Emotional abuse has many definitions. My personal definition is “a cluster of behaviors a person employs which cause psychological harm to another person”. There is no magical quiz to definitively determine if you’ve experienced these conditions. Ultimately, it must be something you decide for yourself.
What is challenging about emotional abuse is it distorts the victim. A person who is emotionally abused is often in the worse position to try to decide if they’ve been mistreated. This is what makes emotional abuse so insidious.
If you have been manipulated, put down, doubted, blamed and controlled- it is very likely that the last person you trust is yourself. How then, are you to amass the self confidence to say, ‘I’ve been abused.’ And yet, that is exactly what is required.
A list is not enough
Further, emotional abuse is sneaky. Others will see a behaviour and not identify it as abusive. Yet given the parameters of the relationship- it is.
Let’s look at a few examples:
A husband makes a joke about how his stay at home wife would be stupid to go and get a job, since her life is so easy at home.
A mother blames her daughter for not giving her a ride home after a few drinks.
Beyond each action
These just look like little moments in time, moments many people have experienced. Yet, from the perspective of emotional abuse, they become so much more. Abuse is about a pattern of repetitive behaviors. Emotional abuse is like waves beating against a rock. Each wave on its own may not be ‘that bad’ but after years, the smallest wave is intolerable.
Take for example the husband’s joke. In a situation of emotional abuse, the husband likely controls the wife’s movements and her finances (control). Because she doesn’t work, he uses her guilt over not contributing financially to manipulate her (guilt). Further, because she lacks resources, he can control what she has or doesn’t have (financial control). He frequently belittles her, that she will never be able to find a job, and that no one would want to hire a ‘professional mom’ (belittling).
All of these compound into an abusive relationship.
Listen to yourself
Part of you knows whether what you’ve experienced is emotional abuse. You are reading this because you know, and simply need someone else to back you up. Again, this is normal. If you’ve been beaten down and belittled, you are so diminished it is difficult to stand behind your own judgment.
So, in this moment take the first step. Trust your gut. You know what happened to you. You know whether it is abusive to you or not. Trust yourself love. That is the foundation for everything else.