Sanctuary for the Abused
Sunday, September 18, 2016
No, You're Not Crazy!
Effects of Emotional Abuse
In Canada in 1993, a Violence Against Women Survey was taken among women aged 18 to 65, and found that 35% of all women surveyed reported that their spouse was emotionally abusive. In another Canadian study on abuse in university and college dating relationships, 81% of male respondents reported that they had psychologically abused a female partner. Unlike physical abuse, which is obvious to detect, emotional abuse can slowly build over time. Both leave devastating long-lasting effects on the victim.
One victim involved in an abusive relationship recounted, “I was in a twenty year marriage, and like most women was very sensitive about my weight. My husband knew this, as he knew most of my insecurities as only someone who lives with you that many years can. One day we went to a local steakhouse, and went through the buffet line. People were lined up behind us, and there was quite a crowd. I reached for the trays, and decided to also get one out for him. I sat both on the counter. He turned and said in a loud voice, “God, Woman! How much you planning to eat to need TWO trays!” He laughed hysterically and people around us gave us pitiful looks. I tried to not think about it, but some months later, I mentioned it to a friend, who quickly replied, “That’s emotional abuse.” I didn’t know if I believed that. He was my husband, after all.”
Most often, abused people are the ones that are limited in power and resources, usually women and children. Emotional abuse is about power and control, using whatever means necessary to make another feel inferior or dependent, using fear to intimidate, slowly taking away another’s ability to choose, or using a threatening manner or tone of voice.
Another woman reports, “My boyfriend was very jealous. At first I was flattered. I thought it meant he loved me. Then gradually he became so possessive that he didn’t want me to talk to my friends. He accused me of things I didn’t do. I found myself making excuses or lying to keep him from getting angry. He would apologize afterward and say it was because he loved me and worried about me. He told me if I would only do what he asked, we wouldn’t fight so much. I began to feel like it was all my fault.”
Emotional abuse usually follows a pattern. His anger slowly builds. Then come the accusations or belittling. Usually there is a blowup or argument with name calling or passing blame. This is followed by a cooling down period, sorrow for what has happened, and then a period of peace. But slowly the anger builds again.
Mary said, “I kept thinking if it happened again, I’d just break up with him. When it happened, I’d make up my mind to really get out this time. But by the next morning, he’d cry and be so sorry, and I’d believe him. After all, he seemed to care so much. Then things would get better, and I’d think I was too hasty in thinking about leaving him. But it always happened again. And again.”
Emotional abuse is a crime when it happens to children. But women are not protected, unless they are strong enough to protect themselves. How does emotional abuse impact the millions of women who are victims of it each year? There are both physical and psychological consequences, including anxiety, back and limb problems, stomach problems, depression and persistent headaches. Women who are emotionally abused but not physically abused are five times more likely to misuse alcohol than women who have not experienced abuse.
In addition, victims of emotional abuse may experience withdrawal, sleep disturbances, low self-esteem, physical symptoms without medical basis. They may become passive underachievers, become overly dependent, have frequent crying and feelings of shame and guilt, and put themselves down.
What can you do if you are abused? First, know it is not your fault. No one deserves to be abused for any reason. You are not alone, and help is available. If there is a 24 hour crisis hotline, call and ask for help. Contact your local social service agency or Legal Aid. Go to a community counseling center such as your local Mental Health Center or to your physician or clergy. Tell someone and keep telling until you receive the support you need. Reaching out is the most difficult part. Remember that things will only get harder the longer you stay in an abusive relationship. Abusive partners don’t get better; the abuse only continues to escalate over time. If you don’t get help now, you will become even more beaten down and devastated by the effects.
You deserve to be loved, honored, and treated as a valuable human being. Your feelings are valid. You are not to blame. You have the right to your own opinions and beliefs, to have your own friends, to not have to make excuses to anyone else. You deserve to be valued and cherished. If you are not getting that in your relationship, then give it to yourself and reach out today for help.