Emotional abuse is often not talked about enough because we tend to associate domestic abuse with physical or verbal behaviours. Here, we dissect what emotional abuse is and the signs of emotional abuse in toxic relationships.
What is emotional abuse?
Emotional abuse is perhaps less apparent than physical or verbal abuse, but it does not mean it is any less traumatic. Emotional abuse can take the form of frightening, controlling, isolating or belittling another person.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 1 in 4 women have experienced emotional abuse by a current or former partner since the age of 15. Emotional abuse is generally more frequent and re-occurring than other forms of abuse as it can crop up in your partner’s words, actions, attitudes and behaviours. It could be obvious or subliminal behaviours that constitute abuse—but both are equally as toxic.
What does emotional abuse look like? What are the early signs?
There are common red flags that may indicate you could be in an emotionally abusive relationship. If any of the below indicators relate to you and your relationship, the first step is to seek professional help urgently.
Controlling the relationship or person
A strong sense of control is one of the most dangerous signs of an abusive relationship due to the forceful nature of it. Control refers to your partner needing to manipulate or influence you into doing things you may not necessarily want to do. Control can be constantly wanting to know where you are (keeping tabs on you) and not allowing you to hang out with friends or explore your own interests. Perhaps it can be controlling you to avoid certain family members or refusing to let you participate in any of your own family functions. On a more severe level, it could be threatening to take children away from you or denying you from seeing loved ones. Other signs of control include needing to look through your phone, them going out or staying out late with friends and not reciprocating those same rights to you, or it could be as simple saying phrases that include: “don’t do that” or “I don’t want you to…”. When these kinds of words are being used, it may be time to address the situation with professional guidance and support.
It is only natural to feel jealous on occasion when your partner might interact with someone could potentially be a threat to your relationship. Yet, unhealthy or excessive jealousy can cause issues within the relationship that disarms you and alters the amount of trust you have in your partner. It can lead to other feelings of self-doubt that spiral you to second-guess the interactions you have with other people.
Lack of honest communication
Finding it hard to communicate with your partner? An emotionally abusive relationship can also include your partner acting secretively, dismissive, cold or not being open to communicate about important topics. Communication is one of the most important components to any thriving relationship so you can learn more about your partner, their perspective and vice versa. But when it becomes a one-way line from you, where your partner shows a lack of interest in communicating, it could ring alarm bells.
Jokes that target insecurities
Even the most self-aware of people can feel diminished through jokes that target insecurities. A joke that attacks your personal looks or insecurities can be harmful to your self-esteem and mental health. It is especially dangerous when intentionally hurtful jokes are delivered on a regular basis, which can negatively impact your mental health in the long term. That anxiety caused from the response to those jokes accumulate and store as tissue in our bodies—carrying your burden wherever you go. This also applies to backhanded compliments, where the tone of the compliment is disguised as a negative connotation to hurt you. Be mindful of these as backhanded compliments are not complimentary in nature at all.
Lack of respect and a disregard for your values and views
In a healthy relationship, it is imperative to have a mutual respect. Showing respect for someone else—particularly a spouse or partner—can include the following: showing manners (saying please and thank you, opening a door for them and so forth), demonstrating chivalry and appealing to your partner’s love language—it could be buying them gifts, spending quality time together, doing acts of service for them, showing public display of affection or expressing words of affirmation, or just listening to what they have to say and accepting your viewpoints (this is different to agreeing with them).
Putting you down
Putting someone down is a form of emotional abuse. Perhaps at some point, we have all been a victim to a put down, but it does have ramifications when it is not addressed. A put down can be belittling or patronising your beliefs, humiliating you in front of others, shouting at you or making you feel ashamed for who you are.
Seek professional support
If you are experiencing any of these signs or you feel you may be subject to emotional abuse, please seek help. If you are in immediate danger, call 000 for Police and Ambulance help if you are in immediate danger.
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