A tragically high number of people will suffer abuse at the hands of an intimate partner – conservative estimates claim that 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. The real numbers are impossible to calculate since most instances of abuse are never reported.
Often education on abusive behavior focuses primarily on physical abuse. In fact, there are several different kinds of abuse that don’t leave physical scars, but are just as serious and dangerous as domestic violence. Often psychological and emotional abuse are the precursors to physical violence.
Familiarize yourself with these signs of emotional abuse so you can protect yourself and your loved ones.
Signs of emotional abuse
1. Repeated cheating: One affair doesn’t have to be a deal breaker for your marriage; many marriages dealing with infidelity recover and become even stronger. At the same time – as with any destructive behavior – repeated or on-going affairs with no willingness to change is a big danger sign. These affairs are intended to hurt you, or at least show a complete disregard for your feelings and needs. These are signs of emotional abuse and reasons for divorce.
2. Aggressing – Emotionally aggressive behavior includes blaming, ordering or commanding, threatening, accusing, criticizing, and name-calling. Aggression can also be quite subtle and a bit harder to recognize than outright insults. An abuser may insist on doing things his way (overriding your opinion) or try to prove he is intellectually superior. An aggressive abuser often uses words or actions to show they he has the ultimate say in the marriage and invalidate the victim and her ideas.
3. Denying – Denying (withholding intimacy, the “silent treatment,” abandonment, and more) as a form of punishment is a common marriage mistake many of us make when we are upset at our spouses. This type of behavior has no place in a marriage! These can also be signs of emotional abuse when denying behavior is severe and ongoing.
An abuser may deny her victim by not listening or talking to him, acting as if he is not in the room. Thus, the abuser is able to emotionally withdraw from the situation and the victim. Being able to frame her spouse as an object, lesser and not worthy of normal interaction, helps the abuser to psychologically prepare for greater abuse.
An abuser may also deny her negative behavior or harming the spouse
(with words or blows). She may claim to not remember any such thing happening. This means the abuser is overruling anything the victim says, thinks, or feels which, consequently, disrupts the victim’s sense of reality. He may no longer rely on their own judgment or feel he can trust his personal experience.
4. Minimizing – Minimizing occurs when the abuser acknowledges his hurtful behavior but trivializes the incident to imply the victim is blowing it out of proportion. He may say things like, “Stop exaggerating,” or “You are being way too sensitive.” Again, these signs of emotional abuse question the victim’s sanity and the validity of her emotions.
5. Guilting – Guilting is another common behavior in many relationships, yet it is actually one of the signs of emotional abuse and has no place in a marriage at any degree. Guilting uses subtle criticism to attack the spouse’s self-esteem and coerce him into obeying the abuser by, confusingly, framing the abuser as the victim! Your spouse may say things like, “If you were a good husband you would…” or “You don’t care about me! If you did you would…” This plays on the victim’s love, trust and care for his abusive partner. If your spouse often makes you feel guilty for not doing things her way, or for any independent behavior, to the point where you feel like a “bad” person and must obey her, you are likely in an emotionally abusive relationship.
What can I do?
If you have experienced any of these five signs of emotional abuse in your relationship, seek professional help or someone safe to talk to right away. Or, see our previous post on domestic violence for help talking to a friend you are concerned may be abused. Consider calling the free, confidential National Domestic Violence Hotline, 1−800−799−SAFE(7233)