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 Innerbody (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. ;)
Hi there and thank you for your article. I am currently suffering great pain and distress after an emotionally abusive/manipulative relationship. I was with my guy for 9 months, and he was the Prince Charming for most of the time, it was only really months on when I realised that he had in fact been controlling and abusing my emotions which had meant that I have felt so devastated and “mental” since our breakup. It started about a month into the relationship when he suddenly tried to end it, we were having a normal loving relationship but he told me it wasnt working for him and he felt that we were just friends. He was insistent that he did not want to continue and I got really upset and started crying. Once he saw that he changed his mind! And told me to forget it, he said he was getting feelings for me and so wanted to be sure. What a man eh – had to make me cry to ensure that I had feelings for him. I suppose major warning signs was him saying that he had not had a long term girlfriend for so many years because “he… Read more »
I was married for 18 years to an emotionally abusive man. The worst of it was in the last couple of years. He was rather unique in his tactics, not quite fitting the standard mold one finds in the books on emotional abusers. When we would hug, he would draw back and tell me I was not doing it right, that I felt stiff and wasn’t melding with him the way I should be. When we made love, afterward he would say “Well, that isn’t quite what I was looking for”, because I had not maintained his demand for intense eye contact the entire time. One day he would tell me loved me, the next day he would tell me that he actually did not. He hated that I was quiet and loved to read and write. I was “boring and hiding behind books.” He stole $20,000 from our equity account, and when he finally confessed he told me he had done it because I had not been satisfying his needs. When I cried in sadness and confusion over the way he was treating me, he would tell me that I “needed to get help”. So I finally got out.… Read more »
I was and still am a victim by someone I believed was my father for 30+ years until I found out the truth after having my first child Talking about nightmares. All I can say is god help.
I ended the most abusive relationship of my life in January. It was a rather quick takeover when I became Ill. I had to allow her to care for me, otherwise I was a jerk. I was in a polyamorus relationship with her and my then fiancé now husband. I had to constantly hear about how introverted she was and that she was giving up so much of her alone time to care for me. Guilt on top of guilt on top of guilt was her way of controlling me. She would not allow other people to help care for me except for my fiancé and best friend. The day of one of my surgeries, she had plans to go out with her mom, who she had not seen in a long time. I wanted her to go. I was most likely going to be sleeping and my fiancé was with me so there was no reason why my self proclaimed “biggest introvert” couldn’t be with her mom and get some alone time in that night. That night I discovered Vicodin wakes me up instead of making me sleep. I was awake and chatting with my best friend, who stopped… Read more »
An important person in my life, shared to me this article. For years, she kept on telling me that I was being emotionally abused by my parents and that I should know my own worth. She came to me during the times I was often thinking of ending my life since I feel so worthless. My mother back then often gave me belt lashes, humiliated me in front of other people, gave me a lot of the “silent treatment” especially when I go out with my friends, tells me that I am a very hard-headed child and lots more; my father who was busy, believes her and did almost nothing about it. They loved my sister very much though. When they separated, I was given the decision on who to live with and I chose my father. It was hard on me because I felt it was my fault and my mother said so, too. I didn’t have any communication with my mother and sister for about two years. In that two years, I became a happier person; but my father started to tell me who to mingle with, forced me to surrender the my phone to check if I… Read more »
I experienced that being nice, helpful and listening to what everyone says makes you the perfect emotional abuse victim. Some people took advantage of me but I never wanted to hurt anyone. When I think bad about persons I don´t tell it. I try to smile although it´s hard sometimes. That´s why I prefer being alone.
Years of emotional abuse from narrow minded parents and family have only served to make me stronger and give me a greater sense of personal stability. I need not the words or praise from family to feel valued or happy. It all comes from within. I’d consider myself an old Soul, and often isolated myself from those my ages as I simply couldn’t relate to them. Simply knowing from a very young age that I was different and old gave me strength. I am world weary and battle worn- their often judgmental and simplistic views only highlight the grasp the materialistic life has on them. The funniest part is, at the time of writing, I am six days away from turning 16. I’m so young, but so old.
Thank you for your time and your amazing website. I appreciate every post :)
“AMEN” to that message
I have been through this. Took me a long time to realise what was going on.
And I stayed in that relationship for more than a year only because I wanted to show ‘them’ I wasn’t a loner.And to prove to myself that I wasn’t such an outcast after all. I ended up becoming a soft target for a person who was abusive. Paid the price of neglecting my true self.
Anyway it has been 2 years since then, and I am single and content. I am learning to love myself each day and accepting (rather,embracing) who I am. In the pursuit of knowledge, I found your site and it has been really helpful.
Dear Luna, My husband and I are also currently estranged from his parents after years and years of extreme challenges in our relationship culminating into one rather spectacular event two years ago (which was the straw that finally broke the camel’s back). I was sharing your article with him, and we believe his father has many traits from all three categories, his mother only from the second (she’s far more passive-aggressive than he). We both struggle with guilt over the estrangement, wondering if there were more we could have done to prevent it and if there are things we can/should be doing to work toward reconciliation. Communication has always been a struggle with them! His father likes to guilt and shame and his mother likes to manipulate with tears. They often either talk over us or turn concerns we bring up in the relationship around to use against us (i.e. “oh, so you think you’re so high and mighty, eh… let me tell you about YOUR shortcomings while we’re at it here). We’ve attempted a few times over the last several years to bring concerns to them, both in writing and meeting face-to-face. They refuse to accept any responsibility or… Read more »