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Moving Past Emotional Abuse

Recognising emotional abuse can be difficult as the actions and affects of this type of abuse are not concrete and easy to see. However, the long term effects of emotional abuse can be more damaging. Meaningful Minds Psychologist, Susan, looks at identifying emotional abuse and how to deal with it.

Emotional Abuse

One definition of emotional abuse is: "any act including confinement, isolation, verbal assault, humiliation, intimidation, infantilization, or any other treatment which may diminish the sense of identity, dignity, and self-worth." 1.Jul 24, 2012

Emotional Abuse: Definitions, Signs, Symptoms, Examples ...

How can you identify emotional abuse?

One of the major differences between emotional, physical and sexual abuse is that emotional abuse is not as obvious to identify. There are often subtle intricacies that could render the victims of emotional abuse helpless to express what it is that they are experiencing.

It is important to understand that those who are emotionally abusive are quite clever in their delivery of the emotional abuse. The abuse could take place through subtle expressions which could leave the victim feeling inferior, humiliated and worthless but unable to identify it as emotional abuse.

The contexts in which emotional abuse takes place can be varied and include romantic relationships, parent child relationships and teacher scholar relationships. A child is most certainly vulnerable to emotional abuse and especially unable to identify it and report their experiences. It may also happen that romantic partners, especially in marriage, get stuck in a co-dependent relationship which leaves them helpless to identify the emotional abuse or helpless to defend themselves or leave the relationship.

Signs of Emotional Abuse

If someone constantly puts you down, makes you feel worthless, shouts at you, swears at you, insults you or in general just makes you feel ashamed of yourself ( even in subtle ways, such as through constant disapproval) -this is emotional abuse. There are a number of relationships in which emotional abuse can occur such as sibling relationships, grandparent-child relationships, friendships, employer-employee relationships etc.

When it comes to children, there is a major difference between discipline and emotional abuse. Healthy discipline addresses the behaviour of the child, whereas in emotional abusive discipline the child's character, identity and self-worth is broken down. As it can be subtle and hard to recognise, those close to the child should be attentive and alert to changes in behaviour.

In romantic relationships your partner, whether it is a spouse, fiance, boyfriend or girlfriend, should certainly not discipline you. If your partner constantly makes you feel worthless, ashamed, guilty, humiliated or intimidated, you should seek help and guidance as you may be in an abusive relationship. Being emotionally abused may have severe consequences for your self-worth, sense of identity, dignity and emotional well-being. There are different consequences depending on the extent of the abuse.

What to do if you or a loved one is being emotionally abused

If you find yourself in an emotionally abusive relationshiphere is some advice in terms of how to protect yourself.

Step one:

Recognise the emotional abuse and identify it as such. The first step to stopping something is to recognise that it exists. By taking note of the signs discussed in this article you can identify when the abuse is happening.

Step two:

Externalize the assault: Victims of emotional abuse have a tendency to perceive the emotional abuser as right. They see themselves as the bad worthless person. But it is extremely important to recognize the abuse and then externalize it from the self by seeing the abuser as the one with the problem. The abuser is being mean, rude and unreasonable; it is not you who have the problem. Recognise that you are worth more than you have been made to believe. Focus on your strengths, talents, skills, power and appreciate yourself as a unique and valued person.

Step three

Take Action

Action may involve different approaches depending on the nature of the relationship. If it is a child being abused by a teacher, it should be reported and in extreme cases the child should be removed from this environment as soon as possible. If emotional abuse is identified in a child, the identifier should protect the child by addressing the issue with the parent in question. If nothing changes, a social worker and psychologist should be approached to address the situation.

In the case of adults, if you feel you are being emotionally abused by a partner get support. Speak to close friends or family about your concerns. If you feel that your life is in danger do whatever it takes to find safety with others. Do not feel that you are a burden or that no one will believe you. By taking action you are blocking the cycle of abuse.

Step four

Seek professional help- individual and couples counselling can assist people in coming to terms with the abuse and moving past it. See a psychologist to help you identify the emotional abuse and help you to escape or change the dynamics of the situation. Depending on the extent of the abuse this can be together as a couple or alone to help regain your sense of power and self. People who emotionally abuse are insecure and unhappy. This does not condone their behaviour, but many abusers want to change and may dedicate themselves to this process. However, this does not mean accepting the abuse in hope that change will happen. Do what is best for yourself first. Decide what you need to rebuild your self worth and then consider if the relationship is something worth saving.

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