Sometimes we hide it from ourselves.
Abuse can be so subtle people don’t recognize it while it is happening to them.
We think of abuse as a physical attack such as being beaten. Yet we can become so accustomed to emotional abuse that we barely notice. It can become a part of what we consider normal.
We may ignore it or try to cope in various unhealthy ways that would seem unconnected to being in an abusive relationship. Although we may deny it, our innermost self reacts in some way when we’re mistreated; no matter how subtly. And we are injured whether it is apparent or not.
Consider that abused children often don’t know they’re abused. That’s especially true if maltreatment is all they’ve ever known in their short lives. To them it’s a normal way of life. It’s a hard truth; they do not perceive their parents as abusive to them. The parent may be burning their tender skin with lighted cigarettes. Children think mommy or daddy is teaching them a lesson and that it’s perfectly normal. God help us.
Adults, on the other hand, usually recognize mistreatment when it begins. But because we can stuff and endure emotional pain for long periods, our abuse may become normalized, too. Nevertheless, damage is being done to our self-esteem and self-respect.
I’m not qualified to talk about or give advice about abusive relationships in any way other than being in a few of them myself on my way to getting old. I’ve seen friends suffer abuse. And as a police officer and a reporter, I often witnessed or reported on abuse. I saw violent attacks where the result was that people went to hospitals or jails with serious injuries and (or) criminal charges. I’ve been sent on calls that would make your hair stand on end. I once arrived on scene to see a woman chasing her husband down an upscale residential street while swinging an axe.
However, less apparent emotional abuse can be as harmful over time as physical abuse. There are no laws or police officers to protect us from that kind of mistreatment. We must recognize what is happening and protect ourselves.
I’ve come to know that when we live a long time with abuse it can become our normal. We become depressed, eat too much or too little. We don’t like our jobs. We feel stuck or trapped. We may be irritable and labeled as “difficult” at work. Normal household and child-rearing tasks feel impossibly demanding and we may complain about unrelated things as excuses for how rotten we feel. Abused people seldom feel happiness. Sometimes like children who’ve grown accustomed to abuse, adults stop perceiving attacks as anything other than normal.
A once-good relationship slowly descends into a state that is harmful to our mental well-being and our physical health. Sometimes partners are abusive to each other in a myriad of small ways that chip away at the well-being of both. It’s obvious to others they’re abusive to each other as they bicker and constantly find fault. But they may not have noticed the deterioration of the relationship — or they chose to ignore it because they aren’t ready to do anything about it. Until one realizes that the relationship is unhealthy, nothing will change. Both will be unhappy.
Mental cruelty is a thing; and the result of it is never good. Before “no-fault” divorces were available in most states one could get a divorce based on “mental cruelty,” and that was the reason cited in many divorce papers.
Abuse is stressful and it’s well-known stress is a killer. People who tolerate abuse over long periods of time often do not take care of themselves in other ways, either; they are beaten down to the point that they don’t seek medical, dental, or psychiatric help when they need it. Often people in abusive relationships don’t confide in friends because they’re ashamed to admit they are tolerating mistreatment.
Home should be the place where we are most comfortable. It’s our refuge. But the reality for many is they dread going home. What is in our homes that we dread? Does it have anything do with our spouses or partners? Or it might even be a bad relationship with a sibling or parent that causes mental anguish.
Do we look forward to seeing our partner or had we rather not? Do we feel that whoever we live with is supportive and loving? If we feel tension from the moment we open our front door there is a problem.
How do you know if your relationship is a good for you? Have you thought maybe it’s bad? Gaslighting — a frequent tool of emotional abuse — will leave you confused and unsure if you’re really being mistreated or just confused and reading bad intentions where none exist.
If you are a parent, imagine that your child is in a relationship exactly like yours. Would you then feel good about it? Would you want your child to be subjected to the treatment you are receiving?
Someone asked me that question when I was in a bad relationship with a man who didn’t hit me, but berated me with words and passive-aggressive actions. The question was so revealing for me that I knew I had to do something to protect myself.
Passive-agressive relationships are a whole other subject, but people who are passive-aggressive are good at mentally abusing their partners while putting themselves in positions where they can claim to be innocent. They can make you doubt your sanity when questioned about their actions. They will insist you are imagining things that are not happening, or are not intentional, or haven’t been said. I think it’s one of the worst forms of mental abuse. I’ve experienced it myself and witnessed friends be subjected to it.
I came to terms with the fact I had been in an abusive relationship through counseling. I had purposely kept myself from facing what was really taking place in my home. I either missed the signs or chose to ignore them — with the later being more likely.
Reality is sometimes easily denied. Since then, I don’t mince words with friends who seem to be enduring emotional abuse. It’s no way to spend your life. I simply tell them it’s no way to spend your life. I also advise them to get out.
Remember the question. Is the treatment you receive as good as you’d want for your child? Would the same situation you are in be acceptable for your child or whoever you most love. Asking myself that question opened my eyes.
If the answer is no, consider making changes. Maybe you think your relationship would be good; if only this or— what? Sometimes I had to make myself think about it; or my therapist had to lead me toward examining it. Discovering reality versus my skewed perceptions was painful but amazing.
Don’t push it away. How alarmed would you be if your daughter or son or whoever you love most had to live in exactly your circumstances? Would you be ok with it?
If it wouldn’t be ok for your child or loved one, it is not ok for you either, and you can become your own advocate.
You are important, too, and deserve decent treatment as much as any of your loved ones.
