Signs of Emotional Abuse and How to Get Help
Dr. Carmilla Solomon
Emotional abuse is pervasive and easily missed by those caught up in the drama of the relationship. It can occur in relationships between spouses, friends, couples, parents, and children, or other close bonds. Knowing the types of emotional abuse and their signs can help you identify a problem and get help as soon as possible.
Defining Emotional Abuse
Emotional abuse is often referred to as psychological abuse. Unlike physical abuse, the abuser works to control and manipulate another person with threats, humiliation, and isolation. They threaten to harm themselves, their intended target, other family members such as their own children, or their target’s extended family and friends.The emotional abuser may use isolation as a weapon to cut the person off from other people who could help them. For example, an emotionally abusive husband may demand that his wife “unfriend and unfollow” male friends of hers on social media.
The abuser may use other tactics to control their target such as “gaslighting,” actually denying their past abusive behaviors to make the person seem “crazy” to others. These forms of abuse can leave a lasting and traumatic imprint on the intended victim.
An emotional abuser tends to behave in a pattern. He or she may act out of control and reckless for a period of time, and then when confronted, the abuser will use psychological abuse to intimidate and control their partner. Some abusers may offer an apology for their past behavior and “tow the line” for a time until they have won the trust of their victim again. Then the cycle continues.
Types of Emotional Abuse
What types of emotional abuse can a person wield? It is hard to believe that someone would want to wound another person on an emotional level. Unfortunately, unhealthy relationships do develop.
Since emotional abuse is about control, an abuser may use any of the following methods:
- Accusations and Denial
If you are familiar with an emotional abuser’s behavior, then you may recognize that one person may use several of these tactics on their victim.
Examples of Emotional Abuse
An emotional abuser may make threats towards you and those you love. To control you, they may keep you on edge with their behavior; one minute showing love and attention and berating you the next.
An emotional abuser may check in with you quite often by phone or text and expect a prompt answer. They may assert their dominance by showing up unexpectedly at your workplace or an event. It is not uncommon for an abuser to review their target’s phone records and computer browser history.
When it comes to financial matters, the abuser may treat you as if you are ignorant in that area. They may withhold cash and debit cards from you or lecture you about the money you spend, even for basic needs.
Public appearances with someone who is an emotional abuser might end in embarrassment. The abuser may make remarks about your appearance or make sarcastic comments about your job or hobbies. They may belittle you in front of people or tell you secretly that people do not like you. When say you would like to do something interesting, they may laugh at you or tell you that you don’t stand a chance at that activity.
An emotional abuser’s own insecurities are loud, and they project them onto the people they are supposed to care about or love. Those in an emotionally abusive relationship are often accused of cheating on their mate, although the affair isn’t true, or worse, it is the abuser who is involved in an extramarital affair.
An abuser might keep doing things to upset their victim, only to deny their behavior in front of others. This game of denial and blame is common as the victim is portrayed as overreacting. In order to rationalize their own behavior to others, the abuser might lie about the other person to make people dislike the victim – never revealing their own abusive behavior to the third party.
Additional Signs of Emotional Abuse
In many instances, the abuser wants the victim to rely solely on them. They do not want their spouse, child, or friend to accept help from others. This can lead to an unhealthy codependent relationship as the abuser asserts control over the other person.
- The abuser may isolate the victim from others, screening their phone calls or visitors.
- The abuser may withhold gestures of affection or sexual relations until you’ve given in to their control or demands.
- The abuser is often indifferent about your feelings.
- The abuser may completely ignore you as you speak to them and notmake eye contact with you.
- Behind your back, the abuser may assassinate your character by telling lies so others will sympathize with them.
- An emotional abuser can make you believe that perhaps you can’t live life without them or are unable to function independently.
People led to believe their abusers may find themselves making excuses for the other person’s awful behavior. The victims may blame themselves for the abuser’s actions. This victim mindset is seen in codependent relationships where the target has lost all sense of self and even places the other person’s needs and wants before their own basic needs.
If you are in immediate danger, contact emergency services right away.
If the examples of an emotionally abusive relationship resonated with you, know that you are not alone. There is never a good reason for abuse, physical or emotional. Just because the bruises are internal does not make them less traumatic. You are not responsible for another human being’s behavior.
Emotional abusers create a pattern of behavior. Unfortunately, the abuser may repeat their behavior months or years from now. Seek guidance from a mental health professional or counselor who can help you decide what options are available to you and that fit your circumstance.
To begin the process of healing, you will need to take a step back from the abuser and that environment. It is time to remember who you are – the beautiful person God created in His image – and to set boundaries. Limit the access people have to you so that you can begin to rebuild what was torn down.
Emotional abuse can lead to other mental health disorders as the victim tries to protect themselves from the trauma. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and depression are common conditions in abuse survivors. Sleep problems may arise with insomnia or disturbing dreams. Children living with an emotional abuser may suffer from night terrors that lead them to scream in the night while dreaming with their eyes wide open.
A mental health care professional such as a psychiatrist or psychologist can assist with the healing process. A counselor can help you set new boundaries and learn how to build your self-esteem again. When it comes to talk therapy, your mental health care team might recommend one-on-one sessions or group sessions.
Journaling your thoughts and feelings after surviving emotional abuse will help you to identify negative thoughts and beliefs brought on by the abuser’s actions. Once you can identify these dysfunctional thoughts, you will be able to flip them and affirm a new truth. This technique of changing your perspective and reframing your thoughts is a part of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
CBT is used for anxiety disorders but is useful in replacing manifested behaviors into conducive behaviors that will promote healing.
Make sure you are open and honest with your therapist or other mental health professional. It is easy to get wrapped up in the drama of an emotional abuser, especially if you love the person. However, please remember, that “love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-5 NLT)
You are worthy of love and kindness. Some people, for whatever reason, are incapable of showing genuine love for another person. They misuse and abuse the people they are supposed to love and protect. But you are ready to learn to love yourself again and move forward. You are not alone.
“Fed Up”, Courtesy of Gemma Chua-Tran, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Man in Hiding”, Courtesy of Danny G, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Depressed”, Courtesy of Anh Nnguyen, Unsplash.com, CC0 License “Cherry Blossoms”, Courtesy of Yuki Yoshida, Unsplash.com, CC0 License