Emotional abuse can be self perpetuating. A person who has grown up in an emotionally abusive household is more likely than a person who has had an emotionally healthy upbringing to become either an abuser or a victim of emotional abuse.
The first situation can occur because a child from an emotionally abusive family has simply no understanding of what constitutes healthy relationships. He has had no role model other than an abusive one, so when he begins to forge adult relationships of his own he applies the only rules of behavior that he knows. He does not recognize or regret his actions because he sees them as normal.
The second situation occurs for similar reasons. A child who has been emotionally abused or seen another family member abused is at greater risk of being a victim of emotional abuse in later life. Once more, she has had no ‘template’ of healthy interaction to follow, and is more likely to accept abuse herself. She is also at risk of becoming a victim as her self confidence has already been reduced and her personality become vulnerable. It could also be that she actively seeks out a relationship with an abusive person, finding a mistaken kind of comfort in the familiar. If a person has always been controlled by another, she may have no inner strength developed to make her own decisions and seek direction at all times from her partner.
Victims of emotional abuse commonly feel angry, bewildered, powerless, hurt and frightened. Perhaps strangely, abusers also frequently feel the same emotions and this is what drives them to abuse. If a person feels powerless, he attempts to gain power through emotional abuse. If he has lost self confidence though his own emotionally abusive upbringing, he may seek to redress the balance by exerting control over his partner in order to validate himself.
Whether you are being emotionally abused or are emotionally abusive towards someone in your life, it’s helpful to take a look at the pattern of your relationships with family and friends as well as with your intimate partner. Often, a hierarchy of relationships can be established, and things can become complicated and difficult to understand. For example, you may find that you are the victim of your partner’s emotional abuse yet you find yourself behaving in an emotionally abusive fashion towards another member of your circle. This can often be seen in schoolyard bullying. A child who is emotionally abused at home becomes a bully towards another child at school in an attempt to regain the power and self confidence that has been knocked out of him within his family. If you can see clearly the pattern of behavior throughout your relationships you have a better ground for recovery.
Equally it’s important to see the ways that you might be contributing to your partner’s abuse of you. If you constantly tell yourself that you are worthless or stupid, you are reinforcing the abuse and validating it. You should understand that emotional abuse is not justified, ever. Your rights, as a human being, as outlined by Patricia Evans in her study of verbal and emotional abuse in 1992 are that:
- You have the right to goodwill from your partner, as he does from you.
- You have the right to emotional support.
- You have the right to be listened to by your partner and responded to with courtesy.
- You have the right to hold your own opinions, whether or not these are the same as or different from your partner’s.
- You have the right to have your feelings and experiences accepted as real.
- You have the right to receive a sincere apology for remarks or jokes that you find offensive.
- .You have the right to receive clear and informative answers to questions about anything that is legitimately your concern.
- You have the right to live your life free from blame and insults.
- You have the right to live your life free from constant criticism and judgement.
- You have the right to have your work, interests and thoughts treated with respect.
- You have the right to receive encouragement from your partner.
- You have the right to live free from intimidation or threats, both emotional and physical.
- You have the right to live free from rage and verbal outbursts.
- You have the right not to be called names that devalue you.
- You have the right to be asked respectfully and not ordered to do things.
- Emotional abuse can lead to physical abuse.
- Emotional abuse is every bit as real and destructive as physical abuse.
- Emotional abuse is about one person trying to control another.
- Emotional abuse is the fault of the abuser, not the victim.
- A child who grows up in an emotionally abusive environment is likely to perpetuate the behavior in adulthood if it is not addressed.
- Emotional abuse can be stopped and an abuser can learn to change. However, this is just as difficult as changing from being physically abusive and almost always requires professional help.
- A person who is habitually emotionally abusive can only change if they accept full responsibility for the problem. If your abusive partner continues to place some of the blame on you he is not committed to change.
- It can be harder for a person to leave an emotionally abusive relationship than one which is physically abusive.
