Nothing is more damaging to your confidence and self-esteem than being in an emotionally abusive relationship. Unlike physical abuse which rears its ugly head in dramatic outbursts, emotional abuse can be more insidious and elusive. In some cases, neither the abuser nor the victim are fully aware it's happening.
The most obvious scenario for emotional abuse is in an intimate relationship in which a man is the abuser and the woman is the victim. However, a variety of studies show that men and women abuse each other at equal rates. In fact, emotional abuse can occur in any relationship — between parent and child, in friendships, and with married couples.
Emotional abuse involves a regular pattern of verbal offense, threatening, bullying, and constant criticism, as well as more subtle tactics like intimidation, shaming and manipulation. Emotional abuse is used to control and dominate the other person, and quite often it occurs because the abuser has childhood wounds and insecurities they haven't dealt with — perhaps as a result of being abused themselves.
People who are abusive didn't learn healthy coping mechanisms or how to have positive, healthy relationships. Instead, they feel angry, hurt, fearful and powerless. Although emotional abuse doesn't always lead to physical abuse, physical abuse is almost always preceded and accompanied by emotional abuse.
The victim of the abuse quite often doesn't see the mistreatment as abusive. They develop coping mechanisms of denial and minimizing in order to deal with the stress. But the effects of long-term emotional abuse can cause severe emotional trauma in the victim, including depression, anxiety, and post traumatic stress disorder.
If you aren't sure what constitutes this damaging behavior, here are a few signs of emotional abuse.
- They humiliate you, put you down, or make fun of you in front of other people.
- They regularly demean or disregard your opinions, ideas, suggestions, or needs.
- They use sarcasm or “teasing” to put you down or make you feel bad about yourself.
- They accuse you of being “too sensitive” in order to deflect their abusive remarks.
- They try to control you and treat you like a child.
- They correct or chastise you for your behavior.
- You feel like you need permission to make decisions or go out somewhere.
- They try to control the finances and how you spend money.
- They belittle and trivialize you, your accomplishments, or your hopes and dreams.
- They try to make you feel as though they are always right, and you are wrong.
The first step for those being emotionally abused is recognizing it's happening. If you recognize any of the signs of emotional abuse in your relationship, you need to be honest with yourself so you can regain power over your own life, stop the abuse, and begin to heal. For those who've been minimizing, denying, and hiding the abuse, this can be a painful and frightening first step.
The stress of emotional abuse will eventually catch up with you in the form of illness, emotional trauma, depression, or anxiety. You simply can't allow it to continue, even if it means ending the relationship. A licensed counselor who is trained in abusive relationships can help you navigate the pain and fears of leaving the relationship and work with you to rebuild your self-esteem.