Most people, upon hearing the word “abuse,” think of physical violence. However, there are several types of abuse and among those, emotional abuse is the most prevalent kind, and yet it is the least talked about. At the same time, signs of emotional abuse can be more difficult to notice, as well; and for the person who is suffering such an atrocity may not even be aware of the situation being toxic and abusive. In most cases, emotional abuse doesn’t appear to be severe, however the effects can be both intense and long lasting.
What is Emotional Abuse?
Emotional abuse involves a person trying to emotionally control and holding power over another by means of criticism, embarrassment, isolation, shaming, blaming, or manipulating the victim in different ways. It can happen in both close and impersonal relationships. In most cases, the abuser is the victim’s significant other, i.e their partner. However, the abuser can also be the victim’s:
- Business partner or colleague
- Close friend
- Relative or close family member
Such abusers tend to maintain a persistent pattern of behaviour that deteriorates a person’s sense of self esteem, self confidence and mental well being, as well as they make the victim doubt their perceptions of reality. The victim ends up feeling suffocated and trapped, and feeling too hurt and drained to continue being in the relationship. However, they also find it difficult to leave as they are afraid to do so. This kind of abuse sets up a toxic dynamic where the victim feels that they have wronged; they blame themselves for the bad relationship and try to work hard to improve or “fix” their relationship and the person that they are with.
Types of Emotional Abuse
Emotional abuse has many types and can take a number of vicious forms. They are as follows:
- Verbal Abuse: This involves yelling, insulting, and hurling curses at the victim
- Gaslighting: This involves manipulation of truth to make the victim doubt their own feelings, thoughts and sanity
- Isolation: Abusers limit the victim’s contact with other family or friends, and restrict their mobility and movement. They might not let the victim go out and do the things that they normally do. This symptom overlaps with those of social abuse.
- Humiliation and degradation: This involves name-calling, public embarrassment or humiliation, and telling the victim that they’re stupid and blaming them for all the toxicity in the relationship
- Rejection: Abusers tend to entirely reject all the ideas, thoughts and opinions of the victim
- Intimidation: Abusers will make the victim feel afraid, fearful and threatened. They’ll purposefully say things that hurt the victim.
- Financial Abuse: This may involve stealing or withholding the victim’s finances, and not letting the victim work or be productive. This is a form of domestic violence.
Impacts of Emotional Abuse
Not only the most underreported and most common form of abuse, emotional abuse is categorized by the most debilitating and harrowing experiences that have the most long lasting effects. The reason is that emotional abuse is difficult to identify both for someone who is suffering from it and an outsider who’s trying to help. This kind of abuse cuts to the core of the victim and attacks their sentiments, thoughts, sanity and their very being. The wounds inflicted by emotional abusers take a long time to heal. The constant manipulation, isolation, false accusations and allegations, criticisms and verbal abuse wear away the victim’s sense of self brutally. The victim begins to believe everything that the abuser says at one point. They begin to blame themselves for everything and believe that they can never be good enough for anyone. They fall into a deep, dark pit of self-doubt, self-loathing, worthlessness and hopelessness.
It also impacts a person’s social life and wellbeing as they become much more withdrawn than they were earlier due to the isolation and manipulation tactics of the abuser. They thus become distant from their friends and family.
Emotional abuse also leads to a lot of mental and physical health complications as well, such as depression, anxiety disorders, heart palpitations, insomnia, stomach ulcers and eating disorders.
Tips on How to Deal with Emotional Abuse
Once a person has recognized that they are being emotionally abused, it is time to take action and finally find the way out of the abusive situation. Confronting and acknowledging what you’re experiencing for what it is helps the victim to take back the control of their lives. Following are a few steps on how to do the same:
- Prioritizing Your Mental and Physical Health:
Recognize the fact that your mental and physical health are of prime importance no matter which situation you are in. Remember, the “I” is important. Prioritize yourself over pleasing the person who’s trying to manipulate and control you. The abusers generally tend to tamper with the victim’s sense of sympathy and make them neglect their own well being to take care of the abuser. So, put a stop on this unhealthy cycle and break the pattern. Eat enough healthy meals and a well balanced diet, give yourself enough time to relax during the day and spend time with your friends and family, no matter what your abuser says.
- Set Boundaries:
Take a firm stand and tell the person who is emotionally abusing you to stop manipulating you, stop calling you names, stop being rude to you and stop overly criticizing you. Let them know what will happen if they do not put an end to their abusive behaviour; this may mean that you’ll have to cut your ties with this person and end your relationship with them.
- Seek Professional Help:
It is important to reach out for long term professional help in the form of therapy, support groups, and healthy friendships and relationships to help strengthen your sense of self and help you recover. Remember that you are not alone.
- Exit Plan:
Work on an exit plan with those that you love and rely upon, and take action when the time is right. Now that you have recognized that you are in an abusive situation, you must maintain a plan on how to get yourself out of that dynamic. Discuss your thoughts with a trusted friend, family member, counsellor or therapist. At the same time, make sure that you give yourself enough time and space to heal from the long term effects of emotional abuse.