What ‘Emotional Abuse’ Really Means

February 14, 2022by Raashi Thakran0

Even if a relationship never gets physically abusive, emotional abuse can escalate over time with devastating consequences, even death. Hence, Emotional abuse is just as serious as physical abuse.

When thinking about abuse, physical abuse is the first thing that comes to mind. But abuse can come in many forms. Emotional abuse is a form of mental torture described as an act that can cause someone to feel insulted or demeaned or wear down someone’s self-esteem.

It occurs over time as a pattern of behavior that’s consistent and repetitive.

Even if a relationship never gets physically abusive, emotional abuse can escalate over time with devastating consequences, even death. And while emotional abuse does not always lead to physical abuse, physical abuse in relationships is nearly always preceded and accompanied by emotional abuse. Hence, Emotional abuse is just as serious as physical abuse.

Some examples of emotional abuse may include making unreasonable demands, being overly critical, gaslighting, bullying, withholding kind words, passive-aggressive condescending compliments, verbal abuse, and mental manipulation. Mental or emotional abuse, while most common in dating and married relationships, can occur in any relationship including among friends, family members, and co-workers.

This kind of abuse constantly chips away at the victim’s self-worth and they start doubting themselves as well as their reality. This form of abuse can be very subtle hence it becomes difficult to even recognise it. The goal of this abuse is to control the victim – emotionally, financially and psychologically.


What are the signs of an emotionally abusive relationship?

1) Emotionally abusive people have unrealistic expectations – They want you to put them before your own needs. They make unrealistic demands to you – it could them wanting to spend all your time with them or not allowing you to spend time with your family or friends. They criticize you for not completing tasks according to their standards and expect you to share their opinions.

2) They create chaos – Emotionally abusive people like creating havoc for eg – starting an argument just for the sake of it, having drastic mood changes or sudden emotional outbursts, behaving so erratically and unpredictably that you feel like you are “walking on eggshells”

3) They try to control and isolate you – They try to control who you see or spend time with including friends and family – sometimes they don’t allow you to see your family for long periods. They invade your privacy by monitoring you digitally, have major trust issues, get jealous of outside relationships, and demand to know where you are at all times – thus, treating you like a possession or property. In most cases, it becomes difficult for the victim to escape such a relationship because they also control them financially.

4) Use Emotional Blackmail – Some examples include: manipulating and controlling you by making you feel guilty, humiliating you in public or in private, exaggerating your flaws or pointing them out in order to deflect attention or to avoid taking responsibility or denying that an event took place or lying about it (gaslighting)

Impact of emotional abuse on a victim According to a study, emotional abuse often has consequences just as severe as those of physical abuse. Maltreatment—physical or emotional—always leaves a trace in the brain. This mental abuse makes victims feel inadequate, insecure, unsafe, and traumatized. Furthermore, mental abuse can also trigger helplessness and dependence on the abuser (narcissistic and codependent dynamics). Emotional abuse can be highly traumatic for the victim and in some cases, individuals on the receiving end of mental abuse can develop mental disorders, like anxiety, depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. For the victim of emotional abuse, the most devastating effect is the inability to recognize that one is being emotionally abused. It generally means that the abused will stay in the relationship, trying to bargain with their abuser, generally thinking that they are the cause of the problem, not the abuser.

How to cope with emotional abuse? The first step is to recognise the abuse. Don’t fall into the trap of “others have it worse” or “it’s not too bad”. Don’t normalise the abuse. You can begin by asking yourself questions like – “Was that behaviour emotionally abusive?” or “How did that make me feel?”

1)Make yourself a priority – The perpetrator’s sole goal is to isolate and control you. They want to make you emotionally dependent. You need to take care of your physical and mental health. Stop worrying about pleasing the person abusing you and take care of yourself. Do something that will help you think positively and affirm who you are.

2) Create boundaries – Firmly tell the abusive person that they can no longer yell at you, call you names, insult you, be rude to you, and so on. Then, tell them what will happen if they choose to engage in this behavior.

3) It is not your fault – Don’t blame yourself for the abusive behaviour. It is important for you to realise that there is nothing wrong with you, it’s the abuser who needs to introspect and get help. Allow yourself to heal and practice self-compassion.

4) Build a support network – You don’t have to go through this alone. Talk to a trusted friend or family member who will listen without judgment. If that’s not an option, consider joining a support group for people who have experienced abuse or trauma. Seek professional help if you need it.

5) Come up with an exit plan – If your partner, friend, or family member has no intention of changing or working on their poor choices, you need to cut ties with them. You need to prioritise your mental and physical health and thus, you cannot stay in that abusive relationship forever.

Depending on your situation, you may need to take steps to end the relationship. Each situation is different. So, discuss your thoughts and ideas with a trusted friend, family member, or counselor regarding the best way forward. Know that you are not alone. Your feelings are valid and most importantly, you can’t change everyone. It is not your responsibility.

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