Emotional abuse, most often, is elusive. Unlike physical abuse, in the case of emotional abuse, the people suffering from it may not even know that they are being emotionally abused. Since emotional abuse comprises any kind of abuse that isn’t physical, there is a wide range of behaviours that fall under the umbrella.
According to Dr Lea Lis, a double board-certified adult and child psychiatrist, “Emotional abuse can range from subtle things, like criticism, to more destructive abuse like intimidations, manipulations and bribery.
If you want to know how to deal with emotionally abusive family members, you first need to understand what is emotional abuse and how to recognize the signs of emotional abuse. If you want to stop it, then first you have to know what exactly you’re dealing with it.
Contents of the blog
- What is the definition of Emotional Abuse?
- What are the signs of Emotional Abuse, According to Experts?
- What are the effects of emotional abuse?
- How to deal with Emotionally Abusive Family Members?
What is the definition of Emotional Abuse?
Emotional abuse can happen to anyone – children, teens, adults, all experience emotional abuse. According to the National Association of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse, emotional and mental can be very subtle at times. Sometimes, it is even hard to find that someone is manipulating you. Thus, it is quintessential to identify these patterns and put an end to them.
One of the popular definitions of emotional abuse is, “any act including confinement, verbal assault, isolation, humiliation, intimidation, infantilization or any other treatment which may diminish the sense of identity, dignity and self-worth.”
Some of the researchers also categorize emotional abuse as psychological abuse or as “chronic verbal aggression”. People suffering from emotional abuse tend to have low self-esteem, they often show personality changes (they feel like withdrawn) and in severe cases, the person also becomes depressed, anxious and suicidal.
What are the signs of Emotional Abuse, According to Experts?
Before learning how to deal with emotional abuse, you must understand what are the signs of emotional abuse. There are many behaviours that qualify as emotional abuse, here we have listed a few of them:
Controlling behaviours are one of the biggest warning signs. Here are some of the examples of controlling behaviour:
- Making all decisions and not letting someone do anything on their own.
- Continuously monitoring the whereabouts of another person.
- Checking a person’s phone or internet history.
- Yelling and screaming to scare.
- Treating a person as though they are the child.
- Using a person’s fears to manipulate them.
- Exerting financial control over the person.
Abusive people sometimes try to make a person feel shame for their shortcomings.
Here are some of the examples:
- Outbursts of angry behaviour of the person has not acted according to the abusive person.
- Lectures to make the other person feel inferior.
- Trivializing, this includes criticizing the other person for having the issue and telling them they are making a big deal out of nothing.
Blame is mainly because of the abusive person’s sense of insecurity.
Blame is of the following forms:
- The abusive person constantly accuses the other person of cheating on them. This mainly stems because of jealousy.
- Playing victim and blaming the other person for being abusive in the relationship.
- Intentionally making the person angry or irritating and then blaming them for getting angry.
The type of humiliation behaviour includes:
- Insulting the other person on their appearance.
- Blatantly calling the other person by “stupid” or “idiot” or other harmful names.
- Trying to humiliate through sarcastic comments.
- Abusive people cheat another person to humiliate them.
- Making the other person think that the person is “not on their level”.
Unpredictable behaviours may include:
- Drastic mood swings
- Starting arguments for no reason
- Always making contradicting statements to the one just said
- Acting two-faced, being different in public but showing different behaviour at home.
What are the effects of emotional abuse?
According to studies, severe emotional abuse can cause the same mental trauma as caused by physical abuse. Prolonged emotional abuse can lead to problems like anxiety, low self-esteem and depression.
Here are some of the short-term effects and long-term effects of emotional abuse:
Short-term effects of emotional abuse:
People suffering from emotional abuse might feel a range of negative emotions like shame, hopelessness, confusion and fear. In some cases, they don’t even recognize that the person they are in a relationship with is emotionally abusive.
Some of the physiological effects that an emotionally abused person faces are:
- Aches and pains
- Difficulty in concentrating
- Muscle tensions
These effects might become severe with prolonged abuse.
Long-term effects of emotional abuse:
The studies suggest that emotional abuse can lead to chronic conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia. In addition to this, the person might also experience social withdrawal or loneliness, chronic pain, anxiety, guilt and insomnia.
