People have a hard time understanding what emotional abuse is. In fact, I’m going to confidently state that most people really don’t get it.
Like, at all.
Because to most people domestic abuse = physical violence. To most people, domestic abuse is loud and nasty and BIG and leaves bruises and cigarette burns, broken lamps and smashed dishes and holes in walls.
And yes, sometimes (too often) domestic abuse is vociferous and physically violent. But what if I told you that domestic violence isn’t always physical? What if domestic abuse can be subtler? What if it’s relatively inconspicuous? What if the victim is so good at compensating and pretending that EVERYTHING IS OKAY ALRIGHT?! that no one has any idea what’s going on? (Not that I’ve ever done that before…)
I think emotional abuse is usually misunderstood because most people don’t realize that neglect or silence can be just as vicious as a punch in the face.
I want to try to explain more about what emotional abuse is and how people may experience it, so I’ve drawn upon my past as a teacher and what follows is basically going to be like a kindergarten circle time where we all gather together to talk about what something “looks like/sounds like/feels like”. Except instead of discussing “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” or how a bean seed grows, we’re going to tackle emotional abuse. Decidedly not a kindergarten-appropriate topic (Or maybe it is? I mean, kids are never too young to learn about consent and showing respect!) but I’m hoping you’ll find it insightful.
So, come join me on the carpet. Please sit criss-cross applesauce with your hands in your lap, eyes up, and mouth closed…Ms. J is going to start the lesson…
Emotional abuse looks like:
- Intense control
- Financial control
- Lack of intimacy
- Withholding (affection, money, time, etc.)
- Lack of consent
- Patterns of negative behaviour
- Chronic forgetfulness
- Grandiose gestures that are out of context or used as leverage
- Forced affection
- Saving face
- Perpetual indifference or apathy
Emotional abuse sounds like:
- Harsh words
- Backhanded compliments
- Name calling
- Put downs
- Reprimands or punishing
- Punitive statements
- Rationalization of unhealthy things/ideas/behaviours
Emotional abuse feels like:
- Low self-worth
- Lack of purpose
- Mood swings
- Suicidal thoughts
- Needing to be in control
- Being overwhelmed
People who exhibit these behaviours (or other similar ones) chronically are perpetrators of abuse. Those who struggle continually because of these feelings and behaviours, are victims of abuse.
My own experience of abuse was insidious and cumulative and I’m tired of feeling like I have to prove that my experience was real.
Emotional abuse looks/feels/sounds real.
Abuse = abuse.
And accepting that helps people like me by letting us know that what we’re going through, or what we’ve been through, is just as real as a punch, kick, or slap.
You can now un-cross your legs and go have free-play time. Just don’t hog the Lego table and remember to use kind words with your friends.
Do you have anything you could add to the lists above? I’m sure there’s more that I’ve missed. Comment below and share your thoughts!