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Why do we find it so hard to recognise emotional abuse?

I have been reflecting a lot on emotional abuse and trying to really understand what it is. I came to the conclusion that in many instances, it is one person expecting another to put them first – even though that could be detrimental to the other person. While we can all hope to be so important to another person that they want to put us first, it is the expectation and behaviour that follows that expectation that can be abusive.

Think about how shocking that is; that we would allow someone to put us first ahead of what is healthy and necessary for them or what they would really choose to do if they felt they could. Coercion, manipulation, emotional blackmail, threats, attacking the sense of self and self-worth of another. Dismissal of their value and their rights, their boundaries and autonomy.

In many ways, it mirrors a parent child relationship; after all, a child is demanding and expecting of their needs to be met. As they age, hopefully they develop awareness and empathy and learn they can’t have everything they want no matter what the cost to others.

But what happens if they don’t? How does that influence other relationships? Do they even see what they are expecting and that their behaviour is abusive?

And that I think is part of why it’s so hard to recognise it. Because we have some blind spots with parent child relationships, but also, because we might not just be the victim of it but we might also be the perpetrator.

Where is the line? For example, knowing you want to do something with your partner that they don’t want to do but finding a way to change their mind. Why aren’t their wishes being respected? What did you do to get your own way? How much emotional pressure did you apply to get what you wanted even though you knew they would be unhappy?

How often have you insisted a friend or family member put your needs first, even though they didn’t want to?

This leads to another question that is very uncomfortable to explore – why? Why can’t we accept someone saying no to us? Why can’t we accept that other people come first at times?

My experiences lead me to the conclusion that there is a great deal of insecurity and fear underlying a lot of this behaviour. Things can be changed, but recognising what is happening is necessary as a first step.

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