What is Emotional Abuse?

Taken from :- http://eqi.org/eabuse1.htm#Types of Emotional Abuse

Definition

Verbally mistreating or withholding positive emotional support from a child. Emotional abuse involves an adult speaking to a child in ways that are intended to demean shame, threaten, blame, intimidate, or unfairly criticize the child. www.jjab.ky.gov/terms.htm 

Often results in various behavioral, emotional, or psychological problems www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Child_abuse 

Summary

Abuse is any behavior that is designed to control and subjugate another human being through the use of fear, humiliation, intimidation, guilt, coercion, manipulation etc. Emotional abuse is any kind of abuse that is emotional rather than physical in nature. It can include anything from verbal abuse and constant criticism to more subtle tactics, such as repeated disapproval or even the refusal to ever be pleased.

Emotional & verbal abuse is like brain washing in that it systematically wears away at the victim’s self-confidence, sense of self-worth, trust in their own perceptions, and self-concept. Whether it is done by constant berating and belittling, by intimidation, or under the guise of “guidance,” “teaching”, or “advice,” the results are similar. Eventually, the recipient of the abuse loses all sense of self and remnants of personal value. Emotional abuse cuts to the very core of a person, creating scars that may be far deeper and more lasting that physical ones. In fact there is research to this effect. With emotional abuse, the insults, insinuations, criticism and accusations slowly eat away at the victim’s self-esteem until she is incapable of judging the situation realistically. She has become so beaten down emotionally that she blames herself for the abuse. Her self-esteem is so low that she clings to the abuser.

Emotional abuse victims can become so convinced that they are worthless that they believe that no one else could want them. They stay in abusive situations because they believe they have nowhere else to go. Their ultimate fear is being all alone.

Types of Emotional Abuse

Dominating

  • Someone wants to control your every action. They have to have their own way, and will resort to threats to get it.
  • When you allow someone else to dominate you, you can lose respect for yourself.

Emotional Blackmail

  • The other person plays on your fear, guilt, compassion, values, or other “hot buttons” to get what they want.
  • This could include threats to end the relationship, totally reject or abandon you, giving you the the “cold shoulder,” or using other fear tactics to control you.

Aggressing

  • Aggressive forms of abuse include name-calling, accusing, blaming, threatening, and ordering. Aggressing behaviors are generally direct and obvious. The one-up position the abuser assumes by attempting to judge or invalidate the recipient undermines the equality and autonomy that are essential to healthy adult relationships. This parent-child pattern of communication (which is common to all forms of verbal abuse) is most obvious when the abuser takes an aggressive stance.
  • Aggressive abuse can also take a more indirect form and may even be disguised and “helping.” Criticizing, advising, offering solutions, analyzing, proving, and questioning another person may be a sincere attempt to help. In some instances however, these behaviors may be an attempt to belittle, control, or demean rather than help. The underlying judgmental “I know best” tone the abuser takes in these situations is inappropriate and creates unequal footing in peer relationships. This and other types of emotional abuse can lead to what is known as learned helplessness.

Minimizing

  • Minimizing is a less extreme form of denial. When minimizing, the abuser may not deny that a particular event occurred, but they question the recipient’s emotional experience or reaction to an event. Statements such as “You’re too sensitive,” “You’re exaggerating,” or “You’re blowing this out of proportion” all suggest that the recipient’s emotions and perceptions are faulty and not be trusted.
  • Trivializing, which occurs when the abuser suggests that what you have done or communicated is inconsequential or unimportant, is a more subtle form of minimizing.

Verbal Assaults

  • Berating, belittling, criticizing, name calling, screaming, threatening
  • Excessive blaming, and using sarcasm and humiliation.

Blowing your flaws out of proportion and making fun of you in front of others. Over time, this type of abuse erodes your sense of self confidence and self-worth.

Unpredictable Responses

  • Drastic mood changes or sudden emotional outbursts. Whenever someone in your life reacts very differently at different times to the same behavior from you, tells you one thing one day and the opposite the next, or likes something you do one day and hates it the next, you are being abused with unpredictable responses.
  • This behavior is damaging because it puts you always on edge. You’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop, and you can never know what’s expected of you. You must remain hypervigilant, waiting for the other person’s next outburst or change of mood.
  • An alcoholic or drug abuser is likely to act this way. Living with someone like this is tremendously demanding and anxiety provoking, causing the abused person to feel constantly frightened, unsettled and off balance.

Invalidation

The abuser seeks to distort or undermine the recipient’s perceptions of their world. Invalidating occurs when the abuser refuses or fails to acknowledge reality. For example, if the recipient tells the person they felt hurt by something the abuser did or said, the abuser might say “You are too sensitive. That shouldn’t hurt you.” Here is a much more complete description of invalidation

Denying

  • Denying a person’s emotional needs, especially when they feel that need the most, and done with the intent of hurting, punishing or humiliating (Examples)
  • The other person may deny that certain events occurred or that certain things were said. confronts the abuser about an incident of name calling, the abuser may insist, “I never said that,” “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” etc. You know differently.
  • The other person may deny your perceptions, memory and very sanity.
  • Withholding is another form of denying. Withholding includes refusing to listen, refusing to communicate, and emotionally withdrawing as punishment. This is sometimes called the “silent treatment.”
  • When the abuser disallows and overrules any viewpoints, perceptions or feelings which differ from their own.
  • Denying can be particularly damaging. In addition to lowering self-esteem and creating conflict, the invalidation of reality, feelings, and experiences can eventually lead you to question and mistrust your own perceptions and emotional experience.
  • Denying and other forms of emotional abuse can cause you to lose confidence in your most valuable survival tool: your own mind.

Abusive Expectations

  • The other person places unreasonable demands on you and wants you to put everything else aside to tend to their needs.
  • It could be a demand for constant attention, or a requirement that you spend all your free time with the person.
  • But no matter how much you give, it’s never enough.
  • You are subjected to constant criticism, and you are constantly berated because you don’t fulfill all this person’s needs.

Constant Chaos

  • The other person may deliberately start arguments and be in constant conflict with others.
  • The person may be “addicted to drama” since it creates excitement.

Basic Needs in Relationships

If you have been involved in emotionally abusive relationships, you may not have a clear idea of what a healthy relationship is like. Evna (1992) suggests the following as basic needs in a relationship for you and your partner: (I have changed this from “rights” to “needs” and made other small changes- S.Hein)

  • The need for good will from the others.
  • The need for emotional support.
  • The need to be heard by the other and to be responded to with respect and acceptance
  • The need to have your own view, even if others have a different view.
  • The need to have your feelings and experience acknowledged as real.
  • The need to receive a sincere apology for any jokes or actions you find offensive.
  • The need for clear, honest and informative answers to questions about what affects you.
  • The need  for freedom from accusation, interrogation and blame.
  • The need to live free from criticism and judgment.
  • The need to have your work and your interests respected.
  • The need for encouragement.
  • The need for freedom from emotional and physical threat.
  • The need for freedom from angry outburst and rage.
  • The need for freedom from labels which devalue you.
  • The need to be respectfully asked rather than ordered.
  • The need to have your final decisions accepted.
  • The need for privacy at times.

What is an “Emotionally Abusive Mother”?

Generally, I don’t like to use labels, but in this case the subject is important enough to try to define the term and create a profile of those who might fairly be called “emotionally abusive mothers”. There are many degrees of abuse, so it may sometimes be difficult to say someone definitely “is” or “isn’t” an emotionally abusive mother. Can a “good” mother sometimes be emotionally abusive? Yes, I believe so. What matters is the overall nature of the relationship with her children/teens. Though it may be difficult to achieve consensus on exactly what qualifies someone as an “emotionally abusive mother,” we can at least try to arrive at some common characteristics.

In broad terms I would say an emotionally abusive mother is a mother who uses her son or daughter in an attempt to fill her own unmet emotional needs. This is similar to defining sexual abuse as someone who uses another person in order to fill their own sexual needs.

An emotionally abusive mother is a mother who uses her son or daughter in an attempt to fill her own unmet emotional needs.
By nature, women generally have instinctive needs to raise and nurture children. The fulfillment of these needs is natural and healthy. Emotional abuse occurs only when the mother attempts to use the child or teen to fulfill needs which are not consistent with those of an emotionally healthy adult. Emotional abuse occurs, in other words, when the mother tries to fill those needs of hers which normally would have already been filled during a healthy childhood and adolescence.
It might help to consider the distinction between the emotional needs of a child, of an adolescent and of an adult.

A child has a need to feel loved. A child has a need to feel secure. A child has a need to feel protected. A child has a need to feel approved of.

A teen has a need to feel independent and in control of himself and over his environment.

Both children and teens have a need to feel accepted and respected. Both children and teens have a need to feel appreciated and valued.

For the species to survive, the emotional needs of the adults must compliment those of the children. For example, while the child needs to feel loved, safe, secure, and protected, the adults must need to feel loving, non-threatening, secure, and protective. While the child needs to feel respected and accepted, the adults needs to feel respectful and accepting. While the child needs to feel appreciated, the adult needs to feel appreciative for the gift of nature that is called “their child.”

If the mother did not feel adequately loved, safe, secure, protected, appreciated, valued, accepted and respected before giving birth, she will, in all likelihood, attempt to use the child (and later the teen) to fill these needs. If she did not feel adequately in control of her own life as a child and teen, she can be expected to try to control her son or daughter as compensation. This is the recipe for emotional abuse.

To fill her unmet need for respect, a mother might try to demand that her daughter “respect” her. To fill her unmet need to feel loved, the mother might try to manipulate the son into performing what she perceives as acts of love. To fill her unmet need to feel appreciated, the mother might try to spoil her daughter or she might constantly remind the daughter of all the things she does for her and all the sacrifices she makes for her.

Mothers are particularly adept at emotional manipulation. They are skilled in setting up their sons and daughters to fill their unmet emotional needs left over from childhood and adolescence. Ultimately, though, this arrangement fails. It is impossible for