Emotional abuse happens to both men, and women and its effects are devastating. However, in this blog I address women specifically simply because I encounter more of them in my work and I am one who knows can help another.
Emotional abuse is when you feel small, controlled, unable to express and talk about things with your partner or indeed a significant other. You might feel that something is off with the way you are being treated but, often-times as women, you tell yourself it is because there is something off with you. Something off with your feelings and your way of being. It might show up in your relationship as hostile comments that just devalue you and lead you into thinking that “If I just keep the peace by cleaning the house so it is spotless just the way he expects then things will be okay” for example. Or, “If I can change him then we will be okay”.
If you know you are in an emotionally abusive marriage, then the best thing you can do is to get out! Like with all abusive behaviours, you do not deserve to be treated in these terrible ways, and as adults you do have the ability to stop the abuse. You just don’t see it! You need help and support in doing this.
As children you may have been humiliated in front of others and have felt constantly afraid of upsetting one of your parents. You may have been bullied at home or at school and because you were a quiet child and had no scars or bruises, nobody saw or tried to help you. As a child you may have felt afraid of one of your parents or caregivers and felt that you hated them but told yourself you were wrong for having these feelings. You may remember having been slightly less mature that others’ in your group or class or for example had a speech impediment.
The long-term effects from experiences such as these can show as poor mental health today and also in difficulties with making and keeping friends. In one study it was found that emotional abuse can even cause cancer!
a. Feeling threatened and intimidated
b. Being criticised and called names
c. Being made to feel guilty for their difficulties
d. Being financially controlled
e. Being prevented from working
f. Being told what you can or can’t do.
g. Your boundaries are not being respected
h. You are accused of flirting or having affairs.
I. Your partner threatens to harm himself when he is upset with yourself
j. becomes angry in a frightening way
In Relationships today you might be feeling jealous, possessive; rejected, unworthy and are telling yourself that you’re better off alone, it’s your fault if he becomes upset; you cannot afford to be vulnerable because you will just get hurt, you will never find another person who understands you.
You probably have learnt that love is ‘what another does for you’ or ‘what you can do for someone else’ and both these beliefs if you like, the dependant or co-dependant way leave you disappointed, feeling shame for the breakup of a relationship or like you are a failure and not good enough. A good relationship is where you are interdependent, you feel part of the other one and they feel part of you. Where you don’t have to sacrifice yourself or compromise who you are but feel safe to vulnerable. Not one where you are ‘walking on eggshells’.
It’s difficult to imagine ever being free from the difficulties and pains you have encountered in your life. You probably have told yourself on some level that it’s your fault, that there’s something wrong with you and you will never be able to find love and so you resign yourself to living life with the shutters down and the doors closed.
Your partner becomes silent for periods of time or just ups and leaves you over and over again, leaving you wondering “what did I do wrong?”, “If only I was more understanding”. On some level you know that something is wrong with the way things are in your relationship but you can’t quite feel it and so this confusion makes you doubt yourself and begin to convince yourself that what you saw is not true.
When you are shut off from your feelings anxiety sets in and runs the show. When it feels impossible to make sense of anything, then you can begin to feel depressed.
Some other symptoms
b. Trauma – ptsd
c. Autoimmune illnesses
e. Chronic stress
h. Tummy sicknesses
I. Chest pains
Some ideas on help
Some things to be aware of as you begin to get your life back and know that you deserve to love and be loved, to be listened too, to feel safe to be yourself are that:
Being grounded is vitally important
Finding time and space for activities / things you enjoy will help you to change
Moving your body will renew your energy
Knowing how you feel and think about things and what you wish for and need is what you need to know yourself
Feeling a sense of your boundaries and being comfortable with your ‘No’ is vital.
The first step in healing from emotional abuse is to acknowledge that there is a real problem and understand that it is a problem. Speaking about this and making sense of how this has impacted you will help you to change.
Close your eyes and once you are siting comfortably bring to mind the little girl who lives inside you. Imagine yourself as this small child and notice what you are wearing. What are you doing? How you are feeling and breathe naturally without changing anything.
Imagine softening your heart and allowing it to open towards this little girl as you begin to walk towards her with your arms open. Noticing all the while how she reacts to you and respecting this. So, if she is afraid to reassure her, if she cries hold her and if she says no to you approaching her, just stay where you are.
Ask her what it is she needed from you back then and you will begin to become aware of what it was that you needed, what she has missed out on. You might experience some messy emotions and it is okay to have messy emotions!
After a short while come back to your breathing knowing there is no need to change its rhythm and flow. Stretch and wiggle your fingers, feet and stretch your arms up to heaven and push your feet down to earth. Open your eyes and take in the room and things around you, remind yourself of the day and the time and reflect on your experience.
You may have questions or comments, and I welcome these and look forward to hearing from you.