With so much (rightful) attention being paid to physical abuse and domestic violence, I wanted to also shine some light on emotional abuse, which can be just as psychologically damaging. But it is also, in some ways, easier to rationalize. People who are being emotionally abused might downplay their own victimization by comparing themselves to people who are being physically abused: “Well, I’d never stand for that!”
But are you accepting treatment that you shouldn’t? Are you being emotionally abused? Here are some indicators.
1) There is a lack of reciprocity in the relationship.
You feel like you’re always giving, and they’re always taking. And you’re not just doing it because you want to make them feel good; it’s because you’re trying to avoid having them make you feel bad.
2) That’s because your partner has a tendency to make everything your fault.
You can’t assume support on even the most mundane topics that have nothing to do with the relationship, because you feel like he/she is looking for a way to make you to blame.
3) Your self-esteem is being systematically dismantled.
If you’re second-guessing yourself all the time, it’s entirely possible that’s the abuser’s intent. If you doubt yourself, then you have to put all your faith and trust in the abuser. It’s a way of maintaining the power dynamic.
So if you realize you’re questioning yourself, then go to someone you trust (outside of the relationship) and get that person’s opinion. See if they’re noticed changes in you since being in the relationship. But if you can’t do this, think about why…
4) It’s likely that the abuser has isolated you.
He/she has you distrusting the other people in your life. Again, that maintains the power dynamic in their favor. This might also increase your financial dependence–another way of controlling you.
Or maybe you don’t want to approach others because you’re ashamed to say what’s going on in your relationship. That is one of the clearest indicators that you are being abused: That you’ve started keeping secrets, perhaps even to yourself.
5) You’re minimizing the occurrences, and the ways they make you feel.
When your partner says something demeaning, when your partner does something coercive/controlling/disempowering/humiliating, you make excuses. You make it your fault. You say that the abuser is right, you do need to correct those things. Because if you did, then he/she wouldn’t have anything to complain about.
Or you tell yourself that you’re taking it all wrong. You’re taking it too hard. You’re making too much of this. After all, it’s not like your partner hits you or anything extreme, right?
Emotional abuse is just as devastating as physical. It breaks you down, shames, isolates, and confuses you. It’s time to call it what it is and let other people know what’s happening. Then you can start to figure out what the right next step is for you–if it’s seeing a therapist, confronting your partner, or making plans to leave the relationship (domestic violence resources can be very helpful in this process.)
** If you or someone you know is struggling with emotional abuse, contact Aspen Counseling Services to schedule an Initial Assessment.