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Emotional abuse is the most difficult kind abuse to recognize, both for the abused person and that person's friends and family. Often, this behavior is one-on-one behind closed doors. So friends are not there to see it happen. But it is often difficult for the person being abused to recognize the abuse.
This is because emotional abuse is a form of brainwashing. It tends to reinforce negative emotions and self-perceptions that may have already existed within us. When our own irrational thoughts are reinforced, it turns the world on its ear. Up is down and right is wrong, so that we come to believe what our loved one is confronting us with every day.
"Loved one" is a dicey term, of course. What makes emotional abuse so insidious is that it comes from the person we invest the bulk of our emotional energy into. We love this person, but he seems to find us lacking in every way possible. If you naturally have self-esteem issues, then the natural reaction is to fight to be "worthy" of your partner's love.
This is exactly what the abuser wants. The emotionally abusive partner wants control over the relationship. This person tends to be narcissistic and controlling. Once again, "narcissistic" is an important word. This means the person is thinking more about his or her needs than your needs, or the needs of the relationship. The abusive person is disinterested in whatever needs you bring to the relationship, and wants to control your life in order to fulfill his or her needs alone.
Spotting Emotional Abuse
Recognizing abuse is a huge part of stopping abuse. When you are able to tell yourself, "He's wrong" or "This isn't right" you are half the way to saying "Stop this behavior". So a good part of this article is going to be about spotting abuse. Afterwards, I will discuss about ending the abuse itself.
Types of Emotional Abuse
- Verbal Threats
If your loved one is prone to threats, this is a form of emotional abuse. Your partner might threaten you with leaving the relationship, leaving the house or staying gone all night. This is a bluff meant to keep you in constant dread of what personal disaster might happen next.
Note that threats tend to get worse over time. Verbal threats might eventually turn into physical threats, as your abuser gets a better feel of what you will accept. This won't get better of its own accord.
- Fits of Anger
The abuser is prone to fits of anger. This is a means of cowering one's partner, to make the person feel they have committed some grave error or lapse of judgment. Once again, this is an attempt to control the other person.
You have to realize that this is actually childish behavior, no matter how threatening it is. Your partner is throwing a tantrum, the way a child might. You also need to understand there is never justification for this, that nothing you may have done justifies your partner's anger.
- Constant Criticism
If your partner finds fault with everything you do, this is a form of emotional abuse. An abuser wants to ruin a person's self-image. By constantly criticizing a loved one's characteristics and actions, one can begin to restrict and control their actions out of a desire to avoid displeasing this person.
Criticism might center on the clothes you wear, the food you cook, the television shows you watch, the friends you keep, the opinions or beliefs you hold, the job you work, the hobbies you enjoy, or almost any other thing which defines you.
Soon enough, you'll begin to believe this nonsense.
It would be irrational for your loved one to stay in the relationship, if he or she really believed all of this. It's an attempt to make you believe he or she is doing you a favor just staying around. Once again, this is an attempt to control every aspect of your life.
- Making You the Butt of the Joke
This goes hand in hand with the above. This is an attempt to trivialize your life. He wants to diminish what it is you do, making you nothing more than an object of derision.
When confronted about this, the standard reaction of the abuser is that you are too sensitive and can't take a joke. Once again, this is an attempt to control your behavior, so you feel guilty even taking up for yourself.
See that there's a pattern forming. The pattern is that you are not worthy of love and should therefore be happy with whatever he says or does.
- Name Calling
This one is simple. If your love one has a habit of calling you names, you are being emotionally abused. This is a direct attempt to undermine your self-esteem. There's no justification for this.
Once again, name calling is childish. If your child called you a name, you wouldn't stand for it. There is no reason to stand for it when your partner does it.
- Whatever You Say Is Wrong
If your loved one counters everything you say, this is an attempt to blunt your every initiative. I've heard of men who ask where a woman wants to eat, then refuses to go eat there because it's a bad idea. This might happen, even if this is normally the man's favorite restaurant.
Countering is a common form of emotional abuse. This might be something more than simply eating habits, but can include any idea, emotion or opinion you have. If your partner seems to disagree with any opinion you hold, this is a form of emotional abuse.
This is a systematic attempt to wear down your sense of self-worth. No opinion you hold is correct, so how can you be qualified to make any decision in our relationship?
