What do you think of when somebody says they are being abused? Many would first think about bruises and physical abuse, but not all abuse is physical! Emotional and verbal abuse can be just as devastating, but tends to be subtle and difficult to define. This type of abuse can be insidious and almost elusive, as many cannot pinpoint the exact problem.
“Not all wounds are visible”
Who is affected by emotional abuse? This destructive type of behaviour can occur in any type of relationship.
- Between a parent and a child
- In any kind of friendship
- With other relatives
- Emotional and verbal abuse can also be found in the workplace or at school
The effects of emotional abuse can make another person doubt themselves and others, and slowly break down a person’s self-worth or self-esteem. Whoever came up with the saying ‘sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me’ was obviously in denial. Emotional and verbal abuse, if not dealt with correctly, can leave the person being abused with severe emotional pain and even long term psychological scars. The person being abused can develop severe anxiety and depression.
The main purpose of emotional abuse is to try and control and also to dominate another person. In many of the cases the abuser has not dealt with their own childhood traumas and may have been abused themselves. By not dealing with the issue in a constructive way and learning how to build positive relationships, the person can easily harbour resentment and anger. This person then goes out into society and displays the exact same behaviour to others.
Emotional abuse can lead to physical abuse, but not always. Although emotional and verbal abuse always seem to accompany physical abuse. Some of the signs of emotional abuse include:
- Controlling behaviour – Always asking where you are going and who you are with. The abuser will try to isolate and control everything. Displays unreasonable jealous tendencies towards friends and colleagues.
- Being manipulative and cruelly using emotional blackmail to get their way.
- Meting out punishment that is undeserved
- Emotional outburst that are unpredictable
- Those who are abusive may have unrealistic expectations – for example demanding all your time to be with them.
- Behaviour and speech that is derogative. Calling you stupid, swearing at you and undermining your thoughts and values, is derisive towards your appearance and insults your intelligence.
- Continuously accusing you of lying and casts the blame of their behaviour onto you.
- Deliberately withholding love or any type of communication and support
- Continuous use of hurtful jokes or sarcastic remarks
- In many cases overbearing and unwelcome teasing can also be seen as abusive
The first step towards any type of healing, is to recognize there is an actual problem. Some who have been in an abusive relationship for a length of time may think the problem is with them, but it’s not, stop blaming yourself. Sometimes it may be necessary to leave the abusive relationship, but if this is not the case then there must be some boundaries set. Let the person know that you will no longer participate in conversations that are meant to hurt and criticize.
You cannot change an abusive person and the choices they make, but you can control your response to them. In certain cases professional help may be needed to improve the relationship. The most important thing is not to isolate yourself and to make sure that you have a support network in place. It could be a friend, another family member, pastor or even a counsellor, but stop being silent.
The abuse cannot go on forever, eventually the stress will cause illnesses such as depression and anxiety. Remember to put your own needs first and that you no longer need to please and protect the abuser. They no longer have control or power over you.