When children are teased or taunted, they are often told the old nursery rhyme, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” While this is often offered to comfort a child, it rarely does. Even young children know that words and emotionally hurtful actions can wound a person’s spirit. In some cases, emotionally manipulative words may be emotional abuse.
Aisha Mirza, an advocate and author, gives an alternative perspective to the nursery rhyme: “It is not the bruises on the body that hurt. It is the wounds of the heart and the scars on the mind.” Emotional abuse is a pattern of controlling behaviors that uses feelings to degrade other people. It can occur among friends, within a spiritual community, between spouses/partners, from a parent to a child, and at work. Emotional control is not love, and in some cases, it is illegal.
Many support systems are in place for people who are being emotionally abused or have been. Recovery is possible, and often involves mental health counseling. Trained therapists have guide victims on how to reestablish their safety and find healing.
The therapists at Thriveworks Allentown have helped many people recover from emotional abuse. We want to empower our clients to find heal from the past abuse and build a future where they flourish.
Emotional Abuse: A Description and Examples
Respectful arguments are healthy, normal dynamics within any relationship. They show that each individual is free to think and feel without one dominating the other. Emotional abuse, however, occurs when one person seeks to control the other through a pattern of emotionally manipulative behaviors.
The forms that emotional abuse can take are limitless, and often, recognizing emotional abuse is easier than defining it. Examples of emotional abuse may include…
- Refusing to accept personal responsibility for one’s own behavior.
- Falsely accusing others and/or blaming victims for the abuse they suffer.
- Publicly and openly embarrassing, humiliating, mocking, name-calling, or criticizing another.
- Cutting off others from their loved ones.
- Holding back affection or love to gain a desired result (When you… I will…)
- Denying or downplaying another person’s experiences, feelings, and thoughts. (“You’re too sensitive; you’re overreacting.”)
- Objectifying other people.
- Withholding deserved access to important resources, including medical care money, transportation, and/or food.
- Using guilt, intimidation, or threats to control other people.
- Without permission, harming or trashing another’s personal and prized possessions (a meaningful letter, a special photograph, et cetera).
- Using anger and moodiness to keep others on edge.
- Displaying possessive or jealous behaviors.
These examples often begin slowly. At first, emotional abuse is not egregious or overt, but as victims become desensitized to the maltreatment, perpetrators escalate the harm.
For example, gaslighting often involves actions that may seem normal and innocent to anyone who does not know the bigger-picture. In the 1940s movie, “Gaslight,” Ingrid Bergman’s character sees the gaslights flicker. Her emotionally abusive husband pretends he does not. This may seem like a normal, marital tiff, but there is a much larger pattern at play. The discussion about the lights is one of many scenarios the husband uses to undermine his wife’s trust in her own experience. He slowly gains more and more control over her as she feels like she is going crazy.
Healthy relationships promote individual freedom within the connection whereas control is the goal of emotional abuse. The result is severe. Victims of emotional abuse often experience suicidal idealization, anxiety, psychosomatic pain, depression, substance abuse, hyper-vigilance, and more. They may also feel…
- That everything they do is wrong.
- Afraid of their perpetrator.
- Apprehension about voicing their real experiences, feelings, and thoughts.
- Very low self-esteem.
- As if they are walking on egg shells.
- As if the emotional abuse is their fault.
Emotional Abuse: Safety and Healing
Just as many people who experience a physical injury need to see a health care professional, so many people who have experienced injuries to their spirit need to see a mental health professional. The therapists at Thriveworks Allentown would like anyone who has experienced emotional abuse to know…
- Abuse is never a victim’s fault.
- People are responsible for their choice to harm.
- Emotional abuse is often traumatic.
- Recovery takes time and effort but is possible.
- One’s physical and emotional safety are important.
- It is possible to love and trust again.
If you have experienced emotional abuse and if you are ready to work with a therapist, contacting Thriveworks may be a helpful next step. We want to support our clients from the moment they first call our office throughout their treatment.
New clients often meet with their counselor within 24 hours of calling our office. We make evening and weekend sessions available, and most insurance plans are accepted.
If you are ready to start therapy, we are ready to be there for you. Call Thriveworks Allentown today.