What Is Emotional Abuse?
Emotional abuse is a way someone exerts power over the other by employing approaches such as criticizing, blaming, humiliating, threatening, and manipulation through the victim’s emotions. It can also be seen as a concept of four horsemen standing on a platform. The horsemen are criticism, contempt, stonewalling, and defensiveness, while the platform upon which they stand can be regarded as a foundation of controlling and chronically manipulative behavior. The chief features of emotional abuse are domination and control.
Emotional abuse can also be in the form of threats, isolation, minimizing, public embarrassment, coercive control, unrelenting criticism, relentless devaluation of self, gaslighting, and persistent stonewalling. Victims of emotional abuse in a marriage often see their spouse having a complete influence on them. Consequently, this interrupts the power dynamics in a marriage as it empowers one spouse at the expense of the other.
Often, emotional abuse is difficult to be identified. Victims of emotional abuse sometimes don’t know it and blame themselves instead. The abusing party achieves control through different degrees of perpetual put-downs, bullying, chronic complaining, social ostracism, and insult. It uses mental intimidation rather than physical intimidation. The abusing spouse uses their words, actions, and attitude against their spouse to control them, mainly when the victim is anxious, insecure, and has occupied the victim role.
If they persist long-term, emotional abuse cripples their spouse’s dignity and sense of self. Research has shown no substantial difference between physical and emotional abuse. It further informs us that men are not always the abuser in marriage. Both women and men are equal in being responsible for emotional abuse. As such, both genders are candidates for emotional abuse therapy. It is also possible for the abusers not to realize what they are doing as the abuse does not leave physical scars on the body.
Examples of emotional abuse
Emotional abuse can take different forms, which can be regarded as examples. The following are different types of emotional abuse:
● Displaying unrealistic expectations
Emotional abuse can take the form of unreasonable expectations from one’s spouse. Expecting a spouse to meet their needs at the expense of other things and demanding they spend all of their time with them. They may be unsatisfied no matter the victim’s effort and will criticize everything their spouses do.
Such abuse expects you to adopt their opinion without seriously taking your view into consideration. This type of emotional abuse also takes the form of requesting that you identify the time and date of an upsetting event. Failure to do that makes them dismiss the event like it never happened.
● Invalidation of the victim
This is when a spouse undermines, distorts, or dismisses the perception of the other. They define how you are meant to feel and reject your feelings and will almost always require you to explain your feelings. They may also accuse you of being too emotional, sensitive, or crazy. They refuse to acknowledge and accept your opinion as a valid one and will usually dismiss your wants, needs, and requests as unmerited or ridiculous.
It is also the same as suggesting that you have a wrong perception and hence, cannot be trusted claiming you “blow things out of proportion” or “you are exaggerating.” They also accuse you of being materialistic, needy, and selfish when you request things while expecting things for themselves. This kind of emotional abuse also comes to play when your spouse replies, “Why does it matter if I stayed out until 3am without telling you? You are so overbearing and super sensitive.”
● Chaos creation
This form of emotional abuse is when your spouse starts an argument to argue with you. It involves “crazy-making,” which is the usage of contradicting and confusing statements. They exhibit sudden emotional outbursts and drastic mood changes. They also nitpick at your work, hair, clothes, and other stuff. They behave so unpredictably and erratically that you feel like you are “walking on eggshells.”
● Using emotional blackmail
This form involves manipulation and controlling by creating a sense of guilt in you. It also involves humiliation both in private and public. They tend to control you or the situation using your fear, compassion, and value. They also exaggerate your flaws and call them out to avoid taking responsibility or deflect attention for their own mistakes and poor choices.
They also make you feel guilty for snooping when you find out about their physical or emotional affairs. They punish their spouse by withholding affection and claim you don’t love them if you don’t do what they requested. They may also make statements like you never love them in the first place.