- Stop Consulting You on Decisions
This last behavior will eventually lead to life decisions being made without your consent. Emotional abuse is meant to gain control of a relationship, so the end result will be to take all decision making out of your hands.
If your loved one does this once or twice and you let them get away with it, then it opens the gate for more of this behavior. An abuser is like a child testing the bounds of the relationship. This person is a bully. If you let a bully get away with it, the bully is encouraged to do it again.
- The Silent Treatment
If your partner stops talking to you as a punishment for something you supposedly did, this is a form of emotional abuse.
Once again, this is a way to modify your behavior. This is the flip side of the verbal threat; it is the non-verbal threat. It is meant to imply the same idea. It is telling you to stop doing whatever it is you're doing, or else I will withdraw from the relationship altogether.
- Discounting and Denial
Does your loved one discount or deny any of the actions above?
This, too, is a part of the emotional abuse. Your partner is prone to lie, so why should he or she fess up to their actions?
When you begin to recognize emotional abuse and want to end it, you have two choices. One, you get out of the relationship. Two, you stay in the relationship and try to end the abuse.
In the latter case, you will have to confront your abuser. You will have to say that you recognize what's happening and you aren't going to take it anymore. Invariably, your abuser will deny what's going on.
It's the case of "believing me or believing your lying eyes". Trust yourself. If several of the behaviors listed above are going on, then you are being emotionally abused. If that's the case, it needs to stop. Otherwise, you will never be in the relationship you want and deserve.
How To Stop the Abuse
Once you have spotted emotional abuse, it is time to face up to it and stop it. In most cases, I would suggest that the abusive person is not going to change, so it's better to get out of the relationship. If you decide to remain in the relationship, then several things are going to have to change.
Confront Your Abuser
Whenever abuse happens, you need to confront your abuser. You have to say, "This is abusive behavior". The abuser will deny it, of course. But you can't be convinced you are being sensitive and humorless and making things up.
Stand your ground and let your partner know that know better. This brings the relationship back into the real world, instead of the world of lies your partner is trying to construct.
You have to let your abuser know you will not be emotionally abused. You have to be adamant about this. If his terms for continuing the relationship is to control and dominate it, then you aren't going to stay.
It is not too much to ask that our partner respect us. Respect is the foundation of a healthy relationship. Respect is an essential component of "true love". No person is going to agree with every opinion or action you take; but respecting your actions and opinions is essential.
Just remember; the natural order of things is that our loved ones respect us. Any deviation from this order is your abuser's fault.
Build Your Self-Esteem
If you have been in a relationship where everything you've done is wrong, then your self-esteem can't be high. You have to keep telling yourself that the world doesn't work that way.
We're all flawed human beings. Not everything we do is rational and wise. On the other hand, not everything we do is irrational and wrong.
You're going to make mistakes. Join the club. That doesn't mean you are unworthy of love and respect.
If he or she doesn't like the music you like, the t.v. shows and movies you watch, the friends you keep, this is no reason for your loved one to constantly berate you about it. Life is too short to overanalyze trivial stuff. Unless these are somehow harmful to you, it's a matter of personal taste and preference. If something which does us no harm brings us enjoyment, it can't be all that bad.
If any person's life is held up to a magnifying glass, we could be made to look the fool. So don't internalize every little criticism. It's easy to focus on the negatives. Focus on the positives, too.
Talk to a Friend About This
If you think you are being emotionally abused, talk to a friend or family member about it. An abusive relationship distorts your perspective. It's good to get an outside perspective, to know if you're imagining things.
Besides, it helps to talk about these things.
Take Responsibility For Your Life
Finally, if you recognize that you are being emotionally abused, make certain to change this. You deserve better, no matter what your abuser is telling you. Don't linger in an abusive relationship. Don't be a victim.
If you try to end the abuse and it doesn't change, then you must get out of the relationship. Behavior might change for a few days, but you need to make certain your abuser understands the bounds. If in a month or two the abuse continues, you must leave the relationship.
We get into relationships to satisfy our need for companionship, to find someone who will support us and fill our many needs. If your companion is incapable of doing that, it is time to find one who can.