The long-term impact of emotional abuse is not much different in the case of children. A recent study conducted by McGill University found that child abuse affects the brain’ development and neural wiring. Researchers studied the post-mortem brain samples of children who were subjected to emotional abuse and found the abnormalities in the amygdala- area of the brain which is responsible for an emotional thermostat. When this part of the brain is damaged, it is more likely that children might face problems such as:
- Regression and sleep deprivation.
- Difficulty in controlling their emotions
- Difficulty in establishing trust
- Feeling of worthlessness
According to research, children subject to emotional abuse often choose poor relationships over healthy ones as they turn to adults. They are also more likely to develop toxic behaviour.
In some cases, emotional abuse may even lead to a post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which in children, may cause clinginess, bed-wetting and regression. The symptoms of PTSD in adults include angry outbursts, insomnia, nightmares and negative thoughts.
Emotional abuse can lead to serious health consequences and thus it is imperative for a victim to understand how to deal with emotional abuse, no matter, even if the abusive is someone from the family.
How to deal with emotionally abusive family members?
Many times, people find it hard to take action against the abuse if the abusive person is someone from the family. But, remember abuse is abuse. And, as mentioned-above prolonged abuse can have a severe impact on your mental and physical health (in certain cases, the effect of emotional abuse is more severe than that caused by physical abuse). Henceforth, regardless of who it is, that’s treating you wrong, you must act.
How to start with?
The very first thing you need to do is to recognize that their treatment is not okay. Simply because you’re blood-bonded or married to someone doesn’t mean that they can behave with you however they like.
How to tell if your family member is actually abusing you? Simple, imagine your situation being exactly as it is, but the abusive person is not someone from the family. What if the same blame-game or trivializing is the act of any of your friends or colleagues? Switch the face of the abuser and then try to recognize if the abuse appears clearer to you.
Here is how to deal with emotionally abusive family members:
- Cordial Contact:
Set off the limits with the emotionally abusive family member. Try not to be too self-revealing, keep your conversation and emotions, positive, pleasant and superficial about an abusive person. Since they love feeling as if everything is about them, this can be used as a workable strategy. You can please them on purpose to keep yourself safe from unwanted mental trauma. Cordial contact can be the solution in cases when the abuse is not severe.
- Try Discussing with Them:
Trying having a discussion with them and directly confronting them is a harsh way, but it is good to have an honest conversation. It is crucial that your family member who loves you and whom you love, to know that they are hurting you by their action or words. It is possible that they might not be aware that their actions or words are hurting you. Confronting them might help in resolving the issue.
- Stop Blaming Yourself:
Many times we start blaming ourselves for whatever we are facing and we develop thinking that we deserve this abuse. If you are/have been in an emotionally abusive relationship and think that there is something wrong with you, then stop thinking this right away. To abuse is to make a choice. So, if you want to deal with it, then firstly you should stop blaming yourself for something you have no control over.
- Cut down the contact:
If the abuse is severe, and you have already taken more abuse than you deserve, then the best option is to cut down the contact with the emotional abuser. Although it is a deeply painful decision, however, this option is good for your health. There must not be a feeling of guilt in protecting ourselves and picking the no-contact option.
Remember, you have all the rights to protect yourself from someone who is manipulating you or who is emotionally abusive. If you cannot literally leave or cut down all the contacts, then try disengaging from the abuser and avoid whatever triggers the abuse.
- Build a Support Network:
Although, it is tough to discuss the abuse, however speaking up whatever you are feeling can help. You can share your feelings and things you are facing with someone who can be trusted, a friend, a family member or even a counsellor. If the abuse is severe, it is good to take professional help. They may encourage you to take steps that can save you from emotionally abusive family members.
Moreover, this might also help you in building your self-esteem. Take time away from the abusive person and spend as much time as possible with people who support and love you.
- Build your self-esteem:
Emotional abuse, just like physical abuse, can cause long-term damage to your self-esteem. Try exploring yourself, do whatever you enjoy and look for activities that bring you happiness. The best way to get off this trauma and build your self-esteem is to start focussing on your health. Exercise, go for jogging, do yoga, dance or adopt any activity that helps you make yourself fit. Develop the habit of reading and surround yourself with the company that motivates you and reminds you that YOU are not the problem.
Emotional abuse is insidious and subtle or overt and manipulative. It chips away the self-esteem of a victim and they begin to doubt their perceptions. Depending on the situation, the victim needs to take steps to end the relationship. Each situation is different, so it is good to discuss what you are facing with a trusted person or a counsellor. Remember, the greatest help is self-help.