● Superiority and entitlement
Emotional abuse can also take the form of treating one’s spouse as inferior. They blame you for their shortcomings and mistakes, doubt everything you say, and their main goal is to prove you wrong. They make hurtful jokes and claim you are too sensitive. They claim that your idea, opinion, value, and thought are illogical, stupid, and make no sense.
They talk down to you or act condescending and use sarcasm when interacting with you. They act smarter and prove that they are always right. Another example is acting like they are always right and know what is best or the smartest decision. Emotional abusers will make states such as, “This is obviously over your head. Let me go really slow for you.”
● Controlling through isolation
This form of emotional abuse is when your spouse controls who you spend time with or see, including family, friends, and colleagues. They monitor your text messages, phone calls, emails, and social media. They are jealous of outside relationships and will accuse you of cheating even when you are faithful. This might include hiding your car keys and track your every move using GPS. They may demand to know where you are at all times.
It can also involve treating one’s spouse like a piece of property or a possession. They mock and criticize your family, friends, and co-workers. They use jealousy and envy as a sign of “love” and keep you away from others. They coerce you to spend all of your time with them and may want to control your finances. They discourage spouses from attending public or social activities by typically creating a scene in public or being more difficult than normal.
● Creating a double-bind – “A lose-lose situation”
This involves setting a lose-lose situation where no matter what choice you make, you lose. Some examples include:
- “Tell me how you feel.” & “Don’t be a sissy, Be a man.”
- “Just say what you want.” & “Don’t be so demanding.”
- “You don’t ever talk about sex.” & When you do bring up sex, “All you care about is sex.”
- “You need to stay home from work, or you don’t love me” & Your job is at risk if you do what they say.
- “I need you to do X for me.” & “The only reason you did X is because I told you to.”
Ex. “Call that woman and chew her out to show me that you love me.” & You only did it because I told you to which proves you still care about her more than me.”
● Intimidation, control, and threat. (Including towards pets)
This form of emotional abuse is when your spouse destroys property to show hostility towards you. It is also when you make your spouse do something humiliating or degrading (begging for forgiveness, having to ask your permission to use the car or leave the house). It can also be in the form of threatening to harm pets or giving them away. They could also threaten to harm themselves if you don’t follow through with their desires.
Emotional abuse is changing the rules without informing you. It is turning friends and kids against the spouse or threatening to share your secrets. When they have to clap their hands to get their point across to you or raise their hand in an attempt to hit are all forms of emotional abuse.
This type of abuse is when your spouse misleads you, making you question your reality and judgment by creating a false narrative. The victim of this type of abuse will become unsure about their perception and think they are losing their sanity. The abuser may challenge your memory and pretend like there was never any abuse. When they are accused of being abusive, they give an excuse for doing so to help the spouse or out of love for the spouse. They accuse the victim of paranoia and will tend to claim the victim is insecure.
Their reason for controlling the money may be that you are terrible at handling finances even though you handled them well before meeting your spouse. When you accuse them of deception, they make excuses by saying, “You’re making things up, “I never said that” or “You’re crazy and need to seek help.” They twist the reality of your evidence and call you names such as nuts, ungrateful, and hysterical. They give excuses for lying and may claim it is your fault or blames others. They may say, “I never said I was sorry to you about that” even though they did. Another example is telling you to do “A” and when you do “A” they will get mad and say, “You should have known to do ‘B’ instead of A.”
Other types of emotional abuse are highlighted as follows:
- Name-calling and belittling
- Yelling and volatility
- Demanding that chores be done a certain way
- Yelling at a child and shaming the spouse if they intervene
- Punishing a spouse by not speaking to them for days
- Ending a discussion and then, making an important decision without the spouse
- Claiming they are a bad spouse or parent
- Stalking, harassing, and showing up where you know they will be without informing them
- “I didn’t call you a jerk. I said you were acting like a jerk.”
- “I’m sorry I acted like that, but you just know how to push my buttons.”
What happens to victims of emotional abuse?
