Blogger Jenni Cowley is a former social worker who, after a career sabbatical to raise her two youngsters, decided to begin blogging about about mental health topics.
Emotional Abuse – Can It Cause Longer Lasting Damage than Domestic Abuse?
Statistics show that approximately one in four women living in America will suffer from domestic abuse at some point in their lives. Sadly, many women stay in abusive relationships long after the first violent act has been committed against them. This is a pattern which is all too common with victims of domestic abuse and it begs the question ‘why stay?’. The answer is far more complex than people realize, with violence often an outcome which is preceded by long term emotional devastation. The fact is, those individuals who abuse their partners do so from a need to quell their own insecurities and physical violence is just one way in which their own psychological problems manifest. Likewise, where physical scars heal over time, emotional scars can take years – decades – to become less painful. A victim of domestic violence may learn to trust new partners in future but learning to trust their own emotions whilst having faith in their own talents and abilities can take far longer. This article aims to take a closer look at the devastation caused by emotional abuse and asks if the healing process is the same for each victim.
What is Emotional Abuse?
Put simply, emotional abuse is anything that hurts the feelings of another person. In relationships, it commonly manifests as verbal put-downs and insults, backhanded compliments and fear based manipulation. Examples include; “You are no good at doing that and nobody likes you”, “You look much better with more make-up” and “one of these days I will leave you and you will be alone for ever because nobody will want you”. Emotional abuse can also manifest with a look or a tone of voice – basically, if it hurts your feelings or upset you in anyway, it is probably damaging your self esteem and therefore can be classed as emotional abuse.
What Are the Long Term Effects of Emotional Abuse?
Have you ever heard of the phrase ‘self- fulfilling prophecy?’ This phrase is key within the formation of a physically abusive relationship and goes some way to explain why so many victims stay with abusive partners for so long. A self fulfilling prophecy is a belief which comes true because somebody else says it will. If we transpose this into an abusive relationship, it is easy to see why victims believe what their abuser is telling them – if they are consistently told they are no good, useless, can’t function alone etc then it stands to reason that their behavior will ultimately reflect the abuser’s conviction despite the illogical and untrue nature of such statements. The effects of hearing such statements (and believing them) is to undermine the victim’s often fragile self esteem, resulting in an innate questioning of any positive assumptions previously held. Such shattering of an individual’s self-esteem can also result in behavioral changes which often manifest as serious addiction and substance abuse problems as a coping mechanism. Such addictions expose the user to potentially devastating health problems like HIV, Hepatitis C liver failure or even death – and this clearly shows that emotional abuse can be at least as (if not more) damaging than physical violence.
Healing from Emotional Abuse
The healing process for both domestic violence and emotional abuse is similar and focuses on re-building the individual’s self esteem whilst trying to change core negative beliefs which have resulted from the abusive relationship. Many psychologists eschew the virtues associated with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy as a means of challenging negative beliefs and changing thought patterns although support groups and group therapy can often be of great benefit to the victim. The most crucial element of recovery from emotional and physical abuse is distance between you and the person who is abusing you. Those who leave abusive relationships frequently express profound relief that they have finally made the leap from victim to survivor and it is once a physical distance is in place that psychological and emotional healing can begin in earnest. It may take years to undo the damage caused by an abusive partner but those who have made the journey are stronger, happier and wiser and are truly inspirational to us all.
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Sober Recovery ‘Alcoholism as coping mechanism’ Accessed 20th May 2014 http://www.soberrecovery.com
Addiction Treatment Magazine ‘Addiction and domestic violence’ Accessed 20th May 2014 http://www.addictiontreatmentmagazine.com/addiction/domestic-violence-substance-abuse/
Dr Phil ‘How to tell if you are in an emotionally abusive relationship’ Accessed 20th May 2014 http://www.drphil.com/articles/article/21
Cognitive Therapy New York ‘Cognitive Therapy America’ Accessed 20th May 2014 http://www.cognitivetherapynyc.com/
Emotional Heal.org ‘Healing from emotional abuse’ Accessed 20th May 2014 http://emotionalheal.org/myths.htm
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Psychology Today ‘Effects of emotional abuse’ Accessed 20th May 2014
Safe Horizon.org ‘ Statistics USA Domestic violence’ Accessed 20th May 2014