Did he/she hit you? This is usually the first question we ask a friend who we suspect is stuck in an unhealthy relationship. While asking this question is a great place to start such a conversation, it becomes a problem when we leave it at did someone physically hurt you.
It is easy to think that because a person is not suffering domestic violence, their relationship is healthy. Words are equally as powerful as fists, sticks, and stones. They can become weapons in the hands of the abuser to gain and maintain control over every part of your life.
Emotional abuse has critical short- and long-term effects that are just as detrimental as domestic violence. In this case, rather being hit with physical objects or fists, abusive words are hurled at the victim as well as bullying behavior that tear down the victim's self-esteem and threaten the stability of their mental health. The victim, in this case, can be any close female friend, colleague, or relative in your life, or even yourself. Abuse words are a major red flag in any relationship, especially a romantic relationship.
The sad fact about this condition is that the tell-tale signs of emotional abuse can be so subtle, manipulative, and insidious that you can convince yourself that your relationship is healthy and stable since your partner does not hit you. Despite its subtle nature, it can wear down your self-esteem to the point where you have no opinions of your own anymore. You start to doubt your perceptions and reality. In the end, you are trapped, stripped of your self-worth, and unable to tell or express how you really feel. You are either too manipulated into believing he loves you, or you know the truth deep down but you are too afraid to leave.
Unfortunately, until you recognize and deal with emotional abuse, the cycle will keep repeating itself. In this article, I will be showing you tell-tale signs of emotional abuse, how it affects your self-worth, and effective ways you can deal with it.
Tell-Tale Signs of Emotional Abuse
Emotional Abuse is any abusive behavioral pattern that involves verbal aggression, manipulation, bullying, and humiliation as weapons to diminish the victim's self-worth, self-image, identity, and confidence. It can lead to mild or chronic anxiety, suicidal thoughts/behaviors, amongst others. It can take on any form, including criticism, constantly arguing, gaslighting, isolation, verbal abuse, silent treatment, withholding affection, shaming/blame-throwing, etc.
As I mentioned earlier, a relationship may never get physically abusive, perhaps because the abuser is not familiar with that strategy, or he refuses to adopt it. However, emotional abuse can grow over time with life-threatening consequences that can lead to suicide. Physical abuse is sometimes preceded or accompanied by emotional abuse.
Recognizing Emotional Abuse can be quite difficult, especially when you do not know what signs to look for. If you fall into the trap of trivializing abuse by convincing yourself that your partner's behavior is not too bad, chances are that you may have a hard time finding your way out of the abuse.
No one deserves to be talked to disrespectfully or manipulated. Rather, we all deserve to be treated with kindness, love, and respect. Our actions should not define our partner's expression of love towards us because no one is perfect. We all make mistakes so if you believe you should be spoken to unkindly because you did something wrong, that's a sign that the abuse is slowly breaking your emotional defenses and taking over your heart.
Here are signs that show that you may be in an emotionally abusive relationship. Your partner may not do all of these. However, it doesn't change the fact that you might be in an emotionally abusive relationship, and it's time to review and reconsider your relationship.
- He/She Has Unrealistic Expectations
Your partner may have a history of making unbearable demands that leave you emotionally bankrupt while trying to meet them. For instance, he expects you to prioritize putting everything you have to do aside so that you can meet their needs. No matter how hard you try, they always have something to complain about and bash you verbally in the process. They want things done according to their standard, and if it falls short, they spit out hurtful words.
- He/She Invalidates Your Feelings and Actions
If your partner never approves of your actions, refusing to accept your way of doing things, then there is a problem. He may be dismissive towards your requests, wants, and needs, tagging them as insane or ridiculous. He may accuse you of being overly sensitive, too emotional, or crazy.
- He/She Blackmails You Emotionally
He/She manipulates you by making statements that make you feel guilt. He/She also says humiliating things that make you feel less of yourself in public and private. Derogatory statements like, "You were nothing before I found you. I made you…" He/She uses silent treatment and withholding affection to punish you or beat you into submission. He/She blames you for his/her mistakes and shortcomings. He/She employs threatening as a tool for manipulation. He/She threatens to hurt himself whenever he/she is upset with you. He/She threatens to hurt your reputation of those you care about, this inciting fear in you. He/She makes statements like "If I can't have you, no one else can." He/She decides what you can and cannot wear, eat, and do.
- He/She Tries to Isolate and Control You
He/She may try to regulate the way you spend your money and even your schedule, telling you what you can and cannot do. He/She also tries to choose your associations, acting jealous, and accusing you of cheating whenever he sees a male friend or colleague around you.
These are just some of the ways you can tell that your relationship is emotionally abusive and toxic to your mental and physical health.
How Emotional Abuse Affects Your Self-Worth
I would like you to keep in mind that abuse may not be obvious at the outset of a relationship. Relationships, as you know, typically begin with emotional sparks. Some abusers may intentionally furnish you with a lot of love and care, including compliments and frequent requests to see you, typical gestures you might consider romantic at the start of the relationship. You may feel strongly bonded to him/her, as though it is the both of you “against the world.”
Over time, he/she will start to insult or intimidate their victims, employing manipulative gimmicks to control different areas of your life. When this sudden change in behavior happens, it can leave you startled and disoriented. You may feel ashamed or stupid for getting into the relationship. When emotional abuse becomes severe over a long period, you may lose your entire sense of identity and sense. Because there is no physical scar, it's easy to hide and pretend like everything is okay. You may find yourself unable to differentiate between truth and opinions, and you might adopt his opinions about you as truth. You may grow to become over critical of your actions, inflicting more harm on yourself. Once you get to this stage, you might find it hard to let go of that relationship because you believe you are not good enough for another person.
Emotional abuse also affects your friendships. Yeah! It sure does. You may start to see your friends as the enemy, especially when they try to help you see the abusive state of your relationship. You may also isolate yourself from friendships because your partner demands it, or because you feel they don't like you and you are not worth their attention. Of course, emotional abuse can cause health issues such as depression, anxiety, ulcers, insomnia, and even suicide.
Tips for Dealing with Emotional Abuse
As women, we have a gut feeling each time we feel something is wrong about a situation. Trust your instincts, not your heart. Your heart would naturally desire to give him a benefit of the doubt but your instincts, however, tell you the truth as it is. You don't have to stay confined in that relationship. You can always walk away.
So, here is what you can do.
- First, accept the situation for what it really is. Denial only drives you further down the hole. Trying to reason with your abuser is a total waste of time because you are not the problem, they are. As long as they remain unwilling to back up their promises with actions that show their good intentions towards you, they will keep hurting you. It is also highly unlikely that they will break this pattern of behavior because you asked them nicely. They need professional help, and it is their responsibility to find it and commit to getting better.
- You should put some distance between you and the abuser. That will require you to walk away and focus on getting better. Decide that you will no longer be a victim of abuse nor will you remain at the mercy of his erratic emotions and needs. Rather, limit exposure to the abuser as much as it depends on you and set personal boundaries.
- If it's possible, cut all communication lines. Communication has its way of breeding empathy and intimacy. You need to be as far away from your abuser as possible. To help you achieve this, you can consult with a therapist or join an accountability group that will show you the healthiest way to move on with your life.
- Give yourself a mole time to heal. It's not ideal to jump into another relationship, still bearing old wounds. You need time to heal. Spend time with people who care about you, especially those who understand why you had to walk away. They can encourage and support you through the healing process.
If you are married, walking away from your marriage can be difficult, especially if you have children. You can consider a temporary separation situation while you seek professional help and legal assistance.