*Please be advised, this post may be difficult to read for some. Proceed with care.
Why Are We Talking About Emotional Abuse?
Emotional abuse isn't something we can necessarily see. It would be obvious to know when someone is hurting us if they always left bruises but when it's our emotions or freedom attacked, it can be difficult to classify it as abuse.
It's a, "If no one sees it, it didn't happen" mentality.
Not surprisingly, there's a lot of experts who believe emotional abuse is more damaging than physical abuse because it often happens every day [source].
What Is Emotional Abuse?
The definition of emotional or psychological abuse is up for discussion but it's generally agreed as being verbal aggression (verbal abuse), dominant behaviour and/or jealous behaviour like bullying, harassment and power imbalance in a relationship [source].
Emotional abuse usually progresses slowly, starting out as being confusing, tense or feeling like you’re being manipulated. It can quickly turn into feeling helpless, being withdrawn, unable to sleep, diminished self-confidence or feeling trapped [Source].
Bigger problems that come out of ongoing emotional abuse would be depression, chronic anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, suicidal thoughts and Stockholm syndrome [Source]. It can precede physical or sexual abuse and yes, your husband/wife/boyfriend/girlfriend/whoever can sexually abuse you.
Through my own personal experience and after talking to other women who have felt they were emotionally abused, I feel most abusive relationships start out pretty normal. I would even dare to say that most start out better than the average relationship because abusers are usually master charmers. Does that mean there weren't red flags? Of course not, quite the opposite. The relationship undoubtedly provides something we crave so we ignored the red flags. It's really normal not to see it as it happens to you, until you look back later (But I would bet other people did!).
"We live life forward but we only understand it backwards" -Joyce Meyer
Since all abusers are master manipulators and most addicts are excellent manipulators, the combination is a very difficult situation to be in.
I'm Not a Psychiatrist but I've Lived It. Twice.
Keep context in mind as the things I'm going to list are not necessarily considered to be abuse on their own. It's not my intention for you to read this and be like, "Oh man, he called me a name last week, he must be an abuser!" because plenty of these things happen in normal relationships. We're all human and sometimes we do sucky things.
The list is a reference in case you need an "ah-ha!" moment (Like I had! Read: How to be a Peacemaker Without Being a Pushover) to figure out if your relationship has become unhealthy for you. For simplicity sake, I'm going to use "He" when I'm talking about the abuser but emotional abuse is not gender-specific and could equally come from either man or woman.
Here's a source for some of the items on the list but honestly, most are just my personal experience.
I wouldn't classify my husband as, "An abuser" but he did do a lot of the things on this list as either an addiction-related behaviour or because of his own baggage that needed healing. He was in a bad place and made some bad choices, which is something we can all commiserate with.
However, my first marriage was really terrible. I was raised in a Mennonite Brethren Church in rural, Ontario, Canada. The marriage lasted less than a year. I had just turned 21 and became pregnant after waking up one morning with absolutely zero recollection of drinking that much or sleeping with him [Read more about my story here]. The marriage was hardly a marriage but whatever small increment of marriage was there, was awful. He was and still is absolutely abusive [Read more in: Are You Filled With Fear or Faith].
He never hit me but it sure felt like he did.
Many of these same things have happened to the women I've talked to on this journey whose loved ones struggle with addiction as well. It's one of many reasons it's important for us to connect with other women who, "Get it". If you want someone to talk to or a safe place to vent your feelings join our private online community, "Live, Love, Hope" below.
Signs of Emotional Abuse You Need to Know
1. He doesn't acknowledge your feelings or minimizes them, making you feel like you're imagining them or flat out wrong for feeling the way you do, ex. "You're just being a drama queen".
2. He only takes responsibility to appease you. When the conversation arises later, it wasn't his fault. Again.
3. He can't go without, without complaining. He has a major sense of entitlement. His time is more valuable than yours and he expects a reward for his efforts.
4. Sex is not mutually wanted or enjoyable.
5. He is inappropriately aggressive in bed (the aggression doesn't match the mood) or talks to you with crude language.
6. He watches porn in front of you or around you and compares you to them.
7. He watches porn in spite of you telling him it hurts your feelings
8. He quotes Bible verses about how your body is not your own, it belongs to him.
9. He tells you how he likes you to dress, how he likes you to wear your hair, etc.
10. He bullies, nags, convinces or manipulates you into doing things you don't want to do or that aren't good for you. *This could be anything. Look back because if you're acting like a "peacemaker" you likely don't argue on this point anymore. You just do it.
11. Everything is your fault. Everything is your responsibility. Including his mood and behaviour. He makes you feel guilty for EVERYTHING.
12. He ignores you. Makes you feel invisible.
13. He objectifies you, for example, when you're upset, he doesn't call you by your name and instead tries to minimize the situation with nicknames like, "babe", "honey" etc..
14. He talks bad about you to his friends. *My husband's friends were awful to me. They sent me nasty messages, hacked my phone, deleted half of my Facebook friends and blocked me from contacting my husband completely.
