Emotional abuse is the secret bane of our society. It is difficult to name or even talk about. Often the victim does not realize that he/she is being abused. If they do talk about it, the extent of their pain may not be taken seriously. Unlike physical violence, it does not leave any visible scars.
Millions of women are victims of domestic violence in the U.S.A. But psychological abuse maybe on a much larger scale and is difficult to quantify. The National Institute of Justice reports that women are mostly victims of physical and emotional abuse. A 1990 study by the Journal of Family Violence reported that 72 per cent of victims of abuse rated emotional abuse to be more painful than physical abuse.
Emotional abuse hurts - it leaves permanent scars on the mind of the victim, destroying her self-esteem forever. So what exactly is emotional abuse? Emotional or psychological abuse involves any behaviour, verbal or non-verbal, that negatively impacts another person’s emotional or psychological well-being. Emotional abuse occurs usually between spouses and intimate partners. He or she criticizes you, makes fun of you, humiliates you, controls you and frightens you.
You may be a victim of emotional abuse. Ask yourself if any of the following applies to you. The questions assume you're female but they're as relevant if you're male and being emotionally abused.
- Do you feel afraid of your partner so that you cannot discuss whatever is bothering you?
- Does your partner frequently humiliate you, criticize you or undermine your self- esteem?
- Does your partner try to isolate you from friends and family?
- Does your partner discourage you from working or asserting your financial independence?
- Has your partner stolen from you or run you into debt?
- Does your relationship swing from extremes of distance and closeness, as manipulated by your partner?
- Has your partner damaged or destroyed anything that belongs to you?
- Do you feel there is something wrong in your relationship but you cannot say what exactly? Do you feel trapped in your relationship and are you afraid of your partner?
- Do you feel that your partner controls your life?
- Does your partner act possessive and accuse you of being unfaithful and involved in affairs?
- Does he belittle your ideas, thoughts and feelings?
- Do you have to account to him every moment of your time?
- Do you have to account for every penny you spend?
- Does he threaten or intimidate you to win an argument?
- Does he blame you for every problem, even his behaviour towards you?
- Does he regularly threaten to leave you or the kids?
- Does he make you feel that you are alone and unwanted?
- Does he ridicule or insult your most valued beliefs, gender, sexuality or ability?
- Does he withdraw approval, appreciation and affection?
- Does he call you names and shout at you in public? Does he humiliate you in private or in public?
- Does he manipulate you with lies and high drama?
- Does he manipulate your sexual relationship based on his moods? Seeks sex to make up after an argument?
- In sum, he generally makes you feel that you are not good for anything, unwanted, and a burden to everyone.
The abuser is often a victim of abuse in his childhood and takes the role of the 'Authority Figure’ with the abused as a dependant. This figure wants to be master of dependants, decide right and wrong, assume responsibility for good things and not bad things, control the thoughts and feelings of dependants, suppress the individuality of dependants and never make a mistake or apologize.
Types of emotional abuse include ‘ Abusive expectation’, where he expects your constant attention and is never satisfied with anything you do. ‘Agressing’ includes name-calling, accusing, blaming, threatening and ordering. ‘Denying’ involves ignoring your emotional needs, abusing, withholding or refusing to communicate. ‘Dominating’ involves trying to control all your actions and ‘Emotional blackmail’ involves playing on your guilt, fear and compassion to get things done or by threatening to end your relationship. ‘Invalidation’ involves denying facts and responsibility, and ‘Verbal assaults’ are in the form of berating, belittling and criticizing.
If you are caught in such a relationship, you may find yourself changing. You may be unable or afraid to make decisions for yourself, be excessively anxious to please your partner and make excuses for your partner’s slovenly behaviour .You maybe forgetful, confused, sick, anxious, tired or depressed most of the time. You maybe slowly losing contact with friends, family and neighbours and become more and more isolated and lonely. You may have developed what is called ‘ learned helplessness’ by Martin Seligman - a feeling that you cannot do anything right. You may have feelings of self- loathing or suicidal thoughts. Some may develop medical conditions such as bulimia, anorexia, social anxiety disorder or blood pressure. Most of all you have lost your confidence in yourself. If this is your situation, you may need help.
You must firstly realize that emotional abuse is a serious problem and seek help. Confide in friends and seek the help of relatives or professionals who will support you emotionally. You can start the process of healing by giving yourself positive messages such as, “I am a good person and I deserve to be happy.” You must take concrete steps for your safety as well as that of your children. For often, the emotional abuse is bound to graduate to physical and sexual abuse. You can approach counselling services if you want the relationship to succeed. If not, keep phone numbers of friends and authorities (Assaulted Women’s help-line) in hand to ask them to intervene if you face a crisis. Most of all, do something that will improve your self-esteem and self-worth and regain control of your life.
Once you enter a relationship, you must recognize that there are the following basic needs in a relationship, as spelt out by Evna (1992):
- Need for goodwill from the other
- Need for emotional support
- Need to be heard by the other and to be responded to with respect and acceptance
- Need to have your own view even if your partner has a different view
- Need to receive a sincere apology for any jokes you might find offensive
- Need to live free from accusation and blame
- Need to live free of criticism and judgment
- Need to have your work and your interests spoken of with respect
- Need for encouragement
- Need to live free of angry outbursts and rage
- Need to be respectfully asked rather than ordered
The satisfaction of these needs will pave the way for a healthy and happy relationship.