Emotional violence is another kind of abuse … it’s not about words because an emotionally abusive person doesn’t always resort to using the verbal club, but rather the verbal untraceable poison. – Augusten Burroughs
It was after reading the above passage in a book I recently completed by Augusten Burroughs that I stopped dead in my tracks. Emotional abuse? This concept was something completely new to me. The words settled like lead inside of my head. What I had discovered in those precise few moments, was the exact description for the subtle abuse I was, and still am, facing from my estranged parents. I read on:
They may, in fact, speak very kind words to you. And appear nothing but supportive to those around you. Their covert abuse is administered in small, cunning ways over time. So the impact is gradual, not fist-to-the-eye immediate.
What struck me about this quote is the fact that emotional abusers are very passive, very subtle, very quiet.
The tricky thing with emotional abuse like anything quiet and unobtrusive is that it can be overlooked easily, blending into the background of life. Luckily, however, it can lead traces of something “not being quite right” in your relationships – something wrong that you just can’t quite put your finger on.
My hope is that this article will help introduce, or reintroduce, you to the world of emotional abuse. If you do decide to continue reading, please consider introspecting and reflecting on yourself and the people in your life. It could make all the difference in the world.
Emotional Abuse: The Devil’s Quiet Sister
Emotional abuse is also known as psychological or mental abuse. Its aim is to control, belittle, isolate and shame other people into subservience. This happens little by little over time, so that the victim’s sense of self-worth, self-confidence, self-concept and own ideas and perceptions erode.
Many emotional abusers operate under the guise that they are “teaching”, “advising”, “correcting”, and/or “guiding”, and therefore fly under the radar, spreading their poison for years upon years.
Types of Emotional Abuse
Emotional abuse rarely just involves criticisms or put-downs. I’ve listed some more kinds of abuse below that you should be wary of. Also, be a bit careful when you read this list. For instance, you may find one or two symptoms of emotional abuse apparent in your life, but it doesn’t necessarily make your relationships absolutely and utterly emotionally abusive. The more symptoms you recognize, the more likely you’re experiencing emotional abuse.
1. Control and Domination.
- They may control your money and your spending.
- They may treat you as an inferior person.
- They may make you feel small by reminding you of your faults and shortcomings.
- They may make you feel as though they’re always right, and you’re always wrong.
- You may feel the need to “get permission” for everything you do, or decision you have to make.
- They may give you disapproving, or condescending looks and comments.
- They may “chastise” you, and treat you like a child.
- They may control where you go, who you interact with, and/or what you do.
- They’re excessively possessive and jealous.
2. Isolation and Neglect.
- They may have difficulty taking responsibility for their actions. Instead, they deflect the blame onto you.
- They may have no regard for, and no interest in, the way you feel.
- They may use “the silent treatment” to punish you.
- They may withdraw affection from you to punish you.
- They may become deliberately emotionally distant from you for long periods of time.
- They purposely neglect to share important pieces of information with you.
- They may neglect to give you privacy, or purposely disrespect your boundaries.
3. Bullying and Humiliation.
- They may call you names, or label you.
- They may belittle your success and triumphs.
- They may mock, impersonate or otherwise talk to you in sarcastic ways.
- They may accuse you of things that you never did.
- They may degrade or subtly humiliate you in front of other people.
- They may frequently make jokes at your own expense.
- You may feel intimidated or scared when voicing an opinion.
What to Read & Where to Go to Find Out More
If you are experiencing emotional abuse, or if you’re the one inflicting it, I’ve composed a list of resources that can help assist you with this quiet killer.
- The Emotionally Destructive Relationship by Leslie Vernick
- Emotional Abuse on Helpguide.org (including numbers you can call for help)
- Stories and experiences with emotional abuse (a community)
- Healing the Scars of Emotional Abuse by Dr. Gregory L. Jantz
- How To Stop Being Abusive (an article)
- How to Deal With Emotionally Abusive Parents (an article on WikiHow)
I’d appreciate any comments or stories of your own. I read every one of them. ;)
I grew up with an emotionally abusive mother. I didn’t KNOW she was emotionally abusive until I was well into my 20s. I’m now 37 and still trying to come to terms with our estrangement. We haven’t spoken in about 5 years, and yet I still want the comfort of a “mother” – something she never gave, but that I’ve never given up hope of her providing.
