In the fields of psychology and family law, emotional abuse has become a hot topic. “There are 3 million cases of domestic violence reported each year. Many more go unreported. Emotional abuse often precedes violence, but is rarely discussed,” Darlene Lancer, JD, LMFT writes in Psychology Today.
According to Lancer, it can be hard for people to recognize emotional abuse because it can be subtle. Also, because the abusers are in the habit of blaming their victims. If you’ve been emotionally abused in a previous relationship, it can be harder to recognize. It can almost feel “normal.” But over time, the emotional abuse will chip away at your self-esteem, causing you to feel responsible. Causing you to doubt your instincts and question the way you feel about the toxic relationship.
During peacetime, everything can seem okay. Your abuser may be loving and dote on you. He or she may put you on a pedestal for the world to see, so you forget all about the abusive episodes, or you go into a deep state of denial. Perhaps you’ve never had a healthy relationship to compare it to. Then, when the abuse happens again behind closed doors, there’s no one around to witness it. There’s no one to tell you that it’s not you, it’s your partner who is behaving badly.
What is Emotional Abuse?
You’ve probably heard the term “emotional abuse.” But that doesn’t mean that every emotional encounter is labeled as emotional or psychological abuse. It is not a one-time event where you get into a fight with your spouse and he or she calls you a name for the first time. It is not emotional abuse to argue with your partner every day. It is not emotional abuse if your partner sleeps on the couch after a heated argument.
If you accuse your spouse of having an affair with a co-worker and in spite, they demand your cellphone so they can read your personal texts and direct messages – that’s not emotional abuse, even though it can be unsettling.
Remember, we all react out of our own experiences and personal perceptions, so a single reaction does not define our behavior. Just because your spouse loses their temper because of something inflammatory that you said, it doesn’t mean you’re being emotionally abused.
If your spouse yells at you, that’s not necessarily emotionally abusive. Let’s face it, everyone yells at some point. Everyone. So, what does count as emotional abuse? “Emotional abuse is an attempt to control, in just the same way that physical abuse is an attempt to control another person,” according to Andrea Mathews LPC, NCC.
“The only difference is that the emotional abuser does not use physical hitting, kicking, pinching, grabbing, pushing, or other physical forms of harm. Rather the perpetrator of emotional abuse uses emotion as his/her weapon of choice,” says Mathews.
Since it’s not “physical violence,” the emotional abuser has no clue they’re being emotionally abusive. Instead, the abuser is insecure about their victim’s love for him or her. In effect, the abuser is compelled to accuse their spouse or partner of cheating. They’ll blame the victim for their unhappiness, and they may be driven to constantly check the victim’s texts, social media accounts, and voicemails – all forms of emotional abuse.
Other forms of emotional abuse include:
- Name-calling (verbal abuse).
- Withholding one’s affection.
- Punishing the innocent spouse.
- Threats of punishing the innocent spouse.
- Accusing an innocent spouse of infidelity.
- Blaming the spouse for the poor relationship.
- Criticizing the spouse harshly.
- Constantly controlling a spouse’s every move.
- Verbally attacking the innocent spouse during arguments.
- Putting the spouse down in front of others.
- Isolating the innocent spouse from supportive friends, neighbors, co-workers or family members.
- Giving their spouse the silent treatment when they are mad at them.
- Threatening the spouse when he or she isn’t abiding by their every wish.
- Criticizing the way their spouse talks, walks, eats, dresses, exercises, and interacts with others outside the home.
Are You Being Emotionally Abused?
Many spouses and partners are blindsided by emotional abuse. At first, their relationship starts off on the right foot – with loads of affection and romance. But then, after the marriage or after the birth of a child, things take an unexpected turn for the worse. At first, you hardly notice it but over time, you become miserable. You start to resent your spouse and your marriage.
One day, you realize you’re suffocating. You feel like you’re in a mental straightjacket. You and your family feel like everyone has to “walk on eggshells” around your spouse and adapt in order not to anger him or her. Your siblings and your parents may not live under your roof, but even they can’t be themselves in the presence of your abuser.
When you’re being emotionally abused, it will go something like this: Each morning, you’ll be filled with sickening dread as you face yet another exhausting day of psychological warfare. You’ll search for ways to get away from your spouse and take advantage of every opportunity you get to catch a breather, away from your spouse for a few hours.
You will be drained of your energy at all times because you’re always trying to make your spouse happy, but one day you’ll realize that all of your efforts are in vain. You can barely do anything right in your spouse’s eyes. When you interact with your husband or wife, you’ll often feel nausea, fear, anxiety and an overwhelming sense of dread. This is how you feel every minute you spend with your spouse – this is your life.
If you’re being emotionally abused, realize that you deserve better. You deserve to be happy, and you deserve a loving relationship based on mutual respect, support and admiration. If you’d like to discuss your situation with a Los Angeles divorce attorney, contact our firm to schedule a free, confidential consultation.