Typically, when we think of abuse, we see the male as the abuser and the female as the victim. In actuality, however, both males and females can abuse – and emotional abuse is particularly damaging. The old adage “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me” couldn’t be less true.
Both are damaging and unacceptable, but in some respects, emotional abuse is more damaging than physical abuse. Not to minimize either type of abuse, but where physical wounds can heal, mental wounds often stay with the victim forever.
Being told that you are stupid over and over can, and does, have a lasting impact that can make you feel like you don’t measure up or aren’t good enough. These beliefs affect every choice you make.
What makes it even more difficult is that the victim often minimizes the abuse and makes excuses for their abuser. This makes what is obvious to onlookers become nearly impossible for the victim to admit, and it can lead to depression and post-traumatic stress in the victim.
It comes about by a form of brainwashing on the part of the abuser that makes the victim doubt what he/she has always believed. It involves name-calling, shaming, financial control, and constant criticism as well as manipulation and intimidation.
The emotional abusive person wants to dominate and control the other person, often because of their own childhood wounds. They haven’t developed healthy coping skills and so they transfer their own fears and feelings of powerlessness onto their victims.
Personality disorders are not uncommon among abusers, both female, and male. Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) often occur in people who are emotional abusers.
Here are some signs that you are in an emotionally abusive relationship:
- When you are in public, the other person puts you down sarcastically and then tells you that they were “just teasing” when you express hurt.
- They accuse you of being “too sensitive” when you react to their hurtful remarks.
- They try to control finances and want details about everything you spend.
- They regularly point out your flaws to you and others.
- They make excuses for their behavior or blame others. They often violate your boundaries.
- They blame you for their life problems.
- They are emotionally distant and resort to withdrawal and withholding of affection to get attention and to punish.
- They withhold sex as a way to manipulate.
- They don’t keep your secrets but share personal information about you with others inappropriately.
- They don’t care about your feelings.
- They give you the silent treatment when they don’t get what they want.
- They make threats in an effort to control you.
- They have no compassion or empathy for you.
- They make cutting remarks about you under their breath.
- They show no respect for your boundaries.
If you discover that some or all of these things are happening in your relationship, there are a few things that you can do to reclaim your self-esteem.
- Set some firm boundaries. Let your abuser know that he or she can no longer be rude to you, put you down, or yell at you. If they continue to do these things, leave the room or the home.
- Don’t engage with them. If they try to pick fights, don’t apologize or explain. Simply walk away.
You are not to blame. Note that all of the above signs reflect on the abuser. Their feelings of lack and unworthiness cause them to mistreat you. It has nothing to do with you. They need someone to blame so that they can feel better about themselves.
You can’t fix them. Either they recognize their destructive behavior and want to change or they don’t. Nothing you can do will make them change unless they are able to recognize and take responsibility for their own behavior.
- Develop an “exit” strategy. Sometimes, abusers cannot change. That means that you will need to find a way out. If finances are an issue, then start planning your escape.
- Turn to others for support. Surround yourself with people who care for you.
- Therapy can help. Sometimes the abuse has gone on so long that it feels there is no way out. Talking with a trained professional can offer the support and help you need to make healthy decisions.
Although verbal abuse does not always lead to physical abuse, it may eventually. Be aware and be prepared. You don’t deserve to be mistreated. You are not the problem.
The first step is to recognize some of the signs of abuse and be ready to reach out for help. As a Christian counselor, I’m here to help you.
“Reflection”, Courtesy of AKi Kikuti, Flickr.com, CC2.0 License; “Delicatessen”, Courtesy of Chrismatos, Flickr.com, CC2.0 License; “Island”, Courtesy of Ahmed Amir, Flickr.com, CC2.0 License; “Jenny Lake”, Courtesy of Billy Gast, Flickr.com, CC2.0 License