How many people have had to go through life feeling hurt inside and not knowing exactly why? Statistically millions of people suffer from various degrees of depression and anxiety along with a number of different emotional and mental health issues.
Is it possible, however, that many are suffering from various forms of emotional abuse that they’ve endured growing up and they aren’t even aware of it? What exactly is emotional abuse anyway? Sure our parents had to be tough disciplinarians, but many times we’ve endured actual abuse and no one, including many therapists and mental health professionals seem to realize it.
What is Emotional Abuse?
Simply put, emotional abuse is an attempt to control another through tearing down their sense of self worth to the point where they knowingly or unknowingly become emotionally dependent on the abuser in various capacities.
Although it’s not uncommon for some to hear the phrase emotional abuse and scoff at it, believing that it’s pure nonsense, emotional abuse has been shown to be as severe if not more severe than any other type of abuse.
The truth is, emotional abuse is the core of all abuse and is present with physical abuse, verbal abuse, mental abuse, sexual abuse, and any other form of abuse.
Have You Been Abused?
If you had asked me when I was younger if I had been abused, I would have said no, of course not. But the truth is, I was always in a high state of anxiety and panic, and I always felt like I had to be quiet and hide from my mother.
I always felt bad around her and I never knew why. All I could say at the time was simply that my Mom was mean to me and perhaps controlling.
Corresponding with the way I grew up, my own emotional health was compromised. I was cut off from myself emotionally, somewhat dissociated, and was sort of emotionally numb all the time.
But the real kicker was my inability to be emotionally intimate with others, and the fact that I had a strong tendency to isolate. I had seen a number of therapists and psychologists over the years, but none of them ever brought up the concept of emotional abuse to me.
It wasn’t until years later that someone mentioned to me that I had some emotional problems. So I decided to look into healing my emotional self and realized that the truth was, I had been severely emotionally and psychologically abused growing up, which resulted in me developing something called complex post traumatic stress disorder.
So it’s very possible that you have been abused and don’t even know it. Just ask yourself if there was or is someone in your life with whom you consistently feel bad around even if you can’t verbalize why, and if you always have a certain amount of anxiety and worry with the idea of being around that person.
Key Signs of Emotional Abuse
Being invisible, emotional abuse is not always easy to spot, even for therapists. To know whether or not you have endured a consistent amount of emotional abuse, you really just have to start to shift your focus from what you are thinking to what you are feeling on a particular situation.
We all have disagreements and fights with others from time to time, but for the most part people feel valued, cherished, welcomed, and loved by those who are closest to them. Feeling a sense of worthlessness on a regular basis or deep shame and guilt for reasons you can’t quite explain is not normal.
Of course, these kinds of behaviors might be ‘normal’ for the one who is doing the abusing, but it is not normal and healthy in truth. You should not have to worry or feel bad all the time around a particular person or certain people, and you don’t have to justify wanting to protect yourself and place yourself in an environment where you are respected and treated with love.
The following are the top 10 characteristics of emotional abuse:
1. Being ridiculed, criticized and/or degraded on a regular basis.
2. Feeling as if you are being dominated and controlled.
3. Being exposed to belittling and shaming.
4. Feeling as if you are being accused of things and blamed for things all the time.
5. Having to endure verbal abuse on a regular basis.
6. A tendency of the abuser to withhold affection from you if you don’t do what the abuser wants.
7. Constantly playing mind games with you in various ways that cause you to become confused, question yourself, and also feel hurt at the same time.
8. A tendency for the abuser to not ever accept responsibility for their behavior or how they made you feel.
9. Enmeshment and co-dependence: the person doesn’t see you as separate from them and treats you however they like.
10. Various forms of neglect.
You Don’t Have to Hurt All the Time
I always had, and still do to a certain extent, had a tendency to want to always rationalize and justify certain forms of behavior that came from my mother in particular, and anyone else in my life who exhibited dominating, controlling, and shaming behavior with me.
I’ve had a tendency to constantly second guess myself and roll things around in my mind trying to see if I really had done something to deserve the treatment I was getting.
But the truth is, I was constantly miserable and panic stricken when having to be around the one who was abusive toward me. I always felt that I was in pain and had to endure my mothers behavior, baiting, crazy making and put downs.
Believe it or not I was conditioned that I always had to feel bad in general, and that I always had to feel bad about myself for one reason or another. I was conditioned that I wasn’t worthy of feeling good or of being happy. I realized that I didn’t have to constantly be in pain and worry and feeling bad about myself.
If you feel that you suffer from a certain degree of inner pain most of the time or all of the time, just know that you don’t have to live like that.
You Deserve to Feel Valued, Cherished, and Loved
Maybe you don’t realize this right now or even believe it, but you really do deserve to feel that you have value, that you are cherished, and that you are loved.
I remember when I’d meet people who actually seemed to enjoy having me around, I didn’t know why and honestly it made me a little uncomfortable. Yet this was just one more indication that I had endured a certain degree of regular emotional abuse and distress growing up.
It doesn’t matter if it’s your mother or father or both, or if it’s a friend of yours, a boyfriend or girlfriend or husband or wife, you don’t deserve to feel less than, and you don’t deserve to feel like a piece of garbage. If someone is hurting you it’s not ok, and you are perfectly in your right to speak up about it and stand up for yourself.
There are many people who will enjoy you and value you, and who will respect your boundaries naturally without you having to constantly fight just to have your boundaries respected.
If you suspect you are a victim of emotional abuse, start to reach out to others such as therapists, friends and family if they are safe and emotionally healthy themselves, and even 12 step programs such as coda can be quite helpful.
If you have been quite damaged and are in pain, also know that healing is very possible, and living a life of joy, happiness, and prosperity surrounded by people who treat you with respect and who love you genuinely is very possible. I hope you start to care for yourself and your own emotional well-being if you are not already, because you are worth it.