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Emotional abuse: my story

We’re at a point of awareness where we can all pretty much tell what abuse looks like. Physical abuse, anyway.

Most people know the hard and fast indications – we’ve watched enough movies and seen enough campaigns at this point to be able to tell, right?
Your friend is lying about a black eye, saying she fell down the stairs; but you know perfectly well that there are no stairs where she lives. And when a friend has mysterious bumps and bruises that she can’t explain, or doesn’t want to – you know what’s going on.

But there’s a different type of abuse that’s much harder to see – emotional abuse. You can’t pick out any scars. There are no hospital visits, no bandages. Just inner pain. So much pain.

And sometimes the worst part is that since its boundaries aren't clear, necessarily, it sneaks up on you.

Or at least, it did on me.

Perhaps the first clue for me had to do with not being listened to, or not being heard – repeatedly. I dated a guy who would ignore everything that I said concerning personal space and boundaries.
But at the time, I thought I could change him. I thought it wasn’t that big a deal, you know? Sure, he’d take money from my wallet, but I’d take money from his too. If he had any. And I would tell him I had, whereas he wouldn’t tell me. There was one time he needed money to take a bus, and I told him not to take any from the dresser, because that was all the money I had. But of course he took it anyway.

One time, I told him not to take my car when I was in the house with my friend, having a gossip session. He left and said he was going to the shops. I was so caught up with catching up with my friend, I didn’t notice how long he had been gone. But then, I heard a clunking sound. My car was due for service, and boy, was it creaking! When he drove into the compound, with the car I had told him not to take… I heard it. And that’s how he got caught.

I have lots of examples about how I was emotionally manipulated and my needs in a relationship were ignored.

A lot of the time we are blinded by all the feelings pumping through us. We think we’ve found the one.

We don’t pay attention to the signs that are pointing us in the complete other direction. Psychology Today describes emotional abuse as an ‘attempt to control, in just the same way that physical abuse is an attempt to control another person. The only difference is that the emotional abuser does not use physical hitting, kicking, pinching, grabbing, pushing, or other physical forms of harm. Rather, the perpetrator of emotional abuse uses emotion as his/her weapon of choice.’

In simple terms? It's when someone puts you down, or calls you names, or accuses you of things that they have no reason to accuse you of. Does that sound familiar? Using words like ‘no one will believe you if you tell them, they’ll think you’re crazy’ – or ‘you can’t leave me, no one will ever love you the way I love you. You’re not worth the love.’
Sometimes, your partner may try to isolate you from you friends and family, in a bid to continue to control you – if you don’t have a support system, then the only person you have to turn to is them.

Emotional abusive partners may make excuses for their behaviour, or even saying you brought this on.

Emotional abuse can also include:

  • Threats of punishment
  • Silent treatment and being emotionally unavailable
  • Criticism that is unwarranted or unnecessary
  • Humiliation, in private and in front of others
  • Being overly controlling
  • Calling you names

Don’t confuse healthy arguments with emotional abuse. Everyone gets mad sometimes and says hurtful things. But make sure you listen to your intuition when you can feel something is not quite right.

I wish I had.


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