Emotional abuse is not easy to recognise. This so because emotionally abusive behaviours are too often and easily normalised by uninformed friends and family not realising it’s not a one-off occurrence and also due to the fact that emotional abuse can be camouflaged in personality traits and preferences of the abusing partner.
In this context, the victim starts doubting themselves and adopts certain behaviours in order to keep their partner happy. This change in the balance of the relationship happens so subtly and slowly that it can take years for the victim to realise that they are being abused, some may not even realise it.
Emotional abuse in most cases is a learned behaviour. Many of us learn how to behave in intimate relationships during our growing up years. From our parents or other family members. If the relationship model that was observed growing up is abusive, it is assumed that such behaviour is the norm and therefore acceptable. Emotional abuse can also stem from insecurities regarding body type, skin colour or even professional success.
We give below a list of questions (in no particular order) for you to identify whether you are in an abusive relationship. Note: Although more women tend to be victims of emotional abuse, men can be victims too.
- Find that your partner is allowed to express anger but you are not?
- Find that you have been slowly isolated from friends and family, people who care about you?
- Find that your partner always finds fault with friends and family?
- Find that your partner often puts you down and/ or blames you for their problems or holds you responsible for others’ mistakes?
- Find that your partner insults you but then says they’re joking?
- Feel apprehensive or anxious often? Especially around them?
- Find yourself letting go of things or hobbies that once made you happy?
- Feel unsupported in achieving your own career or life goals?
- Find yourself doing things a particular way to keep the peace, no matter the physical cost to you?
- Find that your partner shames you or constantly compares you with others?
- Find yourself always walking on eggshells, trying to avoid a comment or outburst from your partner?
- Feel like you have no control over your own life?
If you answered “yes” to more than two of these questions you should do some introspection. If you find that you are being emotionally abused, the first step is to try to communicate with your partner in a constructive manner. Sometimes they would not even realise that their behaviour is abusive. You could seek couples counselling together. If your partner goes into denial then it is unlikely that they will change and it is time for you to start educating yourself about emotional abuse and thinking about your options. Especially if there are children involved. You should know that some emotional abusers can become physical abusers too. There are many online resources and groups that can guide and help you, use them.
Emotional abuse is traumatic and the harmful effects are deeper and last longer than physical abuse. It can take years for survivors of such relationships to recover and lead a happy, healthy life. This is true for children of emotionally abusive parents too.
We are aware that it takes a lot of courage to admit that the relationship is emotionally abusive and even more to leave such a relationship. The abusive partner will apologize, promise to change, love bomb and do anything they think will stop you but all of this will be temporary. Once they feel that you are under their control again, they will revert to their old ways. If you choose to stay in the relationship or go back after leaving, do not blame yourself. You are not weak. Understand that you need the time to work on gathering the strength to stand up for yourself or leave. It is not uncommon if it takes upto five (or more) attempts to finally leave the relationship for good.
Undoubtedly, leaving the relationship is a very hard choice to make initially. But it is a necessary one for your own long term health and safety. Whether you stay in the relationship or not, seek support from people you can really trust and are not judgmental (they may not necessarily be family members). Go for therapy or join a support group. Take time to heal yourself. You will be able to rebuild your confidence and grow to love yourself. You will be happy and in control of your own life.