Emotional Abuse in Relationships
You can live with anger, humiliation and even fear for years and not realise that you are in an emotionally abusive relationship. Perhaps you assume that all couples fight like this or that all women (or men) are treated in that way. Slowly but systematically your self-confidence is whittled away, your self-esteem is eroded, and your perception of self becomes distorted—and yet you don’t even know it’s happening.
Most people typically think of emotional abuse as one partner belittling or criticising the other. But emotional abuse is much more than verbal abuse. It can be defined as any nonphysical behaviour that aims to control, intimidate, subjugate, demean, punish, or isolate another person.
Emotional abuse is very painful and incredibly detrimental to your self-esteem. It damages the very core of your sense as a person and creates wounds that last long after physical ones have healed. With emotional abuse, the insults, criticism, and accusations slowly but steadily chip away at your self-esteem until you can no longer judge realistically a situation. Emotional abuse poisons a relationship and infuses it with hostility, contempt, and hatred until there is little left of the love that initially brought you together. You can read more here on the warning signs of an abusive relationship.
Are You Being Emotionally Abused?
If half or more of the statements below apply to your relationship, you are definitely being emotionally abused. But if even a few of them are present, this can also indicate emotional abuse. While all of us may feel particularly hurt or angry by a partner and will sometimes resort to the tactics below, this does not mean we are being emotionally abusive.
What defines emotional abuse is a clear, consistent pattern of controlling, hurtful or condescending behaviour.
- You feel as if your partner treats you like a child and you must “get permission” before going somewhere or making even the smallest decision. You have to account for any money you spend, or they attempt to control your spending (even though they have no problem spending on themselves).
- Your partner treats you as if you are inferior to them, e.g. by reminding you that you are less educated or that you make less money.
- Your partner routinely ridicules or disregards your opinions, suggestions, and feelings.
- Your partner constantly belittles your accomplishments or your plans for the future.
- You find yourself “walking on eggshells”, monitoring your behaviour and/or watching for your partner’s bad moods before bringing up a subject.
- You have stopped seeing many of your friends and/or family because your partner dislikes them or because you are ashamed of the way they treat you in front of them.
- Your partner punishes you by pouting, withdrawing, giving you the silent treatment, or withholding affection if you don’t do things their way.
- Your partner constantly accuses you of flirting or of having affairs even though it isn’t true.
- Your partner perceives that he or she is always right.
- Your partner seems impossible to please and constantly complains about some aspect of your personality, your looks, or the way you live your life.
- Your partner frequently puts you down or makes fun of you in front of others.
- Your partner blames you for his or her problems. They make you feel as if you are the one who is responsible for all the problems in the relationship.
- Your partner’s personality seems to go through radical changes. They are pleasant one minute only to be furious the next.
- Your partner teases you, makes fun of you, or uses sarcasm as a way to put you down or degrade you.
- Your partner is extremely sensitive when it comes to others making fun of them or making any kind of comment that seems to show a lack of respect.
- Your partner finds it difficult or impossible to apologise or admit when they are wrong.
- Your partner regularly pressures you for sex or tries to persuade you to engage in sexual acts that you don’t want.
How Can Counselling Help When You Are Experiencing Emotional Abuse
The biggest step in confronting emotional abuse is recognising and acknowledging what is happening and naming it as such. The main effects of being emotionally abused are low self-esteem, constant self-doubt and a tendency to blame yourself for anything that goes wrong in your relationship. It is easy to see why a person may live with an abusive partner for a long time and not recognise the abusive dynamics of the relationship.
In my experience, women (and men, although the statistics show a much lower victimization rate for males), live for a long time in an emotionally abusive relationship and experience a range of psychosomatic issues such as anxiety, sleep problems, depression, low self-confidence, and gastrointestinal issues. Yet they never made the connection between their distress and the impact of their relationship on their physical and mental wellbeing.
When I spot the signs of emotional abuse, my counselling approach is to share these observations with you in a sensitive and non-judgmental way. Alternatively, you may have an inkling about the problematic dynamic of your relationship but feel unsure if it’s “all in your head”. Through counselling, you will understand better what emotional abuse is, how it plays out in relationships, and how it may be affecting you. You will also gain insight as to why you may have been vulnerable to an abusive partner and how you ended up choosing one. It is a fact that we have a tendency to repeat self-defeating life patterns, including selecting unsuitable partners, so it is important to enhance your awareness of the choices you make.
Therapy can help you develop new strategies to confront the abuse in your relationship. Our goal would be to strengthen your self-esteem and your ability to set firm boundaries on what YOU deem acceptable in your relationship. One of the major setbacks that people face when they are locked in an emotionally abusive relationship is the isolation and lack of social support enforced by the abusive partner. Counselling can counteract this and empower you through knowledge, increased self-awareness, and new skills. By engaging in the therapeutic process you will no longer feel controlled, but rather be able to take charge of your relationship.
If you think you may benefit from counselling with me, contact me to find out more or arrange an appointment.
Servicing the areas of Malvern, Armadale, Prahran, Glen Iris, Caulfield North and surrounding suburbs.