Emotional and psychological abuse can produce effects that can be long-term and short-term. The effect can be seen in both the physical and mental health of the victim. Some of the effects include anxiety, confusion, guilt, and shame. It also results in over-compliance, frequent crying, and powerlessness.
When you experience emotional abuse, you may lose your identity and damage your self-esteem. It changes your self-concept and makes you think you are at fault even when not. You may start living in isolation, thinking many people dislike you. It makes you think you are going crazy and questions your reality a lot. It can result in mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and panic attacks.
Many victims of emotional abuse claim that the scars last longer and are more profound than physical abuse. Abuse can erode the sense of self and make the victim agree with the abuser’s claim, becoming internally critical. This act makes them feel trapped in the abuse, thinking they can never be suitable for anyone else. It may result in chronic pain and other physical symptoms.
Treatment goals in marriage counseling for emotional abuse
Emotional abuse can be dealt with. The following are examples of how marriage counseling can address emotional abuse:
- The abuser in the relationship must accept responsibility. It’s important that they learn to slow down and identify their feelings, thought patterns, and controlling behavior resulting in the abuse.
- The emotional abusers must restore the “emotional bank account” in the relationship. This restoration is achieved when kind and thoughtful behavior replaces aggressive and controlling behavior.
- The abuser will be taught how to self-soothe and master taking a time-out. They must equally learn to take a different stance whenever they are in conflict with their spouse.
- Abusers should not become too prideful about how quickly they are changing. They must learn to be patient, as changing the habit of emotional abuse can take more time than you think. For many, it could take months or years. Some will require extra help beyond marriage counseling such as individual counseling, group therapy, self-help books, etc.
- In the course of recovering, the perpetrator must learn to take responsibility for any form of backsliding. Full responsibility is the over-arching theme in their recovery from emotional abuse.
What if your spouse is not interested in changing?
The perpetrator of emotional abuse may find it hard to change or may not be interested in changing at all. In that case, you must practice self-care, which can include the following:
● Put your own needs first.
This may sound selfish, but you must stop worrying about or pleasing your abusive spouse. You have to learn to resist their guilt-tripping and bullying attempts to control and dominate you. Learn to take care of yourself first.
● Establish loud and clear boundaries
Let it be known to your abusive spouse that they will never influence you by name-calling, insulting, and screaming. Disclose to them in clear and definite terms that if such abuse persists, it is a deal-breaker for you. Try to leave the room or the house. You can choose to visit a friend or stay in a hotel. Be consistent and follow through on your boundaries, and don’t set boundaries you won’t keep. Prepare yourself that they will become angrier when they their influence on you has been broken. An individual counselor may help you determine the boundaries and the consequences when those boundaries are crossed.
When the abuser launches a verbal assault, it would be best not to engage. Instead, withdraw from the scene or stay silent. Do not attempt to calm them or get drawn back into their arguments when they push your buttons.
● Stop trying to persuade them to be different.
Do not exhaust yourself by trying to appeal to logic, reason, or their sense of fair play. If you stop falling into the persuasion trap, this will leave them to realize the ineffectiveness of their abusive approach. Many emotional abusers gain energy from your arguing and attempting to persuade them, which will likely perpetuate their emotional abuse.
● Find social support
You can reach out to your social connections to help with the ongoing emotional abuse in the marriage. Research shows that there will likely be less emotional damage even if a person stays with an emotional abuser. It is important to remember that the abuser may try to get you to stop seeing those people. They may see others as a threat to their power and control.
● Seek therapy in Louisville, Kentucky
Some therapists specialize in dealing with emotional abuse victims. Find one that understands what emotional abuse is and how hard it is to detect in marriages. This extra effort is required to protect yourself since your abuser may not be ready to give up their dominance and control. You can reach out to us at Grace Psychological Services as we offer individual therapy and marriage counseling to help you. To learn more our therapists, you can click here. To contact us to schedule an appointment, please click here.