I’m being gaslighted now. My wife is good to. I didn’t know it was happening until a nurse at the VA noticed I was upset and ask what was wrong. I teared up and told her and she that is emotional abuse known as gas lighting. Right now she hasn’t spoken to me in days. When I go to bed she get up and goes to the couch. She acts like I have the plague. At one point I lost 30 lbs in a month. Recently got in a fight and gotten bit by the person and should’ve gotten stitches. She is a RN in the Air Force and I ask her to evaluate it. She acted like I Was Whoopi Goldberg in Ghost. I ask her didn’t you take a hypocritic oath that requires you to help any one who needs help. I had buried alot of emotions for years and last year when we we’d those emotion woke up cause I was in love for the first time so I am emotionally inmature at 54yrs. I m a gaslighters dream victim. I read somewhere that gaslighting and being punch affect the same spot in the brain. I told… Read more »
Just a bit of a shout out to people reading this page – please remember its not just women who go through this.
its 5am on a wednesday where i am. i havent slept all night, because mind has gone back to a family i lost 3 years ago, simply because i dared to stand up to a child abusing sister who had been abusing me for 30 years. Try as i might… i just cant get rid of the anger and pain, and when it happens to men, its not just their families that go, its all their friends too.
I dont know why i looked this up or why im making this comment…
I just dont want anyone else on this planet to feel how i feel right now.
My two daughters and I just two weeks escaped a household where we were the victims of abuse. For five years the girls and I were permitted to only use half of the home we lived in though to others the emotional turmoil was both a shock and met with doubt as well. Our abuser is a manipulator and a drunk and my husband of 39 years. The souls of my girls and I were slowly dying a little each day. I thank God for sending us an Angel who offered us his home and protection after we left and it’s not until you look back that you see what you’ve endured.
Great post! We are linking to this great post on our site. Keep up the great writing.
Hi. My name is Mackenzie Issler. I just recently realized the fact that I was raised by gas lighters. My mom and stepdad are both guilty of it. It happened so often that I would isolate myself in my room because I would have rather been alone than spend time with them. I was able to think of a scenario of something that happened for at least 22 of those types of emotional abuse listed above. I’ve started reading around trying to understand the concept more to figure out what to do next. This article really described the feeling that i’ve never been able to describe before so clearly and it made me feel like how i’ve been feeling all this time wasn’t just me overthinking or being paranoid. It actually is real and my feelings are valid.
I was 17 and met a guy who I will name Billy. I met Billy at a party and he was HOT! Tall, dark, HOT and so SEXY! He and I talked and we exchanged numbers. Billy texted me I think you’re very cute. I blushed. Billy told me I was beautiful. Billy went to play games I left to do stuff around the house and Billy called. We talked for hours. I remember feeling so happy hearing his voice. Billy asked me out a week later and I went. Billy took me out again and it was so much fun. The third time, Billy introduced me to his parents and they loved me. I enjoyed seeing Billy as I started to like him. I liked hanging out with Billy and he liked hanging out with me. We started dating and Billy was perfect and so romantic. I was falling for him really fast. My heart was racing everytime I was nearby him and he felt the same way. We said I love you to eachother and talked about a future together. We talked about kids, house, cars, pets, everything. Little did I know he was going to be my… Read more »
Great article, I am so happy to have it cross my path! I definitely have something to share. Bit of background- my parents are the type who should never have had the privilege of being parents. But I survived a lifetime of abuse. Came out the other side a bit broken and dysfunctional and in need of professional help. At my lowest and darkest point, I was finally connected with a counsellor. Our first session went well, and I felt like she might have the skill to teach me how to find myself -my “orphans”, if you will- and heal the inner child who was hated for merely being born. After 18 months of therapy, I’m feeling stronger than I ever have. Then my therapist starts saying things to me like “I shouldn’t have feelings about what you tell me, but I can’t help but feel angry towards (so and so) for what they did to you”, and “You are in my thoughts a lot, I’m so concerned about you”, and my favorite “I probably shouldnt be saying this, but i consider you more of a friend than a client”. That last one triggered some unease, which I should have… Read more »