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Recognizing Emotional Abuse

Recognizing Emotional Abuse 

More than sexual abuse or domestic violence, I’ve seen congregants and now clients of all ages who are in emotionally abusive relationships. While every relationship in which abuse takes place is a hurtful, not every hurtful relationship is abusive. An abusive relationship is one in which a partner (a male more than 95% of the time, though the number of female abusers is growing) uses power, be it muscle or manipulation, to control another. The irony is that an abuser can’t control themselves. Often emotional abuse escalates to physical abuse...even after many years of marriage or partnered relationship. 

Joan Zorza, director of the National Center on Women and Family Law believes that emotional abuse is far worse than physical abuse. Emotional abuse goes to ones essence, breaks the spirit, damages self-esteem and scars their soul. It’s tough to pin-point. The emotionally abused woman loses herself and collapses in the chaos. She ceases to have choices. Numbed to avoid the pain, abusive behaviors recycle over and over because there are no visible wounds. Even when friends or family witness the behavior they often second guess themselves and don’t dare say anything. 

Here’s a checklist that can help you identify if you’re in an emotionally abusive relationship. 
Does your partner:
  • hit, pinch, slap, shove or bite you?
  • threaten to hurt you or the children?
  • keep you from family and friends? 
  • experience abuse as a child?
  • pout or have sudden outbursts of anger disproportionate to the circumstances?
  • behave in a coercively or become overly jealous?
  • prevent you from going where you want, when you want?
  • destroy personal property or sentimental items 
  • give you an “allowance,” control spending and make you account for it?
  • deny you access to bank accounts, credit cards or the car?
  • force you to have sex against your will/or engage in a sexual act you don’t enjoy?
  • insult you, call you names or belittle you or your family?
  • use threats, intimidation or manipulation to control you?
  • humiliate you in front of others?
  • turn minor incidents into major arguments?
  • refuse affection, or imply that you’re weak when you feel hurt or in need?
  • abuse or threaten your pets?

Emotional abuse runs the gamut of a gradual grinding down of self-esteem into psychic trauma. Emotional abusers walk away with clean hands because often they rarely lay a hand on their partner. Instead they undermine another’s sense of self, break their spirit and keep them off balance. Emotional abusers always know how they can hurt you. Because emotional abuse is never about anger. Instead its about power and control. “He was in a bad mood” or “she’ll change.” But he/she won’t. Because they can’t. Abusers need to control others the same way that alcoholics need to drink. And they’ll always keep their distance from anyone they think knows.

If you feel at call the  National Abuse Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE. They can direct you to a counselor in your area. Or contact me at 502-409-7221 for an appointment. If you want to learn more about emotional abuse I suggest the book by Dr. Mary Susan Miller, “No Visible Wounds.” 

Dr. Beverly Weinhold
January 2013

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