In elementary school, children may respond to an insult by saying, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Even as children, however, people know that words can cause significant harm. When a person tries to control another through manipulative words, those words may even be emotional abuse.
“It is not the bruises on the body that hurt. It is the wounds of the heart and the scars on the mind.” ― Aisha Mirza
Emotional abuse can occur within a marriage, between friends, among intimate partners, from a parent to a child, at work, within a spiritual setting, and more. Although abusers frequently claim to love their victims, emotional abuse is not loving, and in certain cases, it may be illegal.
If you think that you may be in an emotionally abusive relationship, know that many resources are available to you. One of the best is counseling. Skilled therapists have helped many victims of emotional abuse find safety and restore their self-worth.
The emotional abuse counselors at Thriveworks Counseling in Westborough understand what it takes to recover from emotional abuse. We love seeing our clients empowered to pursue their own safety and healing.
Defining Emotional Abuse
Disagreements and heated, respectful arguments within a relationship are normal, even healthy to a degree, but emotional abuse is very different than a one-time harsh word. Emotional abuse is a pattern of manipulative behavior wherein one person tries to exert dominance over another. Defining it is tricky because it is not always obvious, even though the harm it causes is powerful.
The patterns that emotional abuse can take are endless. The following are examples of emotionally abusive behaviors that can be used to control another person…
- Denying any personal responsibility for their behaviors.
- Humiliating, embarrassing, mocking, criticizing, or name-calling, especially when done in public.
- Separating a person from their loved ones.
- Denying affection or love to control another (When you… I will…)
- Disregarding or minimizing another person’s feelings and thoughts. (“You’re just sensitive.”)
- Intentionally and falsely blaming.
- Objectifying people.
- Blocking someone’s access to money, food, transportation, medical care, or other vital resources.
- Intimidating, guilting, or threatening people.
- Destroying, Harming or disposing of someone’s personal possessions without authorization.
- Outbursts of anger and unforeseeable moodiness.
- Engaging in extreme jealous or possessive behaviors.
The actions on this list often begin subtly. In fact, they are rarely overt or egregious so that victims have a hard time understanding what has occurred. This means that emotional abuse can happen to anyone—male, female, old, young, poor, wealthy, and any ethnicity. Control often begins over something small so that victims become desensitized as the abuse worsens.
An example of that pattern is gaslighting. The term has grown in popularity in recent years, but it dates back to a movie from the 1940s called, “Gaslight.” It stars Ingrid Bergman whose character is emotionally abused. In one scene, the gaslights flicker—diming and brightening. Bergman’s character acknowledges the flicker, but her emotionally abusive husband pretends he did not see anything. He convinces her that the flicker was in her imagination. Through many similar manipulations, the husband convinces his wife that she is going crazy, and he is able to gain more and more control over her.
Toxic relationships center around control, whereas people who are in healthy relationships respect each other’s autonomy. Emotional abuse erodes a person’s sense of self and can cause severe harm. Victims often struggle with fear, anxiety, hyper-vigilance, depression, psychosomatic pain, suicidal idealization, substance abuse, and more.
A victim of emotional abuse may feel…
- Scared of the perpetrator.
- As if nothing they do is good or right.
- As if their life does not matter.
- Anxiety about expressing their true thoughts and feelings.
- As if they deserve the emotional abuse.
- Like they are walking on egg shells.
Recovering from Emotional Abuse
Emotional abuse collects a severe toll, but people can recover from its toxic effects. Healing takes time and usually the help of a mental health professional. Therapy may help people who have experienced emotional abuse see how…
- No one deserves to be abused.
- The abuser is responsible for his/her decision to harm.
- The hurt is real.
- Trauma recovery is a difficult but possible path.
- It is important to prioritize one’s emotional and physical safety.
- Grief is a normal part of healing.
- Relationships can be built on love and trust.
Emotional Abuse Counseling at Thriveworks in Westborough
If you are in or are coming out of an emotionally abusive relationship, the therapists at Thriveworks Westborough want you to know that you deserve respect, kindness, and love. We understand the personal hell you are living in or have survived, and we want each of our clients to reclaim their dreams, value, and identity.
If you call our office for therapy, know that most new clients are able to see their therapist within 24 hours. Weekend and evening appointments are available, and we work with most insurance providers.
We want each client to feel supported throughout their care. Call Thriveworks Counseling in Westborough today to get started.