I can’t even begin to count the amount of stories I hear that start with “every relationship has its problems and I know we have our own but at least he’s not beating me”. This usually continues on to a list of concerns or complaints that, while they may not fit under the physical assault guidelines, they are still abusive and are damaging to the person on the receiving end.
Relationships do hit points where maybe things aren’t sunshine and roses but even in the rough times, there should still be a base of consideration and respect. Saying just because someone doesn’t beat you doesn’t mean they’re not hurting you all the same. We’ve heard from numerous folks how they have found the emotional and psychological abuse to be the most difficult to recover from. It warps your thinking about yourself and about the world around you and keeps you hostage within your relationship. For some people, they feel like it’s not “real abuse” and therefore they aren’t justified in leaving. This is dangerous thinking because that is how people are manipulated into doing things they don’t want to do and accepting behaviour that they don’t want to accept.
There is no universally accepted definition of emotional abuse but there are consistent behaviours that are seen over and over again. The following are a list of behaviours that are common in an emotionally or psychologically abusive relationship.
Isolation – that can range from physical confinement, restricting contact with others, refusing to allow contact with others that isn’t ‘monitored’, answering emails on your behalf without your consent, screening your phone calls, limiting your freedom without your consent, (silence out of fear is NOT consent). Examples also include locking a child in a closet or room, refusing a senior or partner access to their own money, withholding contact with other family members including children or grandchildren, not allowing a person to make decisions about their own life.
Insults – This is probably the most commonly associated one with emotional abuse; degrading comments, put downs, name-calling, ridicule, making fun of you (ie. imitating your words or actions), labeling (such as stupid), public humiliation (can’t you take a joke?), words or behaviours meant to diminish your identity or self-worth, treating you as if you can’t make decisions, yelling or swearing.
Rejection – refusing to acknowledge or deal with you, using ignoring types of behaviours as a ‘tool’ to punish you. Telling you or making you feel like you are worthless or inferior in some manner, that you’re not as important, making a point to devalue your thoughts or feelings or actions / behaviours, refusing to acknowledge that you are valuable or worthwhile as a person, making you feel like you’re not as good as others and not worth their time.
Intimidation / terrorizing – using fear as a means to control your actions, ideas and beliefs. Manipulating your fears, creating fear in you through extreme and unsafe behaviour, putting you in unsafe situations or threatening to put you in unsafe situations. Examples could include threatening to hurt or kill you, themselves, a pet, someone else close to you; threatening to destroy treasured possessions or giving away items that you hold dear to your heart as punishment. Using their physical presence or aggression around you and near you to force you to do what they want. Stalking and harassment behaviours also fit into this category.
We believe that emotional abuse goes hand in hand with many other forms of abuse however, it can also exist ‘on it’s own’. Realistically, physical, sexual, elder abuse and child abuse all have elements of emotional abuse built into them and for that reason, we believe it is present in all forms of abuse from one person towards another. We also believe that you don’t have to live with this abuse. Everyone has the right to live a life where they are not hurt by those who claim to love them.