Emotional Abuse: No, You Are Not Imagining It

Emotional abuse, also referred to as psychological abuse, is the act of controlling or manipulating an individual; either verbally or emotionally. Much like other forms of abuse, emotional abuse does not discriminate and is perpetrated on individuals from all demographics —-your age, gender, nor culture prevents you from becoming an unwilling victim.

Many individuals mistakenly believe that physical abuse is the most detrimental form because it involves punching, kicking, pushing, grabbing, or any additional method that causes harm externally to the body. But words (or lack of them, in some instances of emotional abuse) matter. This abuser wields emotions as their weapon to punish another.

Emotional abusers are around us in our everyday lives, in fact, they may not even be aware that their behavior is abusive. They appear in the workplace, in our close relationships, and commonly, in our families. Often, they are unable to accept that their point of view is not the only one that matters.

Having difficulty acknowledging another’s perspective, he/she often relates easily to those who only share his/her same beliefs. Influenced by societal prejudices, he/she frequently discriminates against individuals who are viewed as being different. Emotional abusers love a “soft target” or an individual whom others may also view as unworthy of respect and common decency.

Psychologically speaking, an emotional abuser finds it nearly impossible to forgive and only views situations as right or wrong. There is no middle ground or compromise with this individual and they are not open to discussing differences in opinions. Because they are often charming, initially, they are harder to detect. Emotional abusers are usually beloved by others, making it harder for those closest to them to recognize and understand the abuser’s true intentions until it is too late.

Disagreeing with your spouse, friend, child, or coworker is not considered emotional abuse. We all have disagreements with others, sometimes raising our voices in the mistaken belief that this will help in getting our point of view across. Typically, reaching a compromise happens once all parties involved have a chance to regroup and rethink the situation. This scenario is entirely normal and does not constitute emotional abuse. When an abuser chooses to use words or actions that create an imbalance of power in a relationship (which cause harm), that is considered emotional abuse.

The victim of this form of abuse may find themselves doubting their sanity or questioning whether they are overreacting to a situation. Recognizing some of the signs of emotional abuse can help victims identify what is happening to them and create a plan to remove themselves from harmful behavior. Listed below are ten signs of emotional abuse:

Ten Signs of Emotional Abuse

In addition to the aforementioned emotional abuse signs, are:

  • denying affection (often sexually)
  • ignoring or intentionally being psychologically unavailable
  • ostracizing or preventing the victim from participating in opportunities for social interaction
  • controlling the finances in a household with little to no regard for the victim’s input
  • using ultimatums to coerce the victim into doing what the abuser wants
  • accessing the victim’s social media accounts, email, or phone without permission
  • deflecting their responsibility for their abusive behavior (gaslighting) and making the victim feel as if they are at fault

The term, gaslighting, is a method of abusive control where the victim is made to doubt their sanity, memory, or their feelings regarding previous abusive behavior (and whether or not it actually occurred), referring to the victim as crazy or overly sensitive, or worse, accusing the victim of describing an abusive event differently than it happened. Emotional abusers employ these psychological tactics ultimately to diminish and defeat the victim.

It should be noted again that all emotional abuse does not appear as shouting or in the form of criticism. The simple act of disengaging, being dismissive, or “not trying” in any given relationship, are forms of emotional abuse. As the victim, if you feel unheard, unappreciated, unseen or as though you are constantly walking on eggshells to prevent the abuser from reacting, odds are that you are being emotionally abused. There is hope and help for your situation though. Working on inner healing is the greatest strategy for feeling and living better. Recognizing and strengthening sense of self, personal values, and confidence level are empowering ways to improve the quality of your life, in spite of what the abuser says or does. You matter, and deserve to be treated with respect and kindness.

Sources: Photo Credit: Yuris Alhumaydy on Unsplash

Emotional Abuse: Everything from Fast Facts, Symptoms, and How to Help. (2019). Retrieved on June 12, 2019, from https://www.crisistextline.org

Mathews, A. (2016). When Is It Emotional Abuse? Psychology Today. Retrieved on June 13, 2019, from https://www.psychologytoday.com


8 thoughts

  1. An important post… and a subject that needs to be part of our conversations. As you point out, everybody knows about physical abuse, but emotional abuse and gaslighting do immense harm. Great that you are spreading the word xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Eilidh. Just because we can’t see them (emotional scars) doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. This is why many believe that emotional abuse is far more insidious than physical abuse, to an extent.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you Mya for the outstanding post on emotional abuse. I have worked in this type of environment for 5 years, and had to learn to trust God when my concerns went unheard. It’s difficult to be the one to bring these things to light, but it’s more difficult to continue to watch it happen everyday.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Jeannie. It’s a touchy subject, but talking about the difficult things is liberating, once we get over our fears. I’m glad you found value in reading this! 🙏🏾


      1. Hi Mya, it is very touchy. I agree with you wholeheartedly. I have always tried to see things from others point of view, how much was this person hurting to have to continue to hurt others to feel better. Bottom line here is when people higher on the corporate ladder are doing nothing, they choosing 1 employee over 10 others. Its hurtful and unnecessary.

        Liked by 1 person

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