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EMOTIONAL ABUSE - the invisible bleeding


When it comes to the term of "abuse", we usually think of physical violence, sexual abuse or verbal attacks. We imagine an aggressive person who tortures others by obvious acts and behaviour. But the term "abuse" includes also others, many times even very subtle ways, which we may not consider as anything unusual, not to say abusive.

In fact, that is the reason why the emotional abuse is much more serious and dangerous than we recognize and why it spreads like epidemic, from generation to generation. Sadly, it is very common today in many relationships that partners use emotional abuse on each other - without even knowing it.

We can see the black-eyes when somebody gets hit to the face. We can see the blood when somebody is injured. But we cannot see the heart which is "bleeding" emotionally. We do not see the wounds and scars in people's souls. That is what makes us blind and deaf to emotional abuse. If somebody abuses another human physically, we see that so we can act, but emotional abuse is much more dangerous because we do not always see the effects and we do not recognize that it is abuse.

So the first problem of all is that people do not even know they are being abused - or that they are abusive. They think it is normal - especially because it is so common in many relationships today that people find it as a norm and do it as well. They tend to believe "the relationships are just like that", "men/women are just like that" or "every man/woman experiences this" etc. And even when they DO know, they find excuses for their abusive partners and make the whole thing "lighter" than it is, partly because they do not want or are not able to see the truth themselves.


What exactly is "emotional abuse"?


In her book "Emotionally Abusive Relationship", Beverly Engel defines emotional abuse as "any nonphysical behavior or attitude that is designed to control, intimidate, subjugate, demean, punish or isolate another person through the use of degradation, humiliation or fear".



Basically, the meaning of "emotional abuse" is literally "abusing other person's emotions to have control over her/him and her/his acts". In other words, we are emotionally abusive if we make somebody to feel a specific way which serves us to have the person and his or her acts under OUR control. It is any situation when we abuse other person's emotions for our purpose, to make him or her to do something we want (and what we think they didn't do if we didn't manipulate them into it). When we abuse somebody emotionally, we trigger certain emotions in him/her to make him/her to do something. It is a form of manipulation which cannot be always clearly recognized.

For example, a girl can intentionally look sad, so her partner would come to her and start to comfort her because he is worried about her - she triggers fear in him and makes him to comfort her. There's nothing bad in comforting a girl of course - what is bad is the manipulation she used on him. Similar situation is when a partner intentionally keeps quiet distance from the other one to make him/her wonder what could possibly happen and be worried. Many of us have already done this to somebody - as I said, it is very usual these days to abuse emotions of other people to make them do something we want. It is so usual these days we do not even realize that it is abuse.

Sadly, not all cases of emotional abuse are so "harmless" as those two examples. They can also look "innocent" on the surface, but they cause deep and serious wounds in human souls. Especially sensitive and kind people are very vulnerable to emotional abuse since their feelings are the direct way to their hearts and heads - and so to their actions. Those who abuse them can control them through triggering certain feelings in them - usually guilt, unworthiness or another ones which make the victims weaker so they would be easier to manipulate. When the victims are hurt and weak, they start to believe there's something wrong with them - and that those who abuse them, are the only ones good and perfect. That makes them even more vulnerable and the abuser can control them even more. They also become more and more dependent on the abuser who says or makes notes like: "Who else would love you? You should be grateful I haven't left you yet!" and similar things which are killing the victim's self-esteem by triggering her or his emotions. The victims start to believe that they are so wrong that nobody else would stand them or love them. So they cling to their abusive partners even more because nobody else would never love them.

Another problem (except abuse itself) is that abusive person always finds PROOF of what he or she says to the victim. If they say the victim is stupid, they will remind him or her what he or she did wrong in the past - so they proved they are right. If they say the victim is useless, they will remind her or him how they expected something from him/her and he/she didn't make it. If they say the victim is ugly, they will point at "that big butt" or something else (which the victim him or herself doesn't like - and they know it). Whatever they say, they always find a logical argument which proves they are right. This is a big trap for the victim because he/she cannot say it is NOT true. That makes them believe it is as the abuser says. And so they get caught.


The abusive relationship usually goes in circle with three main phases



1. In the beginning, the relationship can be nice and very loving. The abusive person can be very sweet and it sounds like Heaven to his or her partner from the start. During this beautiful period of the relationship, the abusive partner collects data about the victim - so he or she knows where the weak spot is and what they can manipulate the victim through - what could be used against the victim later.

