verbally abusive and using foul language, swear words
Being dissatisfied no matter how hard you try or how much you give
Criticizing you for not completing tasks according to their standards
Expecting you to share their opinions (you are not permitted to have a different opinion)
Accusing you of being “too sensitive,” “too emotional,” or “crazy”
Starting arguments for the sake of arguing
Manipulating and controlling you by making you feel guilty
Humiliating you in public or in private
Using your fears, values, compassion or other hot buttons to control you or the situation
Exaggerating your flaws or pointing them out in order to deflect attention or to avoid taking responsibility for their poor choices or mistakes
Punishing you by withholding affection
Emotionally abusive people act superior and entitled
Treating you like you are inferior
Blaming you for their mistakes and shortcomings
Doubting everything you say and attempting to prove you wrong
Telling you that your opinions, ideas, values and thoughts are stupid, illogical or “do not make sense”
Talking down to you or being condescending
Acting like they are always right, knows what is best and is smarter
Emotionally abusive people attempt to isolate and control you.
How to deal with emotional abuse?
“Never be bullied into silence, never allow yourself to be a victim ”
The first step in dealing with an emotionally abusive relationship is to recognize that it is happening. If you were able to identify any aspect of emotional abuse in your relationship, it is important to acknowledge that first and foremost. Make your mental and physical health a priority. Stop worrying about pleasing the person abusing you. Take care of your needs. Do something that will help you think positive and affirm who you are. Also, be sure to get an appropriate amount of rest and eat healthy meals. These simple self-care steps can go a long way in helping you deal with the day-to-day stresses of emotional abuse.
Establish boundaries with the abuser. Firmly tell the abusive person that they may no longer yell at you, call you names, insult you, be rude to you, and so on. Then, tell them what will happen if they choose to engage in this behavior. For instance, tell them that if they call you names or insult you, the conversation will be over and you will leave the room. The key is to follow through on your boundaries. Do not communicate boundaries that you have no intention of keeping.
Stop blaming yourself. If you have been in an emotionally abusive relationship for any amount of time, you may believe that there is something severely wrong with you. Why else would someone who says they love you act like this, right? But you are not the problem. Abuse is a choice. So stop blaming yourself for something you have no control over.
Realize that you cannot “fix” the abusive person. Despite your best efforts, you will never be able to change an emotionally abusive person by doing something different or by being different. An abusive person makes a choice to behave abusively. Remind yourself that you cannot control their actions and that you are not to blame for their choices. The only thing you can fix or control is your response.
Do not engage with an abusive person. In other words, if an abuser tries to start an argument with you, begins insulting you, demands things from you or rages with jealousy, do not try to make explanations, soothe their feelings or make apologies for things you did not do. Simply walk away from the situation if you can. Engaging with an abuser only sets you up for more abuse and heartache. No matter how hard you try, you will not be able to make things right in their eyes.
Build a support network. Stop being silent about the abuse you are experiencing. Talk to a trusted friend, family member or even a counselor about what you are experiencing. Take time away from the abusive person as much as possible and spend time with people who love and support you.
“If you are not being respected, it is time to stand up for yourself. Don’t let anyone ever break your soul. Hold your head up high and stand your own ground “