Emotional abuse leaves little or no visible physical scars and no telltale signs. Its victims suffer no black eyes, broken bones, torn flesh or spilled blood… at least not from the emotional abuse. Still, those who are emotionally beaten down might describe it as the most painful and destructive form of domestic violence.
While statistics are elusive, experts agree that emotional abuse—for mostly women, but some men as well—have reached epidemic proportions. And despite its everyday occurrence, few of us recognize it, identify it or even do anything about it.
Here are a few questions that might help you recognize it:
- Are you walking on egg shells around your partner or spouse?
- Are you worried, anxious or nervous about your partner’s attitudes or moods?
- Are you concerned about you’re their criticism, sarcasm, frowns, glares, gestures, silence or other behaviors?
- Are you concerned that they will withdraw or give you the cold shoulder?
- Do you feel tense when you hear the car pull up in the garage and hear the door open and your partner comes home?
- Does your partner uses economic, sexual or other power tactics to control you?
- Are you happy and feel free when you are alone?
- Do you think that if you tried harder that things will be better?
- Are you mostly defensive about your actions? Are your reactions on automatic pilot?
- Do you sometimes feel trapped in your relationship?
So what is the impact of emotional abuse?
Here are a few that are easily recognized. The emotionally abused individual will exhibit:
- Loss of self-esteem and self-confidence
- Increasing levels of self-doubt leading to the inability to make normal life decisions
- Inner fear and anxiety that he/she ‘is losing it’
- Loss of enthusiasm for life, decreased involvement in normal social activities, and decreased involvement with friends
- Feeling of a loss of power and control over one’s life
- Development of a very critical internal voice
- A desire to avoid, escape, or run away
- A false sense of hope that ‘everything will be OK’ when…
- Increasing self-blame for everything that goes wrong
- Pervasive feeling of ‘not being good enough’
- Defensive of the ‘other person’ to friends who ask questions and show concern
What can victims of emotional abuse do?
Here are some suggestions:
- Reach out to other people who you know care.
- Read a good book on the subject as a form of bibliotherapy. See my article on this subject here.
- Realize that you cannot change your partner… you can only change how your respond.
- Develop a list of how you are affected by the emotional abuse.
- Get professional assistance.
- Make the decision to deal with the situation.
- Develop your internal emotional and cognitive strengths.
- Look at your own behaviors and decide what you need to change and what new behaviors you need to adopt.
- Decide on what you want and how you want to live your life.
- Decide on and then set some personal boundaries and clear expectations for the other person to change their behaviors. Also describe the consequences.
- Follow through on your decisions.
- Make an internal commitment on your ultimate decision if the person does not change. In other words, are you willing to say goodbye to the person and hello to a new, more vibrant life?