It can be difficult to identify whether you are being emotionally abused. This is because emotional abuse becomes normalised over time. Often, emotional abuse starts slowly. It’a ‘drip-drip’ process that gradually limits your sense of self and leaves you wondering what’s wrong with you. Self-doubt is common for those living with emotional abuse.
One common characteristic of emotional abuse is that the individuals find they regularly question themselves. They wonder whether they are wrong, too sensitive or imagining things. Underneath all the rumination is a sense that something is ‘off’. Most individuals give their emotional abuser the benefit of the doubt and the cycle continues.
Emotionally abused individuals often have low self-esteem or confidence issues. An abuser seems to pick up on this like a heat-seeking missile. Emotionally abused people also tend to show codependent characteristics – they are nurturers and want to fix their partners. Abusers tend to go for people who they feel will be easy to manipulate. I’ve written this blog post to help you pinpoint what’s really going on and to guide you to a decision on whether you are being emotionally abused.
You receive subtle putdowns
The nature of domestic abuse has changed. Thirty or forty years ago, domestic abuse wasn’t spoken about as much whereas nowadays the police are far more aware of the issues and there are harsher consequences for the perpetrators. Emotional abusers have found more subtle ways to dole out the abuse. Physical abuse has decreased as a result but emotional abuse has increased exponentially.
Abusers are clever, they find ways to belittle their victims in ways that are ambiguous. This is why abuse victims end up doubting themselves and wondering if they are being unreasonable (or whether they are going mad). Sarcasm is one way that abusive people emotionally abuse. If you do something wrong, you might get a comment like “Great job!”. A comment such as this is innocent enough but when it is delivered in the context of constant criticisms, it begins to take its toll.
Their behaviour is passive-aggressive
Emotional abusers love playing mind games. It gives them a kick. They will act as if they are in tune but their behaviour will show their true intent. If you nee to be somewhere at a certain time, they will get you there late. If this upsets you, they won’t admit that their behaviour was on purpose. Instead the focus will be back on you and how uptight you are. Inwardly though they will feel that they ‘won’ that round.
They will deliberately withhold love and affection
You are being emotionally abused if your partner gives you the silent treatment or withholds love and affection. This is often done as a punishment, a way to let you know that they aren’t happy with you. Emotional abuse isn’t only verbal. This behaviour is an indirect message to you. It causes anxiety and stress for the victim. There is a constant message that you need to try harder for their approval.
Control is their middle name
Emotional abuse is a form of control. The longer the abuse goes on for, the more the victim becomes a ‘shell’ of their former self. They feel they can’t do anything right. Abusers often alienate their partners from their family and friends. They dislike anyone intervening as this dilutes their control. It may start out seeming as if your partner really cares for you when they call you constantly. Initially, it’s great to be with someone who wants to know where you are all the time. After a while though, this seems suffocating. If your partner always wants to know where you are and who you are with, this is controlling. One way to coerce you into doing what they want might involve emotional blackmail. For example: “if you loved me you would…(insert behaviour here)..”
They will comment to make you feel self-conscious
Statements like “Wow, that’s a big helping of food” or “Is that what you are wearing?” are common verbal statements to unsettle you and make your question yourself and your judgement. Over time, this eats away at a person’s confidence.
Comments on the way you wear you hair, make-up or clothing will topple your confidence. They will introduce questions that leave you wondering whether you are good enough. Subtle, regular and damaging in the long-term.
Narcissistic tendencies are common
Abusers are often selfish and want things their way. They will rarely admit to being wrong and are adept at twisting facts around to put the blame on you. Crazy-making at it’s best. Their version of the world slowly replaces your own version and you end up leaving them to make all the decisions. it;s ego-boosting for them and saves you from sarcasm or criticism if you get it wrong.
Gaslighting occurs when you are led to believe something that isn’t true. For example – insisting that they have told you something when they haven’t. I once knew of a severe case where the abuser would hide their partner’s keys and then return them to their original place a while later. They then told their partner they must be going mad because the keys were there the whole time.
Emotional abuse is mental torture. You end up feeling like a confused prisoner. If you think you might be emotionally abused, speak to someone objective who can help you gain perspective. Brainwashing happens over time and I have seen this happen first-hand.
I have been in emotionally abusive relationships, and even with all my mental health training, I struggled to be certain about what was going on. Being emotionally invested skews our perceptions of what is really going on.
If you think you are in an emotionally abusive relationship, get in touch for advice and support.