- There is help available for those who are suffering emotional abuse. Many domestic violence helplines can advise and support even if there is no physical abuse threatened or taking place.
- Men can be the victims of emotional abuse just as can women.
- Emotional abuse often increases over time.
- Emotional abuse can have serious, long term effects.
- Emotional abuse attacks and destroys a person’s self confidence and core beliefs.
Types of Abuse
Not all abuse is emotional. Here is a recap of some of the categories of abuse (see our article on what is abuse for the definitions)
- Physical Abuse
- Emotional Abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Financial abuse (If you suffer from financial abuse, seek out some financial help)
There are plenty of things that you can do if you are suffering from emotional abuse.
Firstly, you need to really accept that you are not to blame. The fault lies firmly and squarely with your abuser. However, you may subconsciously be encouraging the abuse, so try to be positive in your thinking about yourself.
- You may feel able to begin by talking to your abuser. If you have the confidence to do this, it’s a good idea to spend some time planning what you are going to say and consider in advance what sort of responses you are going to have to deal with. A confronted abuser is likely to be in denial, and will argue strongly that the abuse is your fault not theirs. Being ready for these responses enables you to stand firm and to reiterate what you know is right. If necessary, say your piece and then ask the abusive person to take time to go away and think about what you have said. This can take the ‘self defense’ reaction out of the equation. However, it is also necessary to understand that there are no quick fixes. An abusive person needs time to change and the process is always painful and requires commitment.
- You can obtain help from domestic violence helplines and websites. You do not have to be suffering physical attacks to enlist help from these sources. Emotional and verbal abuse is just as dangerous as physical abuse, and the help is offered to sufferers of all kinds of domestic abuse.
- If you are being abused in the workplace, you can enlist the help of colleagues, speak to a superior or take the problem to an official tribunal. You can also decide to leave the abusive work environment and find another job.
- If you are being verbally or emotionally abused at school, you have similar options. A strong support group of peers can help greatly. If this is not available to you, try talking to a teacher or to your parents or other trusted adults in your circle. There are also anti bullying organisations and hotlines that can offer experienced and expert help and advice. Remember: You are not the first or only person to have experienced verbal abuse even if you feel isolated. Help is there for you. Don’t be afraid to call for help. You will be taken seriously.
- If you are suffering from any kind of abuse you can always go to talk to your family doctor or social worker, who should be able to recommend sources of help or prescribe counselling where necessary.
Treatments for victims of domestic abuse often involve counselling to help them to recover their self confidence. Mental health professionals are trained to help you find the right treatment. Peer groups of sufferers are also very helpful, allowing victims to share experiences and help each other. Writing down your experiences and feelings can also be cathartic, as can joining internet groups of fellow sufferers.
The type of action that you should take varies according to the individual circumstances. If the victim is a child and the abuse is taking place at school, your first port of call should be the head teacher or a teacher with direct responsibility for that child, such as a class teacher or student mentor. However, if you suspect that a child is being verbally abused within his family, it is a little more complex. If you have a very strong relationship with a close family member, it may be possible to moot the topic, but families can be complicated and defensive for a number of reasons. It may be better to take advice from the professionals through helplines or your family doctor.
If the abused person is a friend, and the abuse is taking place within a marriage or an intimate relationship, you can try getting them to talk to you about the problem. If they do so, listen and offer support. Don’t be judgmental, it isn’t helpful for the victim to hear you say that if you were being treated like that you would leave…she may not feel strong enough to do so for a number of reasons. Respect her opinions and feelings. You can offer physical support, such as a safe place to stay should she decide to leave the abusive partner. You could also provide her with contacts for organisations that could help and let her use your telephone or computer to make contact in safety.
Resources for victims of emotional abuse
Gaining a good understanding of emotional abuse is useful. Suggested reading is:
- Engle, Beverly, M.F.C.C.The Emotionally Abused Woman: Overcoming Destructive Patterns and Reclaiming Yourself. New York: Fawcett Columbine, 1992.