If you don’t have children but have or had a loving mother and/or father, what would they think if they knew all the details of your private life? Would they be upset and worried about your safety or your sanity? Again, give yourself the love that those who truly love you believe you deserve. They are right. You do deserve to be treated well. Always.
Some women seem to lack defense mechanisms. Men, too. But in my experience it seems women are more susceptible. Abuse is heaped upon abuse, and yet we make no move to defend or protect ourselves. We stuff our hurt feelings and try to simply move past the moment and proceed with our lives. As if all is well. But it costs. It always costs. People are called names, treated rudely and have their belongings damaged, yet they will defend their abuser and tell themselves and everyone else that they are fine.
We are not “fine” when we are being abused in any way, whether the person abusing us is purposely doing so — or not even aware of what he’s doing. It isn’t ok. It cant be allowed to continue. Trust me, it will exact a toll.
People live in situations where they are denied compliments or support, are given silent and hostile treatment, are mocked, or completely ignored, and yet they often accept as normal treatment no one should have to endure.
Working as a police officer I saw many more abused wives than husbands — although it can certainly be the other way around. I had a male friend whose wife routinely slapped him or shoved him if she was angry. He minimized it by saying she’s much smaller and couldn’t really hurt him. Wanna’ bet? They eventually divorced, but I think she left him. When he said she couldn’t really hurt him, he meant physically, but the sadness in his eyes revealed she already had. This big man would be downright dangerous to someone who slapped, shoved, or hit his teenage daughter, yet he tolerated it for himself.
I’ve gone to houses where wives have been savagely beaten, but they’ll beg police not to arrest their abuser, usually their husband. They will defend him and even claim it was their fault the violence occurred. Sometimes, if he must be arrested, she will physically resist the officers and become extremely combative in his defense. Sometimes these women will not leave no matter how much help is offered. Sometimes they end up dead.
There’s a saying that if someone threatens to kill you — take it seriously. They often will follow through on that threat at some point.
Psychiatrists, psychologists, and other behavorial experts understand why severely physically abused people not only stay with their tormenters; but defend them and try to justify their actions. I don’t understand it. But it happens more frequently than not. It can be very difficult and frustrating to try to help battered spouses.
But enduring emotional abuse and making excuses to ignore or constantly forgive it is the same thing. It’s just that the psyche is getting beat up instead of the body.
Hopefully no one reading this is in a severe situation and being physically abused. If so, get out. Please don’t delay. Call the local police or whatever local organizations provide human services in your area. There are resources. There is help available. No one should live with fear and physical violence. Please get help to safely leave if need be, but leave.
Some of the things seen by those of us who work or have worked in emergency services are truly nightmares. Sometimes the crime scene is somewhere we’ve been before; at the home of someone we begged to leave and offered helpful resources to only a week earlier. Most cases of domestic unhappiness don’t involve violence. But there is a kind of mental abuse that is so damaging it may as well be phyical. Neither can be tolerated by those who want to live a healthy and happy life.We think of danger as coming from strangers. The truth is most homocide victims knew or were in some way emotionally involved with their killers.
There are other questions a person can ask him or herself to face reality.
Have you lost confidence since being in the relationship? Could that be because of how you are treated — or what is being said to you? When you’re called demeaning names, do you somehow think you deserve it? If you’re often addressed in a hateful or demeaning manner you are being hurt; just as sure as if you were being slapped. If you are frequently criticized by your partner in front of other people, that isn’t acceptable.
Life is short. And now that I’m older with more perspective I wish I hadn’t wasted time on people or relationships that made me sad. I stayed too long illogically thinking things would change when there was no evidence that would happen. Once a person is being emotionally abused it’s likely to not only continue but escalate.
You don’t need to pack your bags and leave tonight, unless you’re in physical danger. But you need to acknowledge to yourself that you’re in a situation not conducive to a healthy life. Then do something about it.
It’s possible, though not probable, that your abuser doesn’t realize their words and actions are so hurtful. If that’s the case, maybe counseling is the best option. Get counseling for yourself whether or not your partner agrees to go with you. I’ve found I can’t make good decisions when faced with serious difficulty in my life without talking it over with a therapist or counselor. Professional help is worth every penny if you need it.
When we’ve been mistreated for a long time we’re often blind to the gradual damage we’ve suffered. Counseling will help even when we think it can’t. And don’t put off counseling anymore than you’d put off getting a gaping wound stitched. It’s just as damaging to be the victim of emotional abuse.
Abuse Not only hurts us, but saps our energy and makes it hard to take action. Sometimes we can’t explain exactly how we’re being hurt. We only know that we’re sad and miserable.
I hope anyone who identifies with any of this gets help. No one deserves to endure being abused. If you feel you are “less than” you were before your current relationship, there’s a reason; although it may not be evident to you.
This may sound extreme, or even narcisstic, but after all I’ve suffered at the hands of men who supposedly loved me, just being ignored for a little while feels abusive. If he’s not listening to me and doesn’t look at me when I’m talking to him I feel mistreated. And I know I’m not crazy to feel that way. I know how I feel is valid whether he thinks so or not. I’ll not tolerate abusive behavior from anyone.
Love yourself and seek help. You’re worth it. There’s no need to be ashamed. Strong, intelligent and competent people can be victims of emotional or physical abuse. You didn’t cause it; you don’t deserve it and deep down you know it.
I wasted too many years before I finally realized that emotional abuse is intolerable and the fact I was taking it meant I needed help. Words that were said to me and things that happened to me were not ok. Not for me. Not for anyone.
And it is not ok for any of us to feel, for any reason, that we must tolerate mistreatment. We don’t. We all deserve to be treated with respect and dignity all the time — even during disagreements. You are no exception.