According to noted Psychotherapist Esther Perel, in relationship, we require two things: stability and desire. We want to know that our partner has our back and that we can depend on them.
So what happens if your partner doesn’t show up in this way? What if your partner’s words and actions even seem a little mean or hostile?
There are many forms of abuse and sometimes, one can experience more than one of these by an abuser. The first thing that comes to mind usually is physical abuse or domestic violence; however, there are other forms of abuse that can go overlooked and not addressed because they don’t bear the same physical marks. This can result in the emotional abuse going on for years undetected.
There is no discrimination in abuse with regards to age, gender, socioeconomic status, education or ethnicity, anyone can become a victim of abuse. Awareness of the forms of abuse can allow you to spot them and stop the abuse as soon as possible.
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What Is an Emotionally Abusive Relationship?
Psychological abuse, often called emotional abuse, is also a form of abuse. Emotional abuse can result in trauma, anxiety or depression. This form of abuse is likely more common than physical abuse and consists of any behavior designed to hurt another person emotionally.
Why is emotional abuse so harmful? It has negative and long-lasting effects on an individual’s self-esteem.
Verbal abuse can be used to manipulate and degrade someone that can leave them feeling powerless and confused. Victims of emotional abuse actually start to believe their abuser resulting in feeling shame and doubtful about themselves and their self-worth.
Financial abuse is also a form of emotional abuse. Have you heard the saying “He who holds the money holds the power”? When someone uses financial means to control another person, this is also a form of abuse. Signs of financial abuse include things like restricting access to money, credit cards and bank accounts.
Emotional abuse will usually start out small so that the abuser can determine how far the victim will allow them to go. Over time, the abuse can build until it becomes very frightening and debilitating for the victim. The cycle perpetuates itself and only continues to worsen, ultimately leading to further abuse and heightened fears. This ultimately paralyzes the victim, making it very difficult to share the abuse with friends or loved ones.
Signs of Emotional Abuse
If you find yourself or anyone you love having the signs below, it’s time to muster your courage and face the issue:
- Humiliation, criticizing and yelling – When someone frequently humiliates you, either publicly or privately, this can be a sign of abuse. Do you always feel that you’re wrong or that you can’t do anything right because of comments your partner makes?
- Threatening – If someone threatens you and you fear for your safety even if they never act on it, this can be a sign of abuse.
- Imitating or making fun of – There is a difference between poking fun at and joking at someone else’s expense. This is usually done by the abuser to make them feel better about themselves and more superior.
- Ignoring or isolating – This can be used as a form of punishment. Being ignored by someone you love is painful.
- Gaslighting – Manipulating someone so much that they think they are going insane.
- Controlling and lecturing – Treating someone as though they are child and preventing them from doing things they desire, and lecturing them for having these desires.
- Accusations and blame – The abuser doesn’t take any responsibility, and blames his victim for anything and everything that goes wrong.
My Personal Experience with Abuse
Unfortunately, I’ve experienced emotional abuse myself in the form of financial abuse. I was married for 13 years to a man who controlled me with money.
The sad thing is that I didn’t even realize it until I was out of the marriage. I found myself doubting my worth and was so beaten down that I justified his actions all while feeling unfulfilled in my relationship.
Here are some examples from my abusive relationship. I wasn’t allowed to touch the thermostat in my home as I didn’t pay the mortgage or phone bill (Controlling). While grocery shopping, my personal hygiene items like deodorant or tampons were separated from the family groceries so that I could pay for them myself (Humiliation). He never wanted to combine our finances so, on occasion, I would have to borrow money from my husband. He would then require me to postdate checks to him and place them on the mirror in our bedroom as a reminder until I paid him back (Humiliation).
I must point out that my ex-husband did not exhibit these behaviors toward me at the beginning of our relationship. There were no “red flags” that alerted me to the forthcoming abuse that I was to confront. It was a gradual progression that occurred after our first son was born and continued to escalate 4 years later after our second son was born.
I was ultimately controlled by my ex-husband and made to feel inadequate and wrong until it was simply unbearable for me.
Although I attempted to seek help through counseling, my ex-husband was simply not willing to change. It was only at the very end when I asked him for a divorce that he was even remotely interested in discussing his behavior. By that point, I simply had too much respect for myself to succumb to any false promises from him.
In the end, it was a very long struggle to find my voice and the strength to stand up for myself and say, enough is enough.
How to Move Beyond an Emotionally Abusive Relationship
If you feel that you’re being emotionally abused, trust your instincts.
Realize that you’re not responsible. You can’t control what someone else does. But now that you’re aware of the situation, it’s time to take your power back. Take control of your life and find help if you need it.
1. Set Boundaries
First, identify what your boundaries are. What are you willing to accept for your emotional and physical limits? And what makes you feel stressed or uncomfortable?
The only way to set good boundaries is to know where you stand. Your partner isn’t a mind reader, so you need to communicate your feelings and boundaries in a direct straightforward way.
Setting boundaries is a sign of a healthy relationship and you should each be willing to honor them.
2. Remove Yourself from the Situation
The ease of doing this will depend on your situation. Before you leave, be sure to have an exit strategy in place. If you feel that you could be in danger, this will keep you safe while you prepare to get everything in order so you can leave for good.
Speak with friends and family that you trust about your plan to leave and seek assistance. Always remember… You’re not alone!
There are many organizations available to help you. If you’re worried about how you will financially support yourself or where you will go, don’t worry, there are shelters available to assist you with all of this every step of the way.
3. Seek Assistance from Friends, Family and Professional Counselors If Needed
A few places to seek assistance include your church, a counselor, or you can find a therapist at GoodTherapy.org.
If your relationship is very abusive, you can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at TheHotline.org.
Not only is it possible to survive an abusive relationship, but also you can thrive and be healthy and happy.
Be sure you have the support you need and make yourself a priority. Realize your self-worth. Self-care is very important in the healing process.
When you set boundaries to eliminate the abuse or choose to leave, you’re in control of your life better. You’re also empowering yourself and practicing self-love at the same time.
Always remember that you are in charge of your life and have the power of choice on your side. Don’t let others diminish your light or power. You’re stronger than you know!
Featured photo credit: Max Rovensky via unsplash.com