Sticks and stones may break my bones,

But names can never hurt me.

This childhood ditty may be one reason some people are slow to understand that verbal or emotional abuse is as detrimental as it truly is. After all, words are not as bad as physical blows, are they? But consider this: Physical violence against you eventually heals, but insidious emotional abuse, often out of the sight of anyone else who can validate your feelings, can last a long time.

If you:

– are in emotional pain and a depression that seems to have settled permanently;

– find no amount of appeasement is enough to keep your partner from putting you down;

– have been verbally beaten down to remain mute in self defense, even though you may have been previously gregarious and articulate;

– feel that maybe you are the crazy one, instead of your partner;

– wake up in the morning full of anxiety about how your erratic partner will treat you;

– don\’t understand why your partner is attacking you since accusations are often baseless;

then you are probably in an abusive relationship.

You are living in a toxic atmosphere that can, over time, erode your self-esteem and drain you of hope. It can destroy you emotionally and spiritually. It can even put your health at risk since living under such chronic stress is very tough on you physically.

The first step is to identify the situation, which often deteriorates in small increments over time and takes victims quite awhile to understand. Many sufferers of abuse need help from professionals to fully grasp the state they\’re living in. After all, it\’s hard to believe that someone who supposedly loves you could be so detrimental to you. And although you may be afraid of physical abuse, there\’s never been anything but cruel words. But as I\’ve said, they can be very damaging.

Here are some more indications that you are living in an abusive relationship:

-       You\’re afraid to ask for any help—like taking the kids to school—or  report anything normal—like the car needs gas—for fear of a blowup.

-       You avoid bringing your partner to gatherings of friends and family for fear s/he will humiliate you.

-       Your partner keeps control over key aspects of your life—how you spend money, who you see, what you do.

-       You go out of your way to please your significant other, even if it costs you a lot, because it\’s better than any confrontation.

-       Your partner manipulates your words and feelings so you think maybe you\’re the one who\’s at fault for making your partner so mad.

-       You\’ve begun to buy the idea that you are, indeed, not worthy of being treated better.

The last point is crucial because it keeps people from seeking much-needed help. But, in fact, no one deserves this terrible treatment.

Next week I\’ll talk about what you can do to about it when you find yourself in an emotionally abusive 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: