When discussing abusive relationships, many people only think about the obvious: physical abuse. However, an abusive relationship isn’t limited to physical violence. While emotional abuse is almost always present in physically-abusive relationships, not all emotionally-abusive relationships include physical violence. Emotional abuse is real—what’s more, it usually lasts longer than physical abuse, and often causes more long-lasting damage.
So, why don't we talk enough about emotional abuse? First and foremost, it is difficult to spot emotional abuse because it doesn’t leave physical injuries. Emotional abuse involves insults, threats, yelling, cursing, name calling, belittling, mocking, and humiliating. However, this form of abuse is more than insulting or screaming at someone. Many times, emotional abuse happens gradually; it is hard to recognize that the relationship that we are in is emotionally abusive.
Symptoms of emotional abuse are frequently encountered in those who have narcissistic individuals in their family or romantic life. These relationships often repeat similar patterns that cause individuals to stay in the relationship longer and not realize the abuse. The pattern usually involves some of the following characteristics:
Love bombing: This is the “honeymoon phase” of the relationship. In this stage, the abuser makes you feel like you are their soulmate. They often bombard you with love, affection, immediate commitment, and gifts, making the relationship appear flawless.
Attacking your identity: The abuser begins to criticize your clothes, your body, and appearance. They also attack your knowledge, ideas, and beliefs, while humiliating your background and culture.
Controlling: The abuser wants you to gain control over you. In order to achieve this, they sabotage your personal growth or your attempts to seek social support. They might check on you frequently or constantly with calls, texts, and Facetime attempts. They may also ask you to download tracking apps, or resort to following you and/or visiting you without giving you notice.
Blaming: The abuser may blame you for things that aren’t your fault, such as claiming that you are selfish or causing fights. What’s more, they may accuse you of things you haven’t done, like cheating, being unfaithful, and lying.
Isolation: They will attempt to isolate you from loved ones, family, and friends. One tactic is to make you feel embarrassed and ashamed, thus leading to involuntary isolation.
Invalidating your emotions: The abuser will ignore your feelings or humiliate you for expressing any vulnerability, blaming you for being overly sensitive. They may also make you feel like you have to prove yourself, and prove how their behaviors made you feel.
Gaslighting: Gaslighting is a manipulation tactic in which the abuser makes you doubt your reality, perception, and sanity.
Silent treatment: Silent treatment is a form of punishment which involves stonewalling a person.
Smear campaigns: The abuser might smear your name to your friends and family in an attempt to damage your reputation and gain the support of your loved ones. They might tell stories to imply that you are unstable or “crazy”; this also helps them play the victim and leave you without support.
Long-term emotional abuse usually leads to complex PTSD, and it takes a long period of time for the victim to process. Upon enduring emotional abuse, the survivor usually struggles with a variety of lasting problems: depression, anxiety, relationship problems, self-blame, low self-esteem, a lost sense of self, restlessness, physical issues, trouble with decision making, and difficulty setting boundaries.
Having worked in a variety of settings, I have an extensive background in assisting victims of partner violence. During my career, I have counseled hundreds of domestic violence survivors, given seminars on narcissistic abuse, and gained extensive knowledge about abusive relationships, particularly emotional abuse. With my experiences, I can help you process emotional trauma, support you in your healing journey, and deal with the aftermath.
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