Most Americans are familiar with domestic abuse from some form of media. Most people believe that abuse must be physical, involving the punching or hitting of a partner. However, emotional abuse is also quite common. According to a BBC study, 30% of the women surveyed had encountered emotional abuse in a relationship, and 20% of the men in the survey had the same experience. The various studies done on emotional abuse indicate that many people don’t recognize such abusive behavior as abuse.
The behaviors of emotional abusers fall into several categories. The first is verbal aggression. This abusive behavior is often degrading, name-calling, and may include other statements such as “I knew I shouldn’t have married you” or other statements of rejection. The abusers might also threaten violence against the partner or someone the partner cares about, or perhaps themselves. They often threaten to kill themselves when the victim of an abusive relationship wants to leave, for instance.
Emotional abusers may also demonstrate dominant behaviors, trying to isolate the victim from others. This involves friends, family members, and even co-workers. Pets may even be ostracized or destroyed by the abusive partner.
The third category involvers the abusers who illustrate jealous behavior. While these abusers often try to isolate the victim from others, they also accuse the victim of having outside relationships. They may scour the victim’s mail, email, and cell phone looking for evidence, and innocent contact is misinterpreted.
Other abusive actions may include “arbitrary and unpredictable inconsistency,” according to the Wikipedia, someone who is hot and then cold, someone who seems to have unprovoked anger or suddenly decides the victim should not continue an activity that has been ongoing. They also tend to blame the victim.
Knowing the signs of an emotionally abusive relationship is important because of the effects such a relationship can have on the victim. Anxiety issues, chronic depression, and anger problems in additions to signs of post-traumatic stress disorder, such as sleeping too much or experiencing insomnia, shutting down emotional responses, or concentration difficulties are consequences of emotional abuse.
If you are in such an abusive relationship, you might respond to the following questions. Does your partner often call you names? Are you often told you are pathetic, worthless, or some similar word? Have you lost any close friends you once had? Do you feel like you can make new friends without your partner being upset? Are you having difficulty being close to your family even though you once were? Is there nobody other than your partner you can go to when you are distressed? Does your partner look through your personal items, such as your purse, wallet, computer? If you tried to break off the relationship, did your partner threaten violence to himself/herself or others? Is your partner often suddenly angry, seemingly with no provocation? Are you told that arguments are your fault? Do you feel worried and nervous most of the time? Do you cry easily? Are you quick to anger? Do you sleep late and/or often need naps during the day? Do you have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep more than a few hours? Do you feel wooden, as if you have no emotions at all? Is your partner charming in front of others but often insulting and cold when you are alone together?
These are all signs that you might be in an abusive relationship. Answering yes to any of these questions is a sign that something may be wrong that needs immediate attention. Although some disagree, most experts agree that abusers won’t change. It is up to the victims of abuse to recognize the emotional abuse and remove themselves from the abusive relationship.
Victims of emotional abuse must realize their own self-worth, the kind of damage the relationship is doing to their physical and mental health, and that the abuser is not going to change behavior. While the victims of emotional abuse may not have the visible reminders as those who have been physically abused, the scars for both can run deep.
Love & Relationships. “Are you at risk for emotional rape?” relationship-love.com.
Melinda Smith and Jeanne Seagal. “Domestic Violence and Abuse.” Helpguide.org.
Wikipedia. “Psychological Abuse.” Wikipedia.org.