It was late at night when I heard a commotion nearby—and then a shout: “I’ll kill you!”
I was at a standstill—I wondered what to make of it, what to do, and what the neighbors would do.
I was terrified and in panic mode as the incident continued and then escalated to dominate the silence of the night. I held my phone with my fingers on the 911 speed dial and contemplated whether to call or not. I eventually managed to calm my nerves, take a deep breath, and in connection with the spiritual side of me, pray for calm to resume.
This incident occurred some years back, and lately, I’ve read frequent discussions where people ask, “Why are they not leaving the abuser?” The question intrigued me beyond recourse and my curious nature had me reading voluminous materials to demystify this phenomenon.
As I read through, tears would flow down my cheeks with compassion and empathy. As I continued researching more, I moved from empathy to anger for the many times I, myself, had blamed those who were victims and judged those who abused others.
It was clear to me that many of us do not comprehend emotional abuse.
Join me as I share my findings.
What is emotional abuse?
Non-physical behaviors that are used by an abuser to control, isolate, or frighten the other in order to break down the other’s self-esteem and self-worth to create a psychological dependence on them. It is the use of verbal and social tactics to control someone’s way of thinking.
Who is at risk of emotional abuse?
We all are; however, research shows there are more abused women than men. Abuse is not a gender issue at all, it is a people’s issue, and it can happen to anyone irrespective of their gender or age. Vulnerable persons are more predisposed to being abused or being an abuser.
Why do people emotionally abuse others?
Because they want to feel in power and in control of their victim. It is a choice that the abuser makes.
How to tell if you are being emotionally abused:
Is someone close to you consistently doing three or more of these things?
>> Shaming you?
>> Questioning your judgment and decisions, implying imperfection/errors?
>> Belittling you, treating you like a child or as if you have no mind of your own?
>> Blaming you, accusing you as they portray themselves as perfect?
>> Neglecting you and threatening to cut off their support?
>> Making you dependent on them?
>> Using items (e.g., gun, knife, or other dangerous items) to threaten you?
>> Demanding to know where you are at all times?
>> Telling lies to others about you?
>> Comparing you to/with others?
>> Never acknowledging nor complimenting your accomplishments?
>> Overcriticizing everything you say or do?
>> Isolating you from your family, friends, and colleagues?
>> Rejecting you?
>> Exploiting and using you by reaching out whenever they need your help but do little or nothing for you in return?
>> Micromanaging every aspect of your life?
>> Name-calling you?
Did you know emotional abuse is perpetuated by a precise circle?
It is this circle that confuses the victim, delaying their realization that they are in an abusive relationship. The victim is deceived to think that the abuse will eventually stop.
Stage 1: Tension building.
This is when the environment is tense, and the victim shows signs of being paranoid, easily irritable, and helpless in their situation. This makes the victim hyper-alert, thereby being careful not to do or say anything that would trigger their abuser.
Stage 2: The incident of abuse.
This is when the abuse actually takes place, and this may be in the form of manipulation, assault, demeaning words, and actions that are controlling, as well as the destruction of property.
Stage 3: The honeymoon or reconciliation.
The abuser seems remorseful and is apologetic. This is the abuser’s plan to hook the victim back in. They become extremely kind, loving, and generous. The victim then feels as if they have their power back. At this point, the victim is convinced things will change for the better and decides to stay. Denying the reality of their abuse leads to the development of the battered person syndrome.
Stage 4: The calm.
Here, both the abuser and the victim justify why the abuse happened and often blame outside factors. This may sometimes include manipulating the victim to believe it was their fault. This calm does not last forever as the cycle repeats itself.
Have you ever wondered why victims of emotional abuse do not leave the abuser?
>> They do not know they are being abused.
>> They know it is more dangerous to leave as they are threatened with death, suicide, and other manipulative accusations.
>> They are afraid of losing their property and/or home.
>> They are afraid of being without a complete family.
>> They are afraid of the possible expensive financial settlements as supporting two households is no easy task.
>> They are afraid of complete financial loss or not having sustainable finances.
>> They are afraid of job loss in some cases.
>> They are afraid of losing a parental role in their children’s life.
>> They are afraid of losing custody of their children.
>> They are afraid of what the abuser may do to the children if they leave.
>> They are afraid and terrified at the thought of the abuser’s likelihood of stalking them after they leave.
>> They are unconscious of the presence of trauma bonding which renders them to feel stuck without seeing a way out. When the victim leaves, they feel an intense longing to see the abuser due to this bond.
