How to recognize emotional abuse and overcome it

Emotional abuse is something millions of people experience on a daily basis. Yet, we are still sweeping this issue under the rug, pretending it is not a big deal. But it is a big deal because it destroys lives every single day.

Unfortunately, emotional abuse is much harder to recognize than physical abuse.

There are no visible bruises from being mentally damaged. What’s even worse is that the abusers often blame their behavior on their victims, acting like they are the ones who got hurt. Eventually, the victim’s sense of self-worth falls apart. That’s when the abuser wins – when they get you to believe that it was all your fault.

But that moment may come long after this person has entered your life. Sometimes, abusers don’t reveal their true nature until you are completely drawn to their presence. They patiently wait until there is no way out for you. Once they are sure you cannot simply walk away, they no longer hide their true intentions.

Anxiety, PTSD, and stress are only a few of the many mental health issues emotional abuse leads to. One day you find yourself walking on eggshells around this person, trying not to trigger their anger because you know how much you will be hurting afterward.

How can you tell if you are a victim of emotional abuse?

If there is any doubt in your mind that you’re being abused, then you probably are. While emotional abuse is harder to recognize than physical abuse, there are still evident signs you can detect if you pay attention. If someone tries to control you, tell you to whom you can talk and who to avoid, make you cut off people they disapprove of, then they are most likely manipulating you.

Manipulation is the most severe form of emotional abuse. It can be carried as verbal abuse, which, unfortunately, is often overlooked. This type of harm can be hidden behind sarcasm, jokes, or even ‘loving’ advice. It is much more difficult to detect than direct abuse, such as threats, name-calling, and raging.

Here are 6 types of subtle verbal abuse that are hard to recognize:

1. Blocking.

In order to avoid further confrontations, the abuser would try to block the conversation by changing the topic or making you shut up. They would often do that when they don’t like the course of your discussion or when they fear they might lose their dominance over you.

2. Undermining.

To defend their status, the abuser might also undermine your competence on the subject. They use this strategy to lower your self-esteem, which will weaken your position in the conversation. And if that doesn’t work, they would start interrupting you to minimize your chance to take control over the situation.

3. Opposing.

Abusers can’t stand to lose, so they would argue against anything you say to ensure they are in control. The points they make don’t matter, as long as they are the ones who win in the end. They would defy every single word you say, attempting to preserve their superiority.

4. Belittling. 

Your emotions, feelings, words, and everything else you express will not be taken into consideration by the abuser. Instead, they would make sure they suppress you in a way that makes you feel as if your experience is irrelevant.

5. Withholding.

Since you are most probably emotionally attached to your abuser, they would use that against you by withholding affection, love, compassion, and other reactions you might be in need of. This way, they will be able to easily control you whenever they want to.

6. Gaslighting.

Abusers would do anything to avoid taking responsibility, including denying making promises or doing things they did before your eyes. This so-called crazy-making is also known as gaslighting – a manipulative tactic in which the victim ends up questioning themselves and everything around them.

Should you confront your abuser?

Abuse should never be tolerated, regardless of its form. However, you should be extremely careful when confronting your victimizer. Sometimes, if you rush things, you risk ending up in an even bigger mess, which is highly dangerous for your mental stability.

One way to oppose your abuser is to treat their verbal attacks with humor. This way, they would have no chance to belittle your words or undermine you. Besides, they would feel quite uncomfortable seeing you enjoying a conversation in which they are trying to put you down.

Another thing you could do is directly address the fact that their behavior is unacceptable. For instance, you can tell them not to raise their voice at you or not to call you names. And if they continue despite your demands, you can simply end the conversation.

In case the abuser intensifies their horrid attitude, Darlene Lancer, a therapist, author, and relationship and codependency expert, advises:

“Typically, a verbal abuser may become more abusive, in which case, you continue to address the abuse in the same manner. You might say, ‘If you continue, I’ll leave the room,’ and do so if the abuse continues. If you keep setting boundaries, the abuser will get the message that manipulation and abuse won’t be effective.”

Whichever path you chose, remember that healing takes time. It will take a while until you recognize you are a victim of abuse, forgive yourself for allowing someone to manipulate you, reconnecting with yourself, and restoring your sense of self-worth. Be patient.

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