Emotional abuse: The silent killer

Any kind of abuse is unacceptable. Recovering from any form of abuse takes time and can be immensely painful.

When thinking of types of abuse the two that may instantly spring to mind are physical and sexual. It feels as though there is plenty of research, articles, opinions and full-blown empathy for victims of these. What about those that have suffered at the hands of emotional abuse?

From personal experience and without at all diminishing the impact of physical abuse, at times in my childhood being given a slap would have been preferable to the cruel, unkind, hard and cold wall of nothingness that faced me at the hands of one parent. The overt narcissist in full flight. A childhood without a voice or daring to have an opinion for oneself was debilitating and depressing.

If suffering at the hands of the overt narcissist wasn’t enough, imagine the double whammy of the other parent as a covert narcissist - manipulation, unhealthy almost perverse type of smothering and love. Always having to meet the needs and demands of the parent, always being sorry for things that were never my fault. Giving and giving, being emotionally drained yet never feeling that what I gave was enough - never being good enough. Always left feeling guilty for not doing well enough. Two very different parents, two very different types of emotional abuse but both as deadly as each other. Both as difficult to overcome through hours and hours of therapy.

Does this ring any bells for you? Is there someone in your life that displays overt or covert narcissist tendencies and behaviours?

As with all abuse victims, the passage of healing and recovery can take years and can be very painful and emotional. Passing through the stages of victim to survivor and eventually to 'thriver' is not an easy journey even with the aid of a competent and confident therapist.

However, the journey is worthwhile. The world needs more thrivers and certainly fewer victims. Whilst staying in victim mode, so the cycle of abuser/victim continues. 

Emotional abuse can lead to feelings of sadness, worthlessness, guilt, shame, depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation. Behaviours include people pleasing, unable to say no, rescuing and colluding with others, putting everyone else before the self, lack of empowerment and decision making, and attracting relationships and friendships with people with abuser/abusive tendencies. Does this touch a nerve for you?

So many people are victims of emotional abuse, possibly without knowing so. Emotional abuse can be subtle, masked, hidden, which makes it so deadly - the silent killer. Silently diminishing the soul, character, personality of a person who could have been destined for better things.

People with Narcissistic personality disorder or even just narcissistic tendencies can be anywhere and everywhere. A boss, friend, sibling, parent or partner. My way of determining whether there is such a person in my life is how I feel when leaving the person I have just spent time with. When we meet up with someone, we at best should feel better about ourselves and at worst feel no different. If we feel worse having spent time with someone than we did before we saw them then the relationship is destructive to us. If it has taken something from us rather than given us something then it isn’t at all healthy. People in our lives are there to enhance us. Add something to us. We need to try and reach a stage in life where we surround ourselves with people that deserve to be in our lives.

Dealing with a narcissist

The best approach, if you have a narcissist in your life, is to get out, get away. Unfortunately, this is not always an option. Managing a narcissist in your life is about boundaries, self-care, putting yourself first and treating the person as you would an acquaintance. Being bland, vanilla, grey - giving nothing of yourself. If you give nothing there is nothing for them to take! 

Much easier said than done of course, but having therapy can help manage a narcissist in your life. The road to recovery isn’t just about managing them and yourself. It could be about grieving for the person that they are not. If the narcissist is a parent then there needs to be a grieving process of not getting the parent you deserved as well as accepting you have got the parent you got! 

More and more victims of emotional abuse are finding their way to the therapy room. A sign of recognition of such a thing? Whatever the reason it is rewarding work to know that others are beginning to empower themselves, unchain the abuser/abuse and make the transition from victim to survivor and eventually thriver. It’s not just the abuse that is debilitating - the abuser may be long gone. It is the life scripts, conditions of worth, thoughts and feelings about the self that are left behind leading to never fulfilling potential. Everyone has the right, the basic human right, to reach their full potential. No one has the right to ever hinder a person in their quest to reach their potential especially deliberately so.

I hope to see more and more individuals recognise the narcissists in their life and get the help and support they need. Hopefully, there will be more and more counsellors looking to specialise in this area. This area of emotional abuse - the silent killer.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Preston, Lancashire, PR4
Written by Carol Harmston, Dean
Preston, Lancashire, PR4

Carol Harmston-Dean is Snr. Accred with the NCS. She owns JHD counselling services and training centre in Cambridge. Carol also has private practice in the North West working as a counsellor and supervisor. More recently Carol has been offered work as an independent trainer for the NCS delivering workshops including emotional abuse/narcissism.

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