Psychological abuse, often called emotional or verbal abuse, is the belittling, humiliation, intimidation or threatening of a partner. Isolating a partner from friends and family and controlling finances are abusive behaviors too. Emotional abuse is the most common form of abuse - and yet least talked about. Many people don't know that they have been - or are being - emotionally abused.
Emotional Abuse is characterized by a climate of abuse. Unlike physical or sexual abuse, where a single incident constitutes abuse, emotional abuse is made up of a series of incidents, or a pattern of behavior that occurs over time. Emotional abuse insults, threatens, isolates, degrades, humiliates and/or controls another person. It may include a pattern of one or more of the following abuses: insults, criticisms, harassment, aggressive demands or expectations, threats, rejection, neglect, blame, emotional manipulation and control, isolation, punishment, terrorizing, ignoring, or teasing.
Emotional abuse is not only under-reported, but it's effects are minimized. The famous childhood verse, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me" is simply not true. In fact, many physical and sexual abuse survivors have said that the emotional abuse was often more devastating and had longer-term effects. Emotional abuse cuts to the core of a person, attacking their very being. Emotional abuse, if frequent enough, is usually internalized by the victim and leaves them feeling fearful, insignificant, unworthy, untrusting, emotionally needy, undeserving and unlovable and as if they were bad, deserving of punishment and to blame. Survivors of emotional abuse often have a hard time understanding why they feel so bad. The abuse may not sound like much and often people around them will minimize the experience, telling them it's not so bad. But a climate of disregard for a person's feelings, where one is subjected to constant or frequent criticisms, being yelled at, or being ignored - has a deep and profound effect, attacking the very self-image and confidence of a person.
It is harder to recognize emotional abuse as abuse, it can be harder to heal from as well. The first step is to name your experience as abuse. Trust how you feel. Many people can identify the abuse once they know what to look for because they change from being outgoing, self-confident and care-free to feeling nervous, anxious and fearful in the company of an emotionally abusive person. Those feelings combined with abusive behavior is convincing evidence that you are being abused. Identifying the abuse as abuse is an important step in your healing. It means that you recognize that what happened to you was wrong, hurtful and not your fault. Placing responsibility for the abuse on the abuser is key to healing from abuse.
You can tell its emotional abuse when you start feeling bad about yourself and you're afraid to say or do anything because it could be the wrong thing. Emotional abuse and battery share the same root cause: One person desires power and control over another. Often, psychological abuse leads to physical violence or sexual abuse. A husband or boyfriend who is emotionally abusive often plays games with the victim's mind. Typically, he criticizes her, degrades her and humiliates her. Withholding affection, approval or companionship is a form of psychological abuse, too. With all these kinds of things, after a period of time when you hear them enough, you come to believe them, so it affects your self esteem; it gets you where you live. There's, also, a sense of being kept off balance. Often the abuser monopolizes his partner by making himself the center of her existence. Typically, an abuser targets areas of a woman's life that he knows are particularly sensitive, such as her parenting skills, her appearance or her intelligence.
Emotional abuse sets up a dynamic where the victim comes to believe that they are to blame and that they must work harder to fix the problems, such as improving the relationship. This never works because the problem is not the victim; the abusive behavior is the problem. Nothing you do will change that. No matter how nice and accommodating you are, nothing that you do will change an emotionally abusive person's behavior. In fact, many people get even more aggressive when you try to make it better, because they sense that you think it's your fault and this confirms their own beliefs!
Being verbally abused is exhausting & emotionally draining for the victim. Emotional, in-your-soul, abuse isn't outwardly apparent, like bruises or broken bones; the damage goes much deeper. Every verbal assault can trigger a response in the victim's body and mind as if physical danger were imminent. Each time the abuse begins, the victim's body gears up as if to fight or to flee, which can result in long-term health consequences including high blood pressure, asthma, strokes and other illnesses triggered by stress. Victims may develop a sense of helplessness and lose the ability to protect themselves. They may be irritable, hostile and angry a lot of the time under this threat.
A person who is verbally abusive, but has not caused the victim physical harm, can still become violent. A woman should ask herself if her partner has ever used physical force against someone else or property. Has he gotten into fistfights, smashed things or thrown a chair against the wall? These are signs that he has the potential to become physically or sexually abusive.
Every year, an estimated two million to four million women in the United States are victims of domestic violence, a public-health problem that is difficult to track due to the shame and stigma still attached to it. Psychological abuse is even more difficult to quantify. No one goes to the emergency room after being humiliated. It's difficult to file a complaint with law-enforcement agencies charging that your partner controls the family finances or isolates you from your friends. Further, the victims of psychological abuse may not even realize they are being abused. They may feel bad about themselves or their relationship, but they may not connect that feeling with their partner's behavior.
How do you recognize emotional abuse?
One thing that can help is to step back from your situation and examine the overall climate in your home. Trust your instincts and feelings about people. Emotional abuse is insidious and can be very subtle, so trust your gut; it's telling you something.
Are you being controlled through criticism, moodiness, anger, threats, overprotection and "caring," denying your perceptions, ignoring your needs and opinions, unilateral decisionmaking, financial dependence, isolation, intimidation, or humiliation? How many of these sound like your life?
Whenever you're feeling good, does your partner always deflate your mood?
Is nothing you do ever right or good enough for your partner?
Can only your partner be right? Does he always correct your impressions or the way you say and do things?
Do you receive only sarcastic or backhanded compliments from your partner never positive support or encouragement?
Does your partner call you names?
