Emotional abuse is any abuse that is emotional rather than physical in nature. It can include anything from verbal abuse and constant criticism to more subtle tactics, such as intimidation, manipulation, and refusal to ever be pleased. It is important to remember that although an emotionally abused person may not display the physical scars of abuse – i.e., bruises, bumps, wounds, etc., the impact is just as damaging as the effects of physical abuse.
Emotional abuse is like brainwashing in that it systematically wears away at the survivor’s self-confidence, sense of self-worth, trust in their own perceptions, and self-concept. Emotional abuse cuts to the very core of a person, creating scars that may be far deeper and more lasting than physical ones.
Types of Emotional Abuse
Emotional abuse can take many forms. Three general patterns of abusive behavior include aggressing, denying, and minimizing.
Aggressive forms of abuse include name-calling, accusing, blaming, threatening, and ordering. Aggressing behaviors are generally direct and obvious. Aggressive abuse can also take a more indirect form and may even be disguised as “helping.” Criticizing, advising, offering solutions, analyzing, probing, and questioning another person may be a sincere attempt to help. In some instances, however, these behaviors may be an attempt to belittle, control, or demean rather than help. The underlying judgmental “I know best” tone the abuser takes in these situations is inappropriate and creates unequal footing in peer relationships.
Invalidating seeks to distort or undermine the recipient’s perceptions of their world. Invalidating occurs when the abuser refuses or fails to acknowledge reality. Withholding is another form of denying. Withholding includes refusing to listen, refusing to communicate, and emotionally withdrawing as punishment. This is sometimes called the “silent treatment.” Countering occurs when the abuser views the recipient as an extension of themselves and denies any viewpoints or feelings which differ from their own.
Minimizing is a less extreme form of denial. When minimizing, the abuser may not deny that a particular event occurred, but they question the recipient’s emotional experience or reaction to an event. Statements such as “You’re too sensitive,” “You’re exaggerating,” or “You’re blowing this out of proportion” all suggest that the recipient’s emotions and perceptions are faulty and not to be trusted. Trivializing, which occurs when the abuser suggests that what you have done or communicated is inconsequential or unimportant, is a more subtle form of minimizing.
Denying and minimizing can be particularly damaging. In addition to lowering self-esteem and creating conflict, the invalidation of reality, feelings, and experiences can eventually lead you to question and mistrust your own perceptions and emotional experience.
We can help! Work with a Thriveworks Therapist in Wilmington, NC
Unfortunately, emotional abuse usually does not come with an abundance of evidence, if any, at all, which means it is often dismissed or ignored. If you have been suffering in silence, today is the day to end your suffering. One of our professional therapists at Thriveworks in Wilmington can help you understand the impact of an emotionally abusive relationship. We can also help you learn healthier ways of relating to others and caring for your own needs. Call us today at (910) 247-4818