2. When the second phase starts, it feels like last moments before the storm starts. The victim can feel strange anxiety and fear because her or his partner can be suddenly different. The abusive partner can be just quiet, not talking to them, annoyed, irritated, refusing them without any reason or explanation.

3. In the third phase, abuse itself occurs. Sometimes it includes open yelling, blaming, even physical violence, breaking things... but in emotional abuse, the abusive partner does not have to be necessarily aggressive - not openly. Actually, many times they stay completely calm while they abuse their partners - so they would prove them they were calm and that it is the victim who is overreacting. They control themselves completely and intentionally stay calm while irritating the victim, so the victim looks like the bad one, the one who is problem, not them. It is also a hidden trap when the abusive partner tortures the victim in a way which cannot be clearly described by words. Basically, the victim cannot say that her/his partner did ANYTHING wrong to them, while they're hurting like hell! They are hurt deeply, they are overflowing by fury, but in fact, the partner did nothing! It is the attitude the partner has without doing anything specific. The partner stays calm with innocent face - which tortures the victim even more, because there is nothing specific what she/he could blame the abusive partner for. Many times the abusive partner demands this explanation from the victim ("Tell me, what I did to you! You see? Nothing! So stop being pathetic!") to prove he/she is right and did nothing wrong and is attacked and blamed by the victim without any real reason - which makes the victim feel bad about her/himself.

1.(again) After the abuse, the victim feels miserable and often starts to think what is wrong with her/him instead of partner or the whole relationship. The victim can have a big depression and live in fear and sadness. In this phase the circle starts again - when the abusive partner comes and starts to apologize, bring flowers, be sweet again and - of course - promise he/she will certainly change! This phase is called "Honeymoon" phase. Which can be a true trap for the victim who longs for love because this temporary phase of "love" serves the victim as PROOF that the relationship IS good after all... that the abusive partner IS loving somewhere inside... and if she/he will be patient enough, the partner will certainly change as he/she promises! The victim is not able to see that the Honeymoon phase is only 5% of the whole circle. The victim doesn't realize the rest 95% of time when he(she) is being abused, diminished, humiliated, etc.

Another danger is in the fact, that the poor victim got hurt and is deeply wounded, so she/he needs love even more than before - and so they even more cling on their abusive partners! After all, they just saw the proof he/she IS loving!


And the circle starts all over again.

Again, it is not always obvious that the emotional abuse occurs. Many times it is only "few innocent words" or certain face expression of the partner which triggers deep pain in the victim (which their abusive partners know very well will happen). But the victim cannot always know if it was or wasn't intentional. It is hard to say for the other people around as well - the abusive partner is usually very loved and liked in society. Nobody would believe he/she is abusing someone! So even if the victim tells someone, they usually wave by a hand and say: "Awww, that must have been a joke! He/She was just playing a bad boy/girl a little with you!" This is one of the reasons why the victims do not tell anyone - because no one would believe them, when their partner is so good! Male victims also do not tell anyone because they would feel humiliated as "men".


The people who are emotionally abusive, are, in fact, very insecure and wounded themselves. (That does not excuse their behavior but it explains it in part.) People who were seriously emotionally hurt in the past and didn't find a healthy way how to deal with their wounds could turn to abusive ways of dealing with their fears and insecurity by controlling other people, hurting them and PREVENT these people to hurt them by hurting them first. Very common scenario includes abusive man or woman who is so afraid of abandonment that they hurt and destroy their partner so much so he or she is so weak to not be able to leave - to prevent them to leave. They hurt their partners so they could control them and prevent them to do something they wouldn't like (or what they are afraid of). They are too frightened to let the partner be on his or her own will or trust they will stay with them without being pushed into it.


Both partners need to work on their fears and insecurities which caused the abuse. The abused partner needs to get back his/her self-esteem and stop allowing the partner to abuse them. (This is very hard for them since they cling on the "Honeymoon" illusion very much because they so desperately need love.) They must put themselves on the first place instead of their partner, their relationship or their so-called "love". They must admit they are most important right now.

The abusive partner should find a therapist and do a lot of work on healing his/her deep wounds which make them to use the toxic behavior on other people to control them. If they heal these fears and insecurities, they will believe other people more and so they will not have the need to control them or intimidate them.

But the fact is, if we want such a relationship to continue and be healed, both partners must want it - and many times it is not so.