Does your partner say you're too sensitive and can't take a joke right after saying something cruel to/about you?
Does your partner create a scene, then accuse you of exaggerating or making the whole thing up when if you confront him about it?
Does your partner continually break promises, but say he never promised in the first place?
Does your partner act as if you're imagining all the problems in your relationship?
If you cry because you are hurt, does your partner say you're hysterical or overly upset or ask why you upset yourself so much?
If you're angry and tell him, does he then blame his anger on you or say you're being abusive simply by being angry?
Does your partner insist you feel the way he expects you to feel rather than the way you feel?
If you are ill, does your partner refuse to help or promise to help and then "forget"?
Does your partner constantly interrupt you, forget what you said, change the subject, or twist the meaning of your words?
Is someone else always to blame for your partner's problems?
When you ask why your partner's angry, does he deny his anger?
Does your partner accuse you of trying to start an argument when you want to discuss something with him?
When you try to discuss something that's bothering you with your partner does he frequently "have no idea what you're talking about"?
Does your partner walk away, tease you, or ignore you if you express your opinion?
Does your partner believe they should always have the final say?
After agreeing to a resolution, does your partner do exactly the opposite of what you agreed upon?
If you ask about something you should have had a say in deciding, does your partner insist "but that's already been decided"?
Are there topics that you are not allowed to freely discuss?
Is your free time limited to your partner's interests?
Does your partner steer you towards dressing a certain way, a certain hairstyle, or some other appearance that doesn't really suit your own tastes?
Does your partner often tell you that he'd like your appearance better if only... you lost weight? you gained weight? you changed something else about yourself?
Does your partner totally disrespect and discount your feelings?
Does your partner putdown your friends and family or nag at you until you stop contacting them?
Does your partner accuse the people who are your support system of "causing trouble"?
Do you feel like you're on an emotional roller coaster?
Is your partner manipulative with lies & contradictions?
Does your partner say cruel, hurtful things just to upset you?
Are you constantly criticized?
Does your partner expect you to be "perfect"?
Is there a scene if you have a differing opinion from your partner's?
Is living with your partner tense since you never know what will set off your partner's temper?
Are you anxious whenever you both visit with friends and family because you expect your partner to humiliate you over something you've done or one of your personality traits?
Does your partner get angry, then either blow his top or withdraw into prolonged silence until you apologize for whatever it was that "made him angry"?
When you can't read your partner's mind and follow his unspoken "rules," does your partner become furious?
If your partner dislikes what you're doing, are you unfairly threatened with a call to report you to public aid, child welfare, I.N.S., etc.?
Does your partner tell your children that you're a bad parent?
Does your partner "worry" about you too much if you're away from home?
Do you receive phone calls or unexpected visits from your partner to see if you're "okay"?
Do you need your partner's approval to have friends and family visit?
Is your partner reluctant to socialize with you? Does your partner refuse to take you anywhere?
Are you accused of caring more for your family and friends than for him? Does your partner say he's not getting enough of your time or energy?
Are you scared that your partner will be mad if you're even a few minutes late?
Is your partner jealous or overprotective when it comes to your coworkers or friends of the opposite sex?
Do you need to stay at home to take care of your responsibilities, but your partner always finds the time to go out?
Is your partner jealous when you talk to new people?
Does your partner accuse you of being unfaithful if you're late or not where he expects you to be?
Is your partner excessively jealous? Does your partner need to know all the details of who you saw where and what you did?
Does your partner insist that you cannot leave him and you'll always be together?
Has your partner threatened to kill you or themselves if you leave them?
Has your partner ever threatened to take the children away or kidnap them if you leave?
There is hope, however. If you know that you're currently being emotionally abused, you'll need to find ways to protect yourself emotionally; to reduce or stop contact with the abusive person; to find allies; to talk about what is going on and to look into options to keep yourself from being further abused. There are many resources to help you with abuse in relationships. Individual therapy or support groups with other victims can help a woman increase her self-esteem and her ability to recognize potentially abusive behavior. As she spends more time in a support group talking to other ladies or working with a counselor her mental health has a big turn around.
Countering the negative messages that you received is, also, really important. You may need to write down all the insulting things that you learned about yourself and counter each one with the truth. It may feel unnatural or foreign to counter these messages, but it will help you to feel better in the long-run. Catch yourself when you find that you are putting yourself down. Take a breath and remind yourself that you don't want to do that anymore, that you don't deserve to be hurt and that you want to think of yourself differently. See if you can come up with something that you like about yourself. If you can't come up with something good, think about how you would like to think about yourself. The idea is to interrupt the flow of insulting thoughts you have and to find ways to replace those thoughts with self-soothing ones. By finding ways to be gentle and soothing with yourself, you are directly countering those messages. Being kind to yourself by asking yourself what you need, what you want to do and letting yourself do those things are all ways to create a more positive and loving relationship with yourself. No matter what you've been told or how you've been treated, you are worthy of love and respect. The more you know this, the less likely you will be to accept disrespectful or abusive behavior towards yourself or others. You should not have to take emotional abuse from anyone - no matter what the excuse. You deserve to be treated well.
If the answers to the above questions fit your life then you are being emotionally/ verbally abused. As I read through them now I am appalled at how many of them applied to my life. I wish I had had this list to have read much earlier in my life and the courage to act upon it. Perhaps I wouldn't have had to post my thread entitled "When Adult Children Become The Parents!". I have had to face reality face when the motel manager placed "battery"charges against my dry drunk husband. Please, do better than I did. Recognize your situation and act on it.