Do you know the signs of Emotional/ Psychological Abuse?
Content/Trigger Warning: Please be advised, this article might mention trauma-related topics which could potentially be triggering. While either word can be used, for ease I’ll try not to use the term Psychological and stick to Emotional Abuse throughout this article.
“I used to tiptoe around, hardly daring to breathe, while trying to keep the boys quiet in case he woke up in a bad mood.”
Do you ever feel like you’re walking on eggshells around your partner? Do you have constant doubts about what you’ve said or done because your partner skews your reality?
Does your partner deny abusing you, and tell you that you’re “going mad” or “it’s all in your head?” If so, you may start believing that your feelings are invalid – that’s a rotten feeling, and it’s not true.
Does your partner try to control your behaviour by undermining you or blaming you for their problems, making you feel worthless, ashamed and unworthy of their affections?
These are all signs of emotional manipulation. And guess what? You do matter, even if your partner tells you that you don’t. Emotional abuse in couple relationships is common and cruel. But don’t worry, you can get through this!
Does your partner control you psychologically/ emotionally through:
- Name calling, criticising or insulting you
- Demanding to know your every movement: where you’ve been, who you saw, who you spoke to
- Keeping you in your home; to stop you visiting family or friends or stopping you from leaving them
- Trying to isolate you from your family or friends, not allowing them to visit you or staying in the room when they do visit, listening to your conversations
- Being jealous or possessive or refusing to trust you, calling your workplace to see if you’re there, to find out who you’re with and what you’re talking about
- Checking your phone to see who you call and where you go, checking who you spend time with
- Trying to control what you wear, how much makeup you wear — subtle comments such as “Hhhmm, the dress is nice, maybe a bit too young for you tho”, just as your arrive at a party, so it’s too late for you to change and you’re left feeling uncomfortable throughout the party
- Accusing you of cheating and being jealous of your other friendships, relationships, sometimes work colleagues. I was constantly asked whether I was sleeping with various men at work and even once, was I cheating with a female friend and how long had it been going on for
- Blaming you for any abuse “You made me do it.” or “I wouldn’t do it if you didn’t wind me up.”
- Punishing you by withholding their affections, keeping you at a distance
- Telling you how lucky you are to be with them and you won’t find anyone better or saying who’d want you anyway
- Humiliating you in any way, particularly in front of people
- Threatening to hurt you or those close to you; children, your family, your friends or even your pets
- Regularly cheating on you then blaming you for their behavior; “If you weren’t so frigid, I wouldn’t have to go elsewhere.” Never understanding that it’s their cruel words or behaviours that makes you withdraw and withhold sexual intimacy
- Cheating on you just to hurt you and telling you they’ll do it again if you don’t do such and such
- Damaging your home, property or car when they’re angry like punching walls, kicking doors, or throwing things – your favourite photo, breaking or hiding a piece of your jewellery
- Gaslighting — a form of psychological manipulation in which a person covertly sows seeds of doubt in a targeted individual, making them question their own memory, perception, or judgment, often evoking in them cognitive dissonance and other changes such as low self-esteem, Wikipedia. Basically meaning that you question your mental health and wonder if you are “going insane“
- Threatening to use weapons to hurt you or threatening to put petrol through your letterbox! Yes, I’ve had that and let me tell you, it’s terrifying! I called a friend and we sat in the dark on the floor by the front door, waiting for more than an hour before we realised he wasn’t coming to carry out his threat. But he did get the desired effect — terror and anxiety!
Of course, the above isn’t a complete list of the signs of an emotionally abusive relationship, but it offers up some of the main indicators.
There’s many more signs and you can find huge amounts of information from available services, such as Relate, Living with Abuse (LWA) and Gov.UK who all offer advice and support both online and by telephone.
Should I stay in an emotionally abusive relationship?
Abusers won’t stop their abusive behaviour on their own, which means you have to end to the cycle. You can’t stop them alone; all you can do is find the courage to stop accepting the abuse. Walking away won’t be the easiest option but it’s always the best option. Remember: abuse is not your fault and you are not alone.
One of the most helpful first steps if you feel you’re in an emotionally (or other) abusive relationship is to speak to someone outside of it.
I’m not in an emotionally abusive relationship but I know someone who is
Psychological/Emotional Abuse is often quite difficult to spot as it’s mostly done in private and there are no visible physical effects. But if you do see any of the above signs, ask your friend/family member if they are being abused and ask “How can I help?”
They might deny any abuse or refuse to talk about it, this time. Don’t give up, keep trying. Tell them often, that you are there for them and if they do want to talk, just to call you, if they can. Tell them you will be there just to listen, if that’s what they want, and do exactly that, just listen.
Don’t interrupt, as this might be the first time they’ve been able to talk about the abuse. Remember, they’re probably feeling a little (or a lot) embarrassed too.
Don’t tell them they’re mad for staying and don’t say things like “If it was that bad, you’d leave.” If you’ve never experienced any form of abuse (or, even if you have), don’t expect to understand why they won’t leave.
Don’t expect that person to leave immediately, just because that’s what you would do. If a person’s not ready to leave an abusive relationship — yet, perhaps you can help them work an escape plan for when they are ready.
Download some information on abuse to give to your friend or pick up leaflets from your local Relate. Find out local numbers of refuge and support services.
Do you know someone who’s experiencing Emotional or Psychological abuse? Would you know what to look for and be able to help somebody now? I’d appreciate your thoughts and I’m happy to answer any questions. Let’s talk about Emotional Abuse.
This article is the third of a series, looking at the various forms of abuse, which I hope you’ll find interesting and useful. You can find the first article here, which covers “All forms of Abuse”, and the second here, which is about “Domestic Abuse”.