Never feeling good enough. Doubting yourself and wondering where you have gone wrong. Walking on eggshells. Watching what you say and changing your behaviour to avoid being reprimanded. If any of these sounds familiar, you may be experiencing emotional abuse.
Emotional abuse, also known as psychological abuse can cover any type of non-physical abuse including control, manipulation, bullying or verbal abuse. It is a way of psychologically manipulating a victim and in a relationship it can be like a slow drip feed, incessant and insidious and has the aim of wearing you down, stripping away your personality and everything you thought you knew about yourself, leaving behind a shell of a person. It is not limited to romantic relationships either, any relationship can be affected including friendships, family or professional relationships.
While there may often be visible signs of physical abuse, emotional abuse is more subtle and often harder to identify. It is nonetheless as devastating in a relationship as other forms of abuse. Many victims report not really understanding or appreciating that they have been a victim of emotional abuse until after the fact. It may take time to sufficiently recognise the abuse you have felt subjected to. A key aspect to consider is how you feel in the relationship. Red flags to look out for are if you feel like you are being manipulated, you don’t feel able to speak your mind or you modify your actions to accommodate someone else. Ask yourself whether you feel like you are being yourself when you are with this person? If you feel in some way out of sync and wondering about your own sanity, there might be something more serious to look in to.
“But it’s for your own good”
Abusers often blame their victims and act as if they have no idea why you are upset. You may be convinced that what you are experiencing is for your own good, that you perhaps don’t know what is good enough for yourself and need someone else to help you figure this out. You may feel guilty, ashamed and silenced by the feeling of having gotten something wrong, or missed something that was supposedly very good for you.
A victim may also experience a loving side to their partner amongst episodes of emotional abuse and they may forget or deny the abusive behaviours. The ‘bad stuff’ can sometimes be rationalised in distorted ways to justify what is going on. You start to question yourself and wonder whether you can trust your own judgement or perceptions. Your self-esteem starts to chip away and the lines between what feels like reality and doubt are blurred. Before long you feel you are losing your mind.
Get the support you need
In recent years there has been a massive shift in the way we talk about emotional abuse. Terms such as “coercive control” and “gaslighting” are more widely used and and are taken more seriously. Coercive control was also recognised as a criminal offence in 2015. People are talking about it more and there is help and support on offer.
If any of the above resonates in any way or you want to talk through your experiences, contact a professional. Get the support you need to make sense of what you are going through. You may have slowly lost sight of who you are but there’s always scope to turn it around. You can regain control over your own life.