Additional information on trauma bonding:
Trauma bonding can occur in incidents when the abuser expresses love to the victim to disguise the abuse. This makes the victim believe they will not abuse them again nor are they so bad. It is common for emotional attachments to occur in abusive situations—this is a result of the brain’s need for survival. The victim becomes dependent on their abuser.
More situations in which trauma bonding may occur are:
>> sexual abuse
>> human trafficking
>> domestic violence
Some effects of emotional abuse:
>> Puts one at risk of becoming an abuser.
>> Feeling numb to their feelings.
>> Having low self-esteem.
>> Having a sense of unworthiness.
>> Undergoing chronic stress, which may lead to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or Complex Post Traumatic Stress (CPTSD).
Who do emotional abusers target?
These traits attract abusers to you as they make them feel more strong, powerful, and in control:
>> Persons who are vulnerable.
>> Persons with low self-esteem.
>> Persons who are needy, desperate, insecure, overly forgiving and trusting, and extremely generous.
>> Persons who wear their hearts on their sleeve, settle for less, fear confrontation, and have a savior mentality.
>> Persons who always see the better in others with the conviction that with love and support they can change them.
Some telltale signs of an abuser at the beginning of a relationship:
1. Moving intro the relationship too fast (i.e., they quickly want you to commit to the relationship).
2. Lots of love bombing; for example, wanting to be with you more often than is normal and excessive adoration via texts, compliments, and gifting.
3. Obsession with your social media account’s activities from the start of the relationship.
4. Has unrealistic expectations and a list of things that you should or should not do. For example: rules about who you can see, how you should behave or speak, what you should wear, the roles you should play in the relationship, and much more.
5. Excessive sensitivity and jealousy—reacting to things, getting easily offended, and allowing you no personal space (thereby possessing you in disguise).
6. Excessive criticism and a display of superiority by criticizing everything you do or say—they belittle you as well as others.
7. Excessively blaming other people or external events. Always exonerating themselves from being in the wrong, considering themselves as victims, taking credit when all is going well and blaming others when things are going wrong.
8. Imposes isolation by questioning, criticizing, and making family, friends, and others in your network feel unwelcome; making you feel guilty for wanting to spend time with them.
9. They are mean and abusive toward others—for example, when things go wrong with an order at a restaurant.
10. They have previously been abusive in their relationships.
11. They scare you when they are angry.
12. They use force during sex and force or manipulate you to engage in sex acts that you would otherwise not engage in.
What to do if you realize you are being abused:
>> Report the abuse to the police and/or designated centers or contacts for victims of abuse.
>> Reflect and see the role you are playing in perpetuating the abuse, for example, by excusing the abuser’s actions.
>> Cautiously move away from the toxic person and relationship.
>> Slowly begin to create emotional distance.
>> Talk about it with your family, friends, and colleagues.
>> Seek help from a professional therapist.
What to do to help a victim of emotional abuse?
The following may not be welcomed by the abuser if the victim is still in the relationship, so be subtle in your approach of support:
>> Listen to what they are telling you.
>> Let them know of your concerns but without blaming or judging them.
>> Be open-minded when sharing your views and advice
You may experience strong emotions and exhaustion while supporting them. It will be helpful to ask them what help they need or expect from you.
More advice and wisdom when it comes to emotional abuse:
- Emotional abuse is a choice that the abuser makes.
- Emotional abuse is perpetuated by silence.
- Emotional abuse is a form of slavery.
- Emotional abusers are seeking power and control.
- Emotional abusers know who to target and when to abuse them.
- Emotional abusers feel no love nor empathy for their victims.
- Emotional abusers do not feel guilty or remorseful about what they do.
- It is difficult to prove emotional abuse to self as well as to others.
- The abusers begin by love bombing and deception and quickly push for a committed relationship to gain psychological control of their victims.
- The victims of abuse are often not aware that they are being abused.
- A home with emotional abuse is a threat to all those living there.
- Children who witness emotional abuse go through trauma; they are traumatized.
Do you know someone who is emotionally abusing another? Do you know someone who is being emotionally abused?
“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” ~ Martin Luther King Jr.
Resources and references:
>> 4 Stages In The Cycle Of Abuse And How To Heal, Makin Wellness
>> Unmasking the abuser, Dina McMillan, TEDxCanberra
>> Trauma bonding, Verywellmind.com
>> The Power and Control Wheel, Coercivecollective.org
>> Supporting someone who is emotionally abused, Safehorizon.org