What can emotional abuse look like?
This isn’t a professional article based on years of research from a wide study sample. It’s an invitation for honest, yet difficult conversation, reflection, and action.
I hope we have evolved enough to recognize emotional abuse is indeed abuse. It’s not less traumatic. It’s not excusable. It also isn’t based on our own emotions. In other words, it’s not completely subjective. It’s not something someone with good coping strategies can avoid. It’s relational. It’s observable. It’s noticeable. Let’s not let ourselves off the hook. It might be less obvious to notice than bruises. It might be easier to disguise. Instead of bruises, broken bones, and lacerations, the effects manifest in complicated tones, volumes, colors, rhythms, and shades—shown in both the abuser and the abused.
This is nowhere close to a complete list, but I hope it starts a conversation, prompts you to ask a question or take action. Let’s be brave enough to open our eyes and notice what’s happening in our own lives and others’.
- Excuses, and lots of them. We rationalize. Yes, both the abuser and the abused. We try to position ourselves or others in the best light possible but are usually vague enough to avoid a bright, pinpoint of light on the most honest details.
- The abuser doesn’t want to be held accountable for current or recent actions yet will point out their abused person’s past. They want others to forget their issues but they keep the tally of others’ weaknesses or mistakes, real or distorted.
- The abuser will use their own backgrounds, addictions, or other experiences to rationalize what they do but will have little empathy for the same aspects of the abused person’s life, often stating they should “get over it.”
- In fact, “get over it,” “let it go,” and “move on” are common phrases from the abused.
- The abused might not appear to have good coping strategies, because we assume they would then leave the situation. But the coping strategies often take up so much of their energy to process what’s happening around them, they might not have the bandwidth to do some of the things you, outside the situation, might expect.
- There are some experiences that position people to become more likely to get into a emotionally abusive relationship, but many people don’t have those predispositions. People who have loving, healthy childhoods and role models also get into emotionally abusive situations, often because they have hope, compassion, and patience.
- No one is “too smart” to avoid all emotionally abusive situations. Nor is anyone too smart, mature, responsible, professional to become abusive.
- Abusive situations are not limited to marriage, dating, or family relationships but can affect friendships, work relationships, and more.
Stay alert—for yourself and others. And know next steps are not as easy as they might look, and healing can last far beyond the safety of stepping away from the situation.