Recognizing Emotional Abuse

During my years working with ‘victims’ of domestic violence, I noticed a common theme- most did not recognize that emotional abuse was a form of abuse. The best way I could describe emotional abuse was by comparing it to an accident. It’s easy to treat the physical cuts or bruises because you can see it but it is recommended that you still get a checkup in the hospital because you may be experiencing internal bleeding; internal bleeding can cause more damage, possibly death, because it is ignored.

 Though society overall has gotten better about recognizing and even encouraging victims to get help, there are still stigma and shame associated with experiencing domestic violence. Many still do not recognize that abuse can cause Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as PTSD is primarily associated with veterans. The best answer to that statement was given by a client- “you don’t go into a marriage expecting a war.” It is being attacked when you have absolutely no idea that you might be in danger.

 There are so many different topics to discuss even within emotional abuse but I think the very first step is to acknowledge what it is and how to identify it.

 If you know absolutely nothing about abuse- know that this is about having power and control over one/selected few in an abusers’ life. It is extremely difficult to accept that someone as nice as this person is can be abuse- maybe his/her “selected person(s)” is overreacting.  

 Part of emotional abuse is making the victim feel “crazy” and/or even constantly question his/her own thoughts and decisions. It makes the victim become completely dependent on the abuser to make the “right choices” for him/her.

 The Power and Control Wheel lists

 -Putting him or her down

-Humiliating the person

-Playing head games

-Not taking responsibility for one’s own actions

-Ridiculing the partner’s appearance or sexual performance

 as part of Emotional Abuse but there is no way that it can include every way.  The truth is any type of abuse is part of emotional abuse and when an abuser is feeling desperate, he/she will do what is needed to keep control.

 Are you being “crazy” or “overreacting” to simple jokes? No. You know when someone is joking with you-you may feel “stupid” for a second but you most likely will not feel your internal alarm telling you that you are no longer safe.

 There are few things to keep in mind if you find yourself in an abusive situation:

  1.     Seek help

–  Whether it is reaching out to family and/or friends or contacting a local domestic violence agency, you don’t have to do this alone.

  1.     Be honest

–  Yes, it is embarrassing. Yes, it is frustrating.  It is what it is. We make excuses for those we love and we see their potential- being in love with the potential is not the same thing as the person meeting those expectations. See them for who they are.

  1. Document everything!

–  A legit fear is what if my abuser finds those notes? Do you have anywhere outside of the home you can hide those notes? Can you tell a friend and have them record the details? What about a neighbor?  As upsetting as these notes can be, this is how you show that you were “punched” and where those punches left bruises.

 It may not feel this way but I promise you that so many people are willing to help and support you but you have to take the first step. You decide what is enough for you- no one else can tell you when it is the right time. If seeking assistance at a domestic violence agency feels overwhelming, seek treatment therapist within your community.  Let’s address the lies you have been taught and begin this healing journey.

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