Emotional Abuse, The Silencing Enemy
By Dr. Marcel de Roos - (Psychologist PhD, www.marcelderoos.com)
When people talk about abuse they usually mean sexual or physical abuse. While it is true that these two forms are very serious, there is another form of abuse which is less known but at least as severe. Emotional abuse is a form of abuse where a person treats another in a psychologically harmful way. It is a silencing attack on the self-esteem of a human being: in the end the victim feels so small that there is no talk-back possible.
Forms of emotional abuse are: rejection, humiliation, terrorising, isolation, neglecting. There are no visible marks such as bruises, scars or welts. Although all these forms are without physical or sexual contact they can do serious damage to one’s self esteem. Words that belittle, shame, accuse, threat or criticise in an unfair manner cause emotional damage. Neglecting or the withholding of love as a way to punish brings emotional damage too.
Usually emotional abuse appears in situations where power plays a role, such as in abusive relationships, bullying, child abuse and in working situations. It is used to control, demean, harm or punish a person. In marriage some tactics used by the male abuser are to isolate his wife from her friends and family, criticise her constantly, act overly jealous and possessive, control her money and make all the decisions in the family, intimidate and harass – even making use of the children.
Victims of emotional abuse regularly behave in a typical way: withdrawal into their shell in the presence of the perpetrator, depression, feelings of shame and guilt, taking responsibility for the behaviour of the perpetrator, push themselves to the limit in order to try to prevent repetition of the abuse. Very likely consequences of emotional abuse are some serious disorders like chronic depression, anxiety, chronic fear and post-traumatic stress disorder. It affects the immune system and it can influence the physical and mental health for years. Usually victims have difficulties with feeling their emotions.
With emotional abuse the way to recovery lies in starting to FEEL again. it is about feeling your justified anger. When you are aware that you are a victim of emotional abuse the best way is to start talking with a professional psychologist. You will get acknowledgement (it IS horrible) and identification (I belong to this group). The American psychotherapist Susan Forward has written several books about emotional abuse (for instance ‘Men Who Hate Women and the Women Who Love Them’ and ‘Toxic Parents’). The Swiss psychotherapist Alice Miller has written extensively on feeling your justified anger. On her website www.alice-miller.com (especially the “reader’s mail” section) there is a treasure of material. Her books and website are about all kinds of abuse and above all how to overcome them.
When you are abused you can have two responses: be overwhelmed, victimised and sad, and suffer the whole impact; or you can remember that you have your resources and use them. One of the resources is your sense of injustice, and it gives you access to your anger; when you get angry you stop feeling depressed. This feeling of justified rage leads you to appropriate actions. It gets you out of your fear, shame, guilt and other immobilising emotions. It doesn’t mean physically attacking the perpetrator but standing up for yourself.