There are many marriages in our community, even in our Christian community, that are wrought with emotional and mental abuse. Physical abuse can, manytimes, be seen in bruises or scars. But mental/emotional abuse can be hidden so well that the signs are much harder to discern.
I am sharing this list of 7 key things to understand about mental/emotional abuse because in my short time of counseling in Spartanburg, SC, I am seeing an increase in emotional abuse cases. Look over this list this. If you even think you are in a relationship or marriage and are experiencing these things, then please get help. Go to a trusted friend and share, call a counselor and begin to uncover the pain, pray and ask God to help you find the resources to begin dealing with the effects and consequences of emotional/mental abuse.
1. You’ve probably heard the phrase, “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” It sounds almost true but it is not completely true. Sticks and stones can hurt and break bones and words won’t leave any measurable physical damage, but words have the incredible power to cause progressive, long-term harm. Never underestimate the power of words. It is this power that words carry that make our communication in marriage and family of special importance.
Being told you are “stupid,” “ugly,” or “worthless” is never acceptable. The first time you hear it, it hurts, naturally. In time you “may get used to” hearing it from a partner. That’s when you start to internalize and believe it. When that happens you are doing the other person’s work of putting yourself down for them. This is why your feelings of self-worth suffer increasingly over time. Abusive words may sound like anger from the offender but it is important to note that when used consistently over and over, anger turns into harm. It is never acceptable to be put down consistently by a parent, spouse, partner, or friend.
2. You are always told that it’s your fault. Somehow, whatever happens, however it starts, the ultimate blame is always yours. Notice that we are talking ultimate blame here. The blaming partner will always tell you that their behavior was caused by what you said or did and the blaming partner somehow never seems to take responsibility for their actions or behaviors. In fact, their argument runs along the lines that you can’t possibly blame them for anything, because if you hadn’t said what you said, or done what you did it would never have happened. This kind of behavior is very indicative of an emotional abuser.
3. The more you are abused, the more inclined you are to believe your abusive partner than you are to believe yourself. Have you ever reeled with a sense of hurt and injustice, or seethed with anger at the way you’ve been treated? Have you found yourself asking: “Is it reasonable to feel like this?” “Am I misinterpreting things?” “Have I got it wrong?”
If this is you, what it means is that you have become so brainwashed you’ve stopped trusting in your own judgment. Your mind keeps throwing up the observations and questions because, deep down, you know that what is happening is utterly wrong. But right now you can’t feel the strength of your own convictions. This is a classic symptom of being abused. You may be able to recognize the abuse but don’t seem to be able to do anything about it.
4. You are so frustrated that you cannot seem to get your partner to acknowledge your feelings. Maybe you have tried to communicate how you feel to them but it always gets deflected back to you. Have you ever felt desperate to make your partner hear what you are saying and apologize for the hurtful things they’ve said? Have you ever felt that only they can heal the pain they’ve caused?
When a partner constantly denies or refuses to listen to your feelings, that is, unquestionably, a sign of mental abuse. After a while you give up trying to “be heard” and stuff the feelings of hurt deep inside the self. Repressed feelings of rejection and pain turn into self destructive behaviors, risk taking, and a hardened heart. You need to be heard, to be listened to, to be affirmed in your struggle and pain.
5. Your partner blows hot and cold. She can be very loving but is often highly critical of you. She may tell you how much she loves you, yet she is short on care or consideration towards you. In fact, some of the time, maybe even a lot of the time, she treats you as if you were someone she truly dislikes.
You do everything you can to make him happy, but it’s never good enough. You’re more like the pet dog in the relationship than you are the equal partner. Your constant efforts to get his attention and please him meet with limited success. Sometimes he’ll be charmed, often he’s dismissive.
If you find yourself puzzled about how your partner can treat you that way, it is because you are trying to live in a love-based relationship, when in reality you are living in a control-based relationship. The mental abuser struggles with his/her own feelings of worthlessness and uses the relationship to create a feeling of personal power, at his/her partner’s expense.
6. You feel as if you are constantly walking on eggshells. There is a real degree of fear in the relationship. You have come to dread his outbursts, the hurtful things that he will find to say to you.
Fear is not part of a loving relationship, but it is a vital part of a mentally abusive relationship. It enables the abuser to maintain control over you. This feeling of walking on eggshells is almost a “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” feeling. As soft and caring and sensitive as you may try to communicate your feelings, the “eggshells” still break and crackle under your feet, meaning that no matter how much everyone in the family tries to be understanding and careful of what he/she says, the abuser continues to rant, rage, outburst, and cut down. No amount of what you do or don’t do seems to help the situation.
7. You can heal. Mentally abusive relationships cause enormous emotional damage to the loving partner who tries, against all odds, to hold the relationship together and, ultimately, can’t do it, because her partner is working against her. Sticks and stones do break bones, but words can maim in deepening ways.
Whether you are currently in a mentally abusive relationship, have left one recently, or years later are still struggling with the anxieties and low self-worth and lack of confidence caused by mental abuse, it is never too late to heal.
Mental abuse recovery is a gradual process. Low self-worth and limiting beliefs about what kind of future the abuse sufferer can ever hope for are the blocks that can stop persons from moving on. But they are blocks that you can clear very effectively. Just as language was once used to harm you, you can now learn how language can heal you. You can overcome past mental abuse and keep yourself safe from it in the future. You can also learn to feel strong, believe in yourself and create the life and the relationships you truly want.
Glance over the seven things once more before leaving this article. If you or someone you know is experiencing the painful effects of being mentally and/or emotionally abused, then find an encouraging way to get help. Go to your pastor, close friend, or seek out a counseling professional to find your way back to you again.
Grace and Peace,