Recognising emotional abuse

Emotional abuse can be difficult to recognise as it can sometimes be subtle and increase over a period of time. Sometimes the abuser can be very thoughtful and kind. Another reason it can be difficult to recognise can be because there is no physical wound (at least not one that can be seen). Emotional abuse can be disguised in a way that the person who is abusing gives the impression that they do care about you and have your best interests at heart.

All abuse affects people emotionally but for some abusers, their focus is to diminish their victim's ability to think clearly thus increasing the level of control and power. If challenged they become more controlling, denying that they have done anything wrong and blaming the victim.

It may be helpful to give some indicators that emotional abuse may be happening:

  • When you tell friends about the dynamics of the relationship and they raise concerns do you find yourself defending the abuser? 
  • Do you wonder if it's all your fault and you just need to try harder not to upset the abuser?
  • Do you wonder if perhaps you have misunderstood what the person said to you and maybe they didn't mean to hurt you?
  • Do you find that you are becoming compliant and afraid to speak up?
  • Do you find that you are internalising your thoughts and feelings?
  • Do you find that you are feeling a sense of shame, embarrassment and anxiety?
  • Do you feel belittled - as though what you have to say doesn't matter and is probably wrong?
  • Do you find it difficult to trust yourself and your thought processes?
  • Do you feel belittled?
  • Do you feel resentful?
  • Do you feel isolated?
  • Do you feel manipulated?
  • Do you feel as though no matter how hard you try it is never good enough?

This list is not exhaustive but may help you consider whether your relationship is healthy or not.

Emotional abuse can happen to anyone in any environment and across all socio-economic groups. It can be hard to spot if you are with a person where you expect to trust them - perhaps a romantic relationship, a relationship with members of your family, a relationship with a colleague at work. It can be difficult as an adult to admit to yourself that you are being emotionally abused by another adult.

The effects of emotional abuse can be just as devastating as physical or sexual abuse. It can happen across the genders. It is unacceptable. People can sometimes minimise their experience or not recognise what is actually happening - they assume that the behaviour is normal and happens in all relationships.

Abuse is a difficult subject to talk about for many reasons. Yet it is important that we do talk so that people have a better understanding and that the sense of shame for survivors of abuse can be diminished. 

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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Godalming GU7 & Weybridge KT13
Written by Stella Goddard, BA (Hons) Registered MBACP (Accred)
Godalming GU7 & Weybridge KT13

Stella Goddard has extensive experience of and interest in working with abuse both in childhood and in adulthood. She is committed to helping people recognise their experience, diminish shame, increase self-compassion and work towards empowering and strengthening those who have been or are being hurt in this way.

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