When dealing with situations of abuse, physical and sexual abuse are the first to come to mind because they are more readily discernable. You can see a punch, you can see a bruise, and there is usually physical evidence in the cases of assault. Emotional abuse is a little hazier. It often involves conditioning and manipulation on the part of the abuser to the point where the abused doesn’t realize what’s happening or that they’re being abused. It’s important to become familiar with the signs.
You feel like you have to prove your love
Someone who is emotionally abusive tends to groom their victims – using compliments, affection, financial means, etc. – into a state of dependency. In the case of a parent/child relationship, the abusive parent might build up their child with praise, gifts and affection only when they want them to behave in a certain way while every other interaction belittles and undermines that child’s worth. Emotionally abusive relationships usually start off very well – with romantic dinners, flowers and sugary compliments. Soon, those are replaced by name-calling, criticism, hostility and shame. The charismatic front only resurfaces if the victim shows signs of wanting to leave. This causes the victim to feel like they are the ones doing something wrong. They feel the need to earn affection and praise, and constantly feel pressured to prove their love.
You feel alone
A common tactic of an abuser is isolation. Whether by limiting contact to family members and friends or by complaining to the victim’s circle so that they appear to be the problem, if someone is cutting off your means of support in this manner they are causing emotional abuse. Even if the abuser hasn’t gone as far as isolating the victim, someone who suffers from emotional abuse often feels alone because they can’t comprehend what’s happening to them and therefore have a hard time expressing that there’s something wrong to somebody else.
You’ve lost your sense of self
Emotional abuse can cause your self-esteem and confidence to take a hit. It’s difficult to spot emotional abuse as a victim because the abuser conditions you to question your feelings. They play mind games and attack your intelligence – calling you dumb, stupid or incompetent. They make you feel guilty for wanting to spend time with your friends or treat yourself to nice things and whenever you try to voice your feelings, they twist your words to make it seem like you are the one being manipulative. You feel crazy and you start to believe the narrative they’ve created for you. So you start asking for permission to do things and you go against values you’ve previously held in order to please your abuser.
If you feel that you’re a victim of emotional abuse, it’s important to seek help to get yourself out of an ongoing situation. The abuse can manifest itself in various forms and if any of these ring true for you, know that it’s not your fault.
Bear, A. L. (2015, January 14). Spotting and Describing Hidden Emotional Abuse. Retrieved from Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/charm-harm/201501/spotting-and-describing-hidden-emotional-abuse
Feuerman, M. (1995-2018). 21 Warning Signs of an Emotionally Abusive Relationship. Retrieved March 2018, from Psych Central: https://psychcentral.com/blog/21-warning-signs-of-an-emotionally-abusive-relationship/
Mathews, A. (2016, September 26). When is it Emotional Abuse? Retrieved from Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/traversing-the-inner-terrain/201609/when-is-it-emotional-abuse