When someone else makes you feel bad about yourself, it’s emotional abuse. It doesn’t have to be your partner—it can be a family member, a coworker or a so-called friend. ‘So-called’ because a good friend would never make you feel bad about yourself, at least not intentionally.
Who knows what motivates someone to be emotionally abusive? It usually involves a need for power or control. If that person makes you feel humiliated, guilty, ashamed, violated and just plain down about yourself, then their motives aren’t nearly as important as how you will recover.
But you can’t recover if you don’t first know what’s happening to you. Emotional abuse is sometimes hard to put your finger on. Last week we talked about how someone can put you down in front of others or use sarcasm or supposed jokes to make you feel bad. Here are some more behaviors to look for when you’re trying to determine if you’re being emotionally abused:
He Makes You Feel Like You Don’t Matter. When someone puts you down often enough and dismisses your emotions as silly or inconsequential, you begin to feel you don’t matter. When you live or work with someone who lacks any empathy toward you and belittles your feelings, you can begin to doubt yourself. When you actually achieve something and he makes fun of it—or the dreams you have for the future—you feel let down. Also, he may blame you for whatever goes wrong. Even if it’s his fault he makes it seem like your fault. When you protest he says you’re too sensitive or that he was kidding and you’re crazy. It’s classic gas lighting. You lose your sense of self-worth and become more and more dependent on him. And less and less sure of yourself.
He Manipulates You. An emotional abuser uses all kinds of tricks to keep you under his thumb and in his full control. If you don’t behave the way he wants, he punishes you with the silent treatment, which may include ignoring you or excluding you from decisions or family events and then pretending that he didn’t think you’d want to be involved. Or he withdraws affection when you’ve done something he considers to be wrong, leaving you desperate to try and please him to get back in his good graces. He lets you back in until the moment you do something ‘wrong’ again, and then he banishes you again. This ping-pong effect can leave you feeling helpless and completely powerless. Which is exactly where he wants you.
He Is Overly Jealous. He checks your email. He prowls through your social media. He texts you constantly and when you don’t respond immediately he makes sure you know you’re in trouble. He monitors your actions gets upset when you want to spend time with others, even friends and family you are close to. Because he wants you to be close to him and him alone so no one else can influence you. At first his jealously will seem like a charming display of his love for you, and he will explain it that way. He only stalks your online accounts because he loves you. He only restricts your access to friends because he loves you and wants to spend more time with you. But in fact, he is overly possessive in an unhealthy way. What he really wants is total control of you.
It’s hard to know why an emotional abuser does what he does—what problems he’s had in his life that cause him to need to hurt you. But the causes are for him to discover if he wants to become emotionally healthy. If you can help him, great. But your first loyalty is to yourself. You must find a way to live an emotionally healthy life, even if it means you have to extricate yourself from such a harmful relationship.
Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional. If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch. You can reach her here: https://www.nancyscounselingcorner.com/contact