Recognizing Emotional Abuse
Emotional abuse. It’s this really awful form of abuse that starts off silently and subtlety. It tends to occur in emotionally intimate relationships (like, between boyfriends and girlfriends). Without getting too heavy right now, you know you’re a victim of emotional abuse:
If you argue with them, they say you’re stubborn.
If you’re quiet, they argue with you anyway.
If you call them, they say you’re needy and clingy.
If they call you, they think you should be grateful.
If you don’t act like you love them, they’ll try to win you over.
If you tell them you love them, they take advantage of you.
If you dress sexy, they say you’re a slut or you look as if you are “trying to impress someone else”.
If you don’t dress nice, they say you look bad.
When you don’t sleep with them, they say you don’t love them.
If you tell them your problems, they say you’re bothering them.
If you don’t tell them your problems, they say you don’t trust them.
If you try to bring up a problem, they say you’re nagging.
If they bring up a problem, they yell.
If you break a promise, you “can’t be trusted”.
If they break a promise, it’s because “they had to”.
If you cheat, they want to punish you by locking you up or beating you.
If they cheat, they expect to be given another chance.
As you can tell, this is pretty much a losing situation for the victim and everything is a double standard with an emotional abuser. Everything with them is a constant method of control and manipulation. I was once in an emotionally abusive relationship and it was hell on earth, let me tell you.
If you’re still not really understanding where I’m coming from, I’ve got a prime example for you. Ever seen The Holiday? You know, that movie from a few years ago with Cameron Diaz, Jack Black, Kate Winslet, and Jude Law about two lonely women who take up vaca in each other’s homes over the holidays and learn all this stuff about themselves in the process? Yea, that one. If you have absolutely no clue what the heck I’m talking about, I’ll try to recap as best I can for you in a few.
This movie is a shining example of emotional abuse if I’ve ever seen one. Like I said before, emotional abuse is subtle and most of the time you don’t even know it’s going down until it’s too late.
In terms of this film, I wanna talk about Iris (Kate Winslet) and Jasper (Rufus Sewell). This clown (Jasper) is a classic emotional abuser. I hate to ruin it for the two of you who haven’t seen it, but here’s what happens: Iris and Jasper were co-workers and also a couple for a while, but eventually broke up. Jasper enters into a new relationship with another co-worker but is still “hanging out” with Iris every now and then. At a Christmas party, Iris gives Jasper a gift. He in turn, offers up an oh-so-classy romp in the back seat of his car. 20 minutes later, he announces his engagement to his girlfriend in front of everyone. Iris is obviously crushed.
Fast forward two weeks. Iris makes a quick getaway from London to L.A. for two weeks to get over Jasper. She meets Miles (Jack Black), starts to get over Jasper and all is good in the world. One night she’s chilling at the house and who pops up but Jasper’s lame self rambling about how he misses her and how he’s so confused (cue the violins). Meanwhile, he’s still engaged to the other woman (he doesn’t seem too confused about that, though) and makes no mention of breaking up with her or being back in a relationship with Iris.
Here’s what I want you to take away from all this. Jasper did not want to be with Iris. He simply wanted her to want him. It’s a classic manipulation and control tactic used by emotional abusers. While he’s off frolicking with his new woman (the one he actually decided to marry), Iris is running off to some other woman’s (Cameron Diaz’s) house thousands of miles away just to get over this moron, attempting to kill herself, but eventually finding her happiness and being content without him. Granted, Iris allowed this to happen to herself by remaining involved with an already-involved guy. The whole movie would have never happened had Iris had enough confidence to not play second fiddle to the fiancée, but that’s another topic for another time. The point is, it’s an ego boost for Jasper to know that he is obviously unattainable, yet still has this woman chasing after him like an idiot. At any point, he could cut it off completely. But it made him feel and look good for Iris to continue this ridiculous cat and mouse game with him.
Nonetheless, I want you to keep in mind that when the person you’re feeling doesn’t want you, they will display it. Forget what they say. Actions speak a heck of a lot louder than words. Just because they call you every now and again, go out with you a few times a month, and spend a little cash here and there, does not a relationship make. If they like you, you will know it. You won’t have to wonder or try to find ways to force them to display their affection. And you certainly won’t need to “get away” just to escape the hurt they’ve inflicted. You’re not a kid so don’t kid yourself. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.
Illustration from Clyde Mendes column at MetroSexual LA