Friends, today’s entry is about psychological abuse, also known as emotional abuse. As with anything on IOI, I encourage you to use your best judgment and keep yourself safe. This entry will give information about what emotional abuse is, why it is harder to identify, and suggestions of what to do about it.
For the purposes of this article, “emotional abuse” and “psychological abuse” will be used interchangeably. Emotional abuse is characterized by exposing or subjecting someone to behavior that may cause psychological trauma. This psychological trauma caused may result in Anxiety, Depression, and/or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Attempts to scare, control, or isolate the victim are forms of emotional abuse. Some examples of how an abuser may do this are:
- Monitoring the victim’s activity and whereabouts all the time, or most of the time
- Accusing the victim of infidelity
- Preventing the victim from seeing or contacting family or friends
- Attempting to prevent the victim from going to work or school
- Causing the victim to doubt their own memory, thoughts, or experience. This is sometimes referred to as “gas lighting,” or “crazy making.”
- Getting angry in a way that frightens the victim
- Controlling how the victim accesses and spends money
- Belittling the victim, especially when the victim discusses feelings, thoughts, opinions, goals, or accomplishments
- Humiliating the victim in front of others
- Threatening to harm the victim, loved ones, or pets
- The abuser threatening to harm themselves if the victim leaves or seeks help.
- Saying things like, “if I can’t have you, no one can,” “no one else would want you,” or otherwise insults the victim
- Making decisions for the victim that you can, should, and want to make for themselves
This list is by no means comprehensive. Other forms of abuse are also emotional abuse. Physical abuse and sexual abuse also harm the victim emotionally, and also scare, control, and isolate the victim.
Let’s get something straight right here and now: 1) Abuse is never the victim’s fault. 2) We don’t do victim blaming on IOI. Ever. 3) No one has the right to harm another person EXCEPT in cases of self-defense.
One of the more challenging things I have seen for a victim of emotional abuse is for the person to be able to acknowledge that what is happening to them is, in fact, abuse. This is especially true if the victim no longer trusts their own thoughts, memories, or experiences. The effects of physical abuse are harder to hide after the fact. The victim may be injured, items may be broken, walls may have scratches, dents, or holes. These are harder to ignore. But when all the evidence the victim has exists between their ears, it gets tricky.
If you believe someone is in an emotionally abusive relationship, it can be a very helpless feeling. We never want to see someone we love and care about be harmed. Emotional abuse is harmful. An outside party may feel stuck watching the victim retreat inside themselves as they shut down emotionally. The abuser has trained the victim not to be who they are. They are belittled for having the personality traits that we love about them. Here’s what you can do:
- Love them. No matter what, show them that you value them. Thank them for things they do for you. Praise what they do well. It doesn’t have to be huge or overt.
- Stay in it with them. Even as they may pull away from you, do what you can not to pull away from them. If they cancel plans with you 20 times, schedule the 21st time anyway. Understand that they are going to cancel, if that’s their pattern. But their abuser is telling them that no one cares about them anymore. Even if they stop making plans, an email or a Facebook message that says, “hey! Just thinking about you!” can plant a seed of doubt in the harmful messages they are getting.
- Validate their worth and dignity as a human being. They are in your life because you love them and want them. They are being stripped down and belittled by the abuser for anything that makes them who they are. The victim deserves love and caring. They also need it right now more than just about any other time in their life. You can absolutely show them that love without saying a single word against what’s happening to them.
- Listen. It’s going to be really hard to hear sometimes. But it’s not about you, it’s about them.
- Avoid judgmental statements, or telling them what to do. Ask questions instead. “What do you think?” “How do you feel about what happened?” “How are things with (abuser’s name) now?”
- Do not speak negatively about the abuser to the victim. This is also a really tough one. Remember, the victim has to go home or hang up the phone after talking to you. If the abuser knows the victim was taking to you, they are going to ask what was said.
- If the victim wants to leave, it’s going to take time. It’s also very likely that the victim will return to the abuser, possibly multiple times, before they leave for good. Even after they leave the abuser, focus conversations on moving forward, not on trashing the abuser. If the victim goes back, there will likely be a honeymoon period, when things will be really good. The victim may share your conversations with the abuser during this time.
- Encourage the victim to seek outside help, if possible and safe.
- Above all, you MUST take care of yourself. Utilize your own self-care plan. It’s okay not to answer the phone if you are going to end up being more distressed, and less able to help. It’s okay to talk to your own mental health professional about your experience with the situation. In doing so, you are actually modeling healthy boundaries.
You are loved and cared for. You do not deserve harm. You have a right to be happy, healthy, and safe in your relationships.