Emotional Abuse

Stopping the Cycle of Emotional Abuse in a Family | Diana Castillo Eddy, LMFT

Are you being abused by your romantic partner? Most people who aren’t being physically abused would answer that question in the negative. However, abuse does not have to involve any kind of physical violence. Many people all over the world are being emotionally abused by the person who is supposed to love them most.  So how can you tell if you’re being emotionally abused? What kind of impact does emotional impact have on the victim? If you’re being emotionally abused, how can you put an end to it?

A Brief Overview

Emotional abuse comprises of the abuser using certain actions to dominate or subdue their partner. The abuser may use tactics such as degradation, fear, bullying, oppression and manipulation in order to control their victim. Emotional abusers typically employ measures such as verbal cruelty, constant reproach and disapproval to get what they want.

The Cycle

Emotional abuse has a typical pattern. The cycle always begins with a period during which pressure mounts up. The victim can usually tell what is coming when the tension begins, so they may make an effort to pacify their abuser. The second phase of the cycle is the actual episode of abuse. During this period, the abuser employs certain tactics to subjugate the victim in order to get what they want. During the third phase of the cycle of emotional abuse, the abuser may attempt to placate the victim. They usually do this by offering a half-hearted apology, attempting to minimize the significance of the episode, or blaming the victim for what happened. The fourth phase of the cycle is a period of calm in which both abuser and victim pretend that nothing is wrong. During this phase, the relationship seems healthy. Hence it’s easy for the victim to make the mistake of forgiving their abuser.

The Victim

The impact of emotional abuse on the victim is analogous to water dripping onto a stone over the course of several years. The abuse slowly but surely erodes the victim’s self-esteem. The victim will begin to question her/his own thoughts and opinions. This erosion of self-esteem can lead the victim to think that there is some fundamental flaw in their own character. Hence the victim may believe that they actually deserve the abuse. They may also stay in the relationship because they have such a poor self-image that they believe nobody else could find them attractive. Emotional abuse usually leaves the victim with mental scars that can take a long time to heal.

Warning Signs

So how can you tell if you are the victim in an emotionally abusive relationship?  Well, if you are being emotionally abused there will be definite warning signs.  A victim of emotional abuse may feel that her/his partner seeks to humiliate them, or chip at their self-esteem.  Emotional abuse victims find it hard to discuss any issues they may have with their partner. The victim of emotional abuse may feel that their partner is always critical, or derisive of their opinions.

There are other classic signs of emotional abuse. An emotional abuser often tries to limit the freedom of their victim. They do this by making it difficult for the victim to have access to money or material possessions. Abusers can even destroy or discard their victim’s things. Emotional abusers may also try to ensure that their victim has no relationship with friends or family. Hence the victim often feels that they have nowhere to turn. Victims of emotional abuse may feel forced to have sexual intercourse with their partner in order to avoid discord. It is not unusual for victims of emotional abuse to see no way out of the relationship.  The biggest indicator of emotional abuse is the victim’s profound fear of her/his abuser.

How to End It

If you are being emotionally abused, how can you stop the cycle? Some emotional abuse victims stay in the relationship because their self-esteem has been destroyed. The victim may believe that their abuser will change provided they try harder to make them happy. The truth is that no emotionally abusive person will change unless they actively seek to do so, and get help from a trained therapist.

If you are a victim of emotional abuse, your best course of action is to walk away from the relationship.  There are shelters and refuges for women who have been abused. It is also possible to get an injunction or restraining order against your abuser if you are afraid for your safety. Once you get out of the abusive relationship, you may wish to consider counseling to help you deal with any mental scars resulting from your ordeal. You should also give yourself time to heal before entering into another romantic relationship.  Once you put some distance between you and your abuser, you will begin to regain the self-confidence you’ve lost. Hopefully you’ll then be able to get on with the rest of your life.

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