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What is emotional abuse?

Emotional abuse can be many things. Emotional abuse is used as a control and manipulation tactic. It can happen in any scenario: 

  • at work
  • at school
  • within families
  • between parents and children
  • between siblings.

It also happens in romantic relationships as we’ve looked at with narcissistic abuse. 21% of women and 12% of men had experienced emotional abuse by a former partner. 

Emotional abuse has one primary function. And that is to disempower the receiver. Often, it comprises of three facets:

  1. it is a way of having power over another.
  2. it is a dysfunctional interpersonal strategy and 
  3. is often part of a matrix of abuse but can be carried out without any other abuse.

It can be hard to spot. Which is partly the purpose of this article. As knowledge is power, once you know what emotional abuse is, what it looks and feels like and how to identify it, you can begin the process of seeking help.

Signs of emotional abuse

Here are some of the signs of emotional abuse: 

  • rejection
  • silent treatment
  • put downs/criticism
  • public criticism or shaming
  • verbal violence, including shouting/yelling/swearing
  • intimidation
  • threats
  • isolating you from others
  • bullying
  • making you doubt yourself
  • telling you that you are wrong
  • blame
  • twisting stories and gaslighting
  • controlling what you wear and your appearance in general
  • controlling your finances
  • lying to others about you
  • humiliating you
  • one set of rules for them and another set for you
  • and continually changing the rules. 

What are emotional abuse related symptoms?

When someone has been emotionally abused they can experience a range of damaging symptoms. Including anxiety, panic attacks, depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.

Often those who are being (or have been) emotionally abused, exhibit a growing lack of interest in themselves and their own wellbeing and disinterested in the basics of life. For example, eating well, taking care of their presentation. They begin to doubt themselves and are no longer connected to their own intuition or gut reactions. Because so often they are told they are wrong, they are often in a state of no reference point for what is wrong or right anymore. Often, they don’t know who to trust and more and more they don’t trust themselves. These people can come across as suspicious or paranoid because of this.

Furthermore, they often have energy deficiency, and struggle with fatigue, they are usually hypervigilant, wanting or needing to be aware in every waking moment, sometimes this can look like needing to control or they may be excessively organised (and sometimes the opposite can present, where the exhaustion can lead to major disorganisation too). 

They don’t know who to trust and more and more they don’t trust themselves

When someone has been on the receiving end of emotional abuse, they aren’t sure how to explain it but they just feel like something isn’t right. And when others (friends or family) point out that there may be some emotional abuse happening, they may feel protective or defensive toward their abuser. For example: 

what is emotional abuse

“Oh he/she doesn’t mean to be like that”

“they just have a short temper”

“I don’t blame he/she for getting mad or frustrated at me, as I know I can be a nuisance sometimes”

“his work is so stressful, he has a lot on his plate”. 

Emotional abuse and self esteem

Energetically, emotional abuse chips away at your self esteem, like a pick chipping away at stone. And gone on long enough it can gouge out large areas and even bust right through, creating large holes and crevices in your self esteem.

I often suggest to individuals who are learning that they are being emotionally abused, that they see it as if it is physical abuse. Viewing it as if it is physical, transposing it into a visual, can be shocking. But it can help to grasp the gravity of the abuse and the equivalent of what is happening energetically and emotionally. 

It’s common that people will describe feeling the same way regardless of whether they have been physically or emotionally abused. For example, I feel battered, worn down, bruised, helpless, hopeless, I feel like I can’t do anything right.

Lastly, emotional abuse can also be something that we inflict on ourselves. Energetic or emotional self harm creates all the same features in one’s life as what I have mentioned above. But it is something that one does to themselves, rather than being carried out by another. And is primarily carried out by the ego (personality) with negative self talk and life diminishing thought processes.

Undoubtedly, this is a complex and painful issue. If you need a compassionate professional to guide you through the healing of emotional abuse, please contact me now.

About Tanya M Wilson

Tanya M Wilson is a sought after counsellor and psychotherapist based in Adelaide, South Australia.
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