Mental Health


Mandy Kloppers

How emotional abuse affects your mental health

Emotional abuse affects your mental health – big time. No question about it. The scary part is that often, it creeps up on you, little by little. One day you wake up and realise that you are a quivering mess. Not at all the person you were when you began the relationship with your emotional abuser.

Over time, the little acts of aggression towards you begin to fill you with self doubt. You start to mistrust your own perceptions and blame yourself for their anger and emotional outbursts. Yes, if only you had said it differently or been a better boyfriend/girlfriend, you wouldn’t be in this mess. They play with your emotions, they enjoy unsettling you as it keeps them ‘on top’ and gives them power. Emotional abuse affects your mental health in many ways. The emotional abuser desires power in the relationship. They want to call the shots. Due to their own insecurities, they can’t handle an equal relationship. They need to feel in control and they seem to have a sixth sense at seeking out people who they know will succumb to their dominant personalities.

Of course, they don’t start out that way. Initially they are incredibly charming and know exactly what to say and do to make you feel incredibly loved and supported. They will pull out all the stops to impress you and get you emotionally hooked. Once they feel more secure in the relationship, the bad behaviour will begin to surface. Bit by bit, the behaviour will worsen. It’s a subtle progression to erode your confidence and self worth. Yep, they are masters as it.

I have been there, I have experienced emotional abuse. Yep, even a trained counsellor who knows what to look for can be taken in. it’s really true the saying: “love is blind”. You get taken in and desperately want to see the kind person you fell in love with even though that part of their personality seems to show up less and less.

They chastise you for little things, they lay down rules that you need to follow – from who you can socialise with and how you spend your money to how quickly you need to return their calls. There are many variations to emotional abuse. But make no mistake, you will constantly feel as if they call the shots the majority of the time.

They will do their best to keep you down, to keep you in your place. They like the idea of unconditonal love and will manipulate you into acquiescing. Meet their emotional needs and their need to control and you’ll be fine. Disobey at your peril.

Emotional abuse leads to lowered confidence and lower self esteem. It can also cause depression and anxiety and many women struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder if the abuse is particularly traumatic. It’s inevitable that your mental health will suffer as a result of emotional abuse: self doubt is also common and this leads to a feeling of powerlessness. Emotional abuse chips away at your very core over time and leaves you a shell of your former bubbly happy self.

Signs of emotional abuse:

Breaking up with you and then rekindling the relationship soon after

Someone who uses this form of emotional abuse is breaking down your spirit. It’s akin to going a few rounds in an emotional boxing ring – it wears your resistance down. They do it to test your loyalty and do it to manipulate you to be more pliable going forward. Each time you go back, you reinforce their superior position in the relationship.

Silent treatment

If you don’t play the game the way the like it, you will be punished. Either by receiving silent treatment or by the withdrawal of financial support, emotional support or affection. They will let you know in their passive-aggressive way that they are not happy with you. Of course, every now and then we can all get mad and not want to communicate. One-offs are different. It’s a PATTERN OF BEHAVIOUR that you need to look out for. Is this their standard modus operandi? If so – it’s emotional abuse.

Criticising you

Emotional abusers will tell you they don’t like the way you cook, or you don’t clean well enough. They will want you to do things THEIR way. Criticism can be aroud your behaviour, the way you dress, the way you sit, stand, your posture…just about anything. It chips away at your confidence and keeps you in a subordinate position within the relationship. Again – we all say the wrong thing at times. Beware of repetitive patterns.

Testing your loyalty

They may test your reactions by saying they are going to be aorund the opposite sex more. They may drop an ‘innocent’ comment about flattery they have received. It’s all deftly inserted to unsettle you.

Cursing and displaying aggressive behaviour

If your partner acts in an aggressive way that leaves you feeling anxious, this is emotional abuse. Sure, we can all get angry but when they regularly project that anger onto you in order for you to feel it too, it’s emotional abuse. Swearing, throwing things, shouting – unnecessary.

Controlling behaviour

Does your partner try to tell you how to live your life? If they try to tell you where you can go, what you can do etc….even if it’s done in a subtle manner (many emotional abusers are manipulative and won’t just come out with “You can’t do that” – they will manipulate you into feeling guilty), it’s an attempt to control you to behave in a way that they see fit. You are an equal and as such, have the right to make your own decisions. When you are in a happy relationship, you need to discuss things and compromise at times but you will still feel able to go out and live life without having to explain your every move.

Lack of empathy

Emotional abusers are all into what they want. They are often selfish and lack empathy and/or compassion for others. They are egocentric and see life from their perspective mainly. We are all egocentric to varying degrees but emotional abusers top the charts. It’s all about them.

Lack of interest in your life

Due to the fact that they lack empathy and are often egocentric, they will be quite self absorbed and not be that interested in your life. “Me, me, me” is the motto they live by!

Emotional abuse takes many forms in relationships. Each one is unique but the common feeling is one of emptiness, of feeling anxious and walking in eggshells. When you are in a relationship with an emotional abuser, your aim is to keep them happy so that they don’t take their unreolved emotional issues out on you. You are often their emotional punching bag.

You are more likely to end up with an emotional abuser if you had a difficult childhood or have previously been in an abusive relationship. You are used to taking the blame for things and always being at fault and it seems familiar to be experiencing that same pattern again.

If you constantly feel sad in your relationship, your emotions are a sign that something is wrong. A healthy happy relationship faciliates growth and positive intimacy where you feel free to be who you naturally are. if you feel you have to be someone else or constantly alter your behaviour to keep your partner happy, you need to seriously take stock of your relationship. See a counsellor, talk to a friend. Don’t do this alone – get some perspective and make plans for a happier future.

Mandy X

Photo by dollen