What is Emotional Abuse? Signs and Impact
The signs of emotional abuse can be easy to miss. They are subtle and sometimes hidden from others outside of the relationship. Emotional abuse is the act of someone trying to control another person by the use of emotions to demean or belittle that person. It often happens in marriages or dating relationships, but it can also occur in other relationships. Emotional abuse is a non-physical abuse that is focused on control and isolation.
Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits. – Proverbs 18:21, ESV
Different types of emotional abuse.
There are three types of emotional abuse, each of which has other signs or characteristics. The characteristics may overlap from one type to another, but each has elements that are specific to that type.
Aggressing emotional abuse.This form of emotional abuse revolves around aggressive behavior from the abuser. The abuser tends to portray forceful and controlling actions. They are sometimes even on the hostile end of the attitude scale. This abuser shows the following characteristics when abusing the victim.
Name-calling and belittling. This can also be in the form of using a derogatory pet name that is a form of ridicule, for example, my “chubbykin princess.” Using a pet name like this portrays the abuser’s feelings toward the victim. Name-calling is a way for the abuser to belittle the victim.
Threatening. Threatening behavior includes instilling fear in another person concerning their safety, property, or other loved ones. The abuser may also threaten things like the safety of a person’s pet or the security of their job.
Blaming. This is evident when the abuser accuses the victim of causing the mistake or problem. The abuser may also blame the victim for doing something wrong.
Ordering. In this situation, the abuser will usually order the victim around as if they are a boss. They expect that person to follow every instruction that they give without any concern about how it will look, feel, or impact the victim.
Criticizing. This is the behavior of constantly criticizing everything about the victim. There is nothing that is off limits and they will criticize someone just to make them feel inferior.
Denying emotional abuse.
The denying type of emotional abuse is evident through actions that show the abuser believes they have every right to treat the victim badly. The abuser will undermine anything that the victim says or perceives.
Invalidation. An abuser will use invalidation techniques to make the victim feel as though their thoughts and opinions do not matter. This can be seen in accusations of the victim being overly sensitive, ridiculous, and selfish.
Denial of actions. When it comes to their actions, an emotional abuser will deny that they did anything to cause the victim to feel hurt or abused. They will refuse to accept any blame and will most commonly profess that they have no idea what the victim is referring to.
Refusing to acknowledge. Most abusers will refuse to acknowledge that the victim understands the situation. They will refuse to listen or communicate because they feel the victim’s thoughts are stupid and insignificant.
Withholding. Withholding is when the abuser purposely keeps any type of affection or attention from the victim. This is a form of emotional blackmail. Unless the victim does something for the abuser then the victim will not receive any affirmation of love.
Minimizing emotional abuse.
When it comes to this type of emotional abuse the abuser will normally exhibit actions of extreme denial. They will make the victim appear to be irrational about something trivial. The abuser may also lead the victim to believe that they are insignificant.
Questions emotions. The abuser will behave in a way that makes the victim question their own emotions. The victim may begin to doubt their perceptions and thought processes.
Trivializing. This is when the abuser refuses to encourage or support the victim. The abuser will make the victim feel as though their accomplishment was insignificant and unworthy of praise.
Signs of emotional abuse.
The victim doesn’t always recognize the emotional abuse because they are unaware of the internal intentions of the abuser. Emotional abuse can be wrapped in fake actions of affirmations. The abuser may show affection but most of the time these actions are followed by some sort of emotional attachment leading to control of the victim.
The above characteristics of an abusive person aren’t the only signs of emotional abuse. Other signs can help identify if you are in an emotionally abusive marriage or relationship:
- Feelings of being hurt, confused, or depressed when you are around the other person
- You feel like the other person has unrealistic expectations that you cannot meet
- The other person seems to start arguments just to argue
- Erratic or confusing behavior
- Drastic mood changes
- Humiliating you in front of others
- Using fear to manipulate what you do or say
- Monitoring where you go and whom you spend time with
- Control of the finances
- Using character assassination
- Using control and shame to manipulate you
What is the impact of emotional abuse?
The impact of emotional abuse can last for years if you do not learn to recognize the signs. Because this type of abuse is subtle, you may not know that you have been a victim of emotional abuse. Identifying the signs is the first step in the process of overcoming the abuse and healing.
Loss of self.
The most common impact that emotional abuse has is found within yourself. You begin to lose yourself in the manipulation that has been present in the relationship. When this happens, you begin to doubt your ability to make decisions as well as know right from wrong. The loss of self will also affect your self-esteem. You may begin to believe that you are unworthy of being loved and wanted.
When your emotions are manipulated you can become overwhelmed and overcome with anxiety. You may also find yourself depressed and unable to find any reason to have joy. Emotional abuse can cause you to feel stressed in response to the behavior of the abuser. When you are constantly seeking to please the other person, you may become nervous to the point of physically becoming ill.
Eating disorders, alcohol, and drug abuse.
The stress of abuse affects your emotions. In response to this stress, you may turn to food or other substances to self-medicate. Using food as a comfort when you feel inadequate is a response to emotional abuse. The same is said for the consumption of alcohol or illegal substances.
Just as physical abuse can trigger PTSD, emotional abuse can do the same thing. You may find yourself unable to sleep or eat because of emotional abuse. You may find yourself agreeing with the abuser and end up trapped in this abusive relationship.
There are physical symptoms that you could begin to experience as a result of emotional abuse. Heart palpitations, ulcers, confusion, and insomnia are symptoms that can begin to present themselves as you find yourself caught in an emotionally abusive relationship.
This is the act of trying to figure out how you can change your behavior or actions so that you will avoid the abuse. This is the thought process that says if you stop doing one thing the abuser will stop abusing you.
How to remove yourself from the relationship.
If you notice any of the signs of emotional abuse you may need to evaluate the relationship. You can decide to leave the relationship and begin a healing process. It may not be an easy process but with the right support system, it is doable. This process begins with identifying the relationship as abusive.
Put yourself first.
As you begin to leave the relationship know that you are doing so because you deserve to be well physically, mentally, and emotionally. Find a place that makes you feel safe. Take time to take care of yourself. Take time to find who you are in Christ.
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. – 1 Peter 2:9, ESV
Don’t try to fix them.
Remember no matter what you do, you cannot change the other person. Only God can change them. It doesn’t matter if you change the way you look or walk, they will still be abusive. The only way for the abuser to change is to understand why they abuse others. God is the one who has the answers they need to find.
You have to decide your boundaries and be adamant about them to the abusive person. Only you can set these and hold to them. If you choose to stay in the relationship you have to be able to stand your ground and let the abusive person know you will not tolerate the abuse. Trust God to give you strength as you stand on His Word and your boundaries.
Avoid engaging in a conflict. This will only fuel the abuse and could cause more harm as you try to stand your ground in stopping the abuse. Walk away from any situation that could lead to any type of engagement. Remember, no matter what you say, they will not be swayed to believe you.
Find a support system.
It is important to have support as you begin to heal from emotional abuse. Creating a system of family and friends can help overcome the feeling of being alone in a tough situation.
The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. – Psalm 9:9, ESV
Seek professional help.
One of the best places to find support is through faith-based counseling services. There are Christian counselors who are trained to help you identify signs of emotional abuse and overcome its effects.
If you find yourself in a relationship that causes you to fear for your safety seek the assistance of professionals. They can help you with an exit plan and get you to a safe place.
“Praying”, Courtesy of Patrick Fore, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Praying Man”, Courtesy of Jack Sharp, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Prayer”, Courtesy of Ben White, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Hands of Praise”, Courtesy of Jon Tyson, Unsplash.com, CC0 License