How would you know if you were suffering emotional abuse? Although we don’t always realise it, one of the most common forms of abuse is emotional although a lot of people don’t realise until it’s almost too late that they’re being affected by this. Maybe this is because it builds up over time and the victim often becomes desensitised to it. Even if it’s not intentional, insults, threats, humiliation are all parts of abuse and are often used to control another person.
Another aspect of such abuse is that it’s often minimised and although most of us learnt in childhood that “sticks and stones my break my bones, but names will never hurt me”, this isn’t true. This abuse gets right to the core of another person and attacks their sense of self.
It may include a pattern of one or more of the following abuses: insults, criticisms, aggressive demands or expectations, threats, rejection, neglect, blame, emotional manipulation and control, isolation, punishment, terrorizing, ignoring, or teasing.
Harassment, physical and sexual abuse, and witnessing abuse of others are also forms of emotional abuse, as is coercion.
Emotional abuse can take place anywhere: at home, at school, in relationships, and in the workplace. Contrary to popular beliefs that bullies are only found in the school yard, many bullies also exist in the workplace and in the home. People who appear happy and shiny on the outside can be very different on the inside. First of all, there’s –
- The passive-aggressive colleague or partner – this is someone who passively expresses anger. This can be by repeatedly keeping you waiting or by constantly changing arrangements. The underlying message is that their life is more important than yours but there can also be a denial of feelings, back-handed compliments or sarcasm. If you live with someone like that, it’s easy to imagine that you’ve done something to upset your partner or colleague but, if questioned, they’ll say that they’re fine or “I’m not annoyed in any way”. You can spend many hours mulling this over, trying to work out what the other person is thinking or feeling. If a person can’t communicate in a straightforward way or uses sarcasm a lot, you might be dealing with someone who’s passive-aggressive.
- The critic – criticism isn’t the same as advice and when you feel judged, no matter what you say or do, it usually has a big impact on your personal or working life. Someone who’s very critical often criticises the person rather than their actions. Although they may not call you names, they often insult your values and opinions, making disparaging remarks about what you say and feel, often because they want to have some control. The person may criticise your every move – for instance, by saying “Why don’t you ever…..?” or “Are you really going to wear that….?”. Does this ring a bell?
- The refuser – this is someone who refuses to communicate, engage in conversation or discuss feelings. They often refuse to admit that there’s a problem. This leads to negative feelings and it can seem as if there’s a barrier between you but it also often leads to you feeling guilt and maybe resentment. If the other person refuses to be honest and open with you, you may wonder why you’re in the relationship at all as it’s easy to become angry and frustrated.
- The narcissist – this is the person who behaves as if they know everything, is best at everything and usually tells you just how good they are. You can never measure up to this person as they put themselves above others and often lack insight and empathy. They might turn this around to you, saying that you ‘overthink’ things but who can make that judgement about you? They can easily jeopardise special occasions which include any anniversary or special day for you and if they feel hurt or rejected, they are capable of destroying everything around them.
So, how can you handle this sort of abuse? One helpful thing can be to step back from the situation and trust your instincts and feelings about people. This is very hard if the person behaving like this is your partner because you’ve built up a life with them. However, it’s easy to minimise emotional abuse and think that the other person will change. They won’t – you will have to be the one to change as they won’t see the need to do so.
If you feel that there’s a chance for the relationship/friendship, try writing down what you feel and what they’ve said and give them one last opportunity to address it. If they still refuse to accept that there’s a problem, it may be time to step away for good.
I hope that you’ve enjoyed reading this blog and that if you’re struggling to find happiness or have other issues that are difficult to cope with, that you will come to see that there is usually a way out if we can find the strength to follow a new path.