15. He doesn't tell you where he is 90% of the time. If he comes home late without a phone call and if you ask, you're being controlling.
16. Meanwhile, he's controlling and jealous about where you are ALL THE TIME. He needs to know where you are, who you talked to, who else was there.
17. He accuses you of doing things you didn't do. If you went to get groceries and took too long you were probably out being a sleaze. When you deny it, he passive-aggressively says, "yeah, sure you weren't".
18. He speaks for you. Twists your words. Interrupts when you're speaking.
19. He tells you to tell him, "Exactly what he said" in an argument when clearly you don't have any idea anymore, therefore you're wrong. And you're now a liar.
20. He angrily walks out on you when you try to confront him because "he can't handle it". Comes back like nothing happened. If you try to bring it up again you're just trying to cause problems.
21. Angrily punches, throws or hits things when confronted because he knows it will scare you.
22. Makes you feel insignificant and purposeless.
23. Checks out other women (or men) in your presence.
24. Turns every confrontation around so it's about you and not him. He's done nothing wrong.
25. Guilt trips you with anything he has. If he doesn't have anything, he'll just make something up.
26. Lies. About everything. All the time.
27. If he physically hurts you, he will tell you to stop complaining or that "it really wasn't that bad", you're just making too big of a deal about it.
28. Uses gifts as ploys for forgiveness. Forgets your birthday. Remembers your birthday but doesn't plan anything or get you a present. Remembers your birthday and plans a nice day... for himself.
29. Uses money to control you. *I could write a whole article about this one!
30. Threatens suicide, divorce, leaving and never speaking to you again.
31. Threatens to take your children and never come back. *That's the worst threat, honestly!
32. Drives reckless with you or your children in the car, despite your pleas to drive safer.
33. He cheats on you.
34. He doesn't listen to, ask or care about your accomplishments.
35. He showers you with compliments when he wants something, if you deny him, watch out (see numbers 1-34!)
Do you feel like your loved one is doing five or more of these things? How about half of them? All of them? Don't be discouraged! God can fix this too :) It's important we stay safe and emotionally healthy when breaking free from an abusive relationship. You don't have to BREAK UP the relationship but you absolutely NEED to BREAK FREE from the abuse (Of course, sometimes there's cause to break up the relationship too).
Biblical Steps to Break Free from Emotional Abuse
What God says to do when someone sins against you:
This not only applies to an emotionally abusive relationship but to anyone whose hurts us. How incredible is it that God laid it out, step-by-step in His Word?! He tells us exactly what to do and how to do it.
“This is what you do if one of your brothers or sisters sins against you: go to him, in private, and tell him just what you perceive the wrong to be. If he listens to you, you’ve won a brother. But sometimes he will not listen. And if he does not listen, go back, taking a friend or two friends with you (for, as we have learned in Deuteronomy, every matter of communal import should be testified to by two or three witnesses). Then, if your brother or sister still refuses to heed, you are to share what you know with the entire church; and if your brother or sister still refuses to listen to the entire church, you are to cast out your unrepentant sibling and consider him no different from outsiders and tax collectors.”
YOU NEED TO DO FOUR THINGS (In this order):
Just four things. One, two, three, four. You can do this!
1. Talk to them about the problem in private
2. Try talking to them with a buffer person (Friends, parents, pastor or marriage counsellor).
3. Appeal to the church for help
4. Treat them like an outsider and tax collector
And just to clarify, how are we to treat outsiders and tax collectors? If it's your husband, divorce his sinful butt and get a hot new man!!!
No, wait.... that's not right.
We are to pray for them, eat with them, help them, care for them, and show them the love of Christ. Don't ever give up hope for them, we're all God's beloved.
It's important that you know that physically staying in a home where you’re being abused is not what God’s word says for you to do and staying will only condone further abuse. Don't show them it's okay to treat you that way by putting up with it. You or they need to leave the home. Immediately. Getting a divorce based on abuse is Biblically OKAY.
If you're planning to leave an abuser, do not tell them. Find a women's shelter, family member or trusted friend to help you and you can discuss your relationship boundaries after you leave. If you're planning to make the abuser leave, make sure you have someone else there. If you have no one, call the police and have them stand there until your abuser leaves.
Who cares what the neighbours think. For goodness sake, who knows what goes on behind closed doors? Right? Right.
Be safe. Be healthy.
Do you love someone whose abused you with the love of Christ after, "Casting them out"? Absolutely! Do you keep praying and hoping for total healing? Daily! Is it painful to do all this? YES! Very. It's hard and it will hurt but it has to be done or it will never change.
When it comes to a physically or emotionally abusive relationships, if you’re making tough choices you’re probably making the right ones.
Trust God, my friends! He is so good and I promise He will take care of you in every way. How do I know this? Because He's taken care of me: physically, financially and emotionally. You are worthy of so much more than abuse. Letting God fight our battles always result in a victory!