Evans, Patricia.The Verbally Abusive Relationship: How to Recognize It and How to Respond.Holbrook, Massachusetts: Bob Adams, Inc., 1992.
To find counselling and support
The list below is not comprehensive, but provides links to known available help. For local help, internet search your state, province or county. These organisations should not ask for money in return for help. If any do, search again for charities and organisations that offer the help for free. In general, domestic violence agencies and helplines are happy to offer help for victims of emotional abuse of all types whether or not it involves physical violence or threats of violence.
Resources for victims of abuse (general)
- http://www.befrienders.org/helplines/helplines.asp?c2=USA The Befrienders network provides emergency help and advice to anyone in crisis or who may be considering suicide.
- http://www.samaritans.org/talk_to_someone.aspx The Samaritans helpline will answer calls and provide support to anyone in crisis or who is considering committing suicide.
- Voice UK: Helpline 0808 802 8686
Telephone support and information for adults and children with learning disabilities who have been abused, and for their families and carers.
- Mind (National Association for Mental Health): 0845 766 0163
- SupportLine: 01708 765200, email [email protected]– Telephone Helpline providing confidential emotional support to children, young adults and adults on any issue. Aimed at those who are isolated, vulnerable, at risk groups and victims of any form of abuse
- Childline: 0800 1111, www.childline.org.uk – Free national helpline for children and young people in danger and distress. Also booklets on bullying
- Kidscape Campaign for Children’s Safety: Admin 020 7730 3300, Helpline 08451 205 204, www.kidscape.org.uk – Telephone helpline providing support for parents and produce free parents guides on issues relating to bullying. Also run one day courses for children who have been severely bullied.
- http://www.befrienders.org/ Befrienders network operates worlwide to help those in crisis. The link allows you to find your nearest service.
Resources for victims of domestic abuse (including elder and spousal abuse):
- http://www.thehotline.org/ National Domestic Violence hotline.
- http://www.mysistersplacedc.org/index.html Provides comprehensive programs of assistance for victims of domestic abuse. Contains many links to help.
- http://www.womenslaw.org/gethelp_type.php?type_name=State%20and%20Local%20Programs A directory of shelters providing help for women escaping domestic violence.
- Aanchal: 0845 451 2547 (serves London area)
24 hour telephone helpline and services for Asian women who have experienced domestic violence, emotional support, group work and counselling.
- SupportLine: 01708 765200
email [email protected]
Telephone Helpline providing confidential emotional support to Children, Young Adults and Adults on any issue including domestic violence.
- Freephone 24 Hour National Domestic Violence Helpline: 0808 2000 247
- Action on Elder Abuse: 0808 808 8141
- Broken Rainbow: 0300 999 5428
Support for lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people suffering domestic violence.
- The Freedom Programme: 01547 520228
A 12 week rolling programme for women who wish to learn about the reality of domestic violence and abuse.
- Hidden Hurt:
Abuse Information and Support Site.
- Jewish Women’s Aid: 0808 801 0500
Services for Jewish women experiencing domestic violence.
- Rights of Women – 020 7251 6577
Telephone legal advice service for women.
Sexual Violence Legal AdviceLine: 020 7251 8887 (phone) or 020 7490 2562 (textphone) Mondays 11am-1pm and Tuesdays 10am-12 noon.
- Scottish Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0800 027 1234
24 hour Helpline providing information and support for those affected by domestic abuse.
- Southall Black Sisters: 020 8571 9595
Advice, information and emotional support for black and Asian women.
- Wales Domestic Abuse: Helpline 0808 80 10 800
24 hour helpline free and confidential for anybody experiencing or concerned about someone experiencing domestic abuse (women, men and children).
- Victim Support Helpline: 0845 30 30 900
- http://www.hotpeachpages.net/ Worldwide help for victims of domestic abuse.
Emotional abuse is included as a form of domestic violence by both the UK and US governments, and your concerns will be taken seriously. Ask for help, don’t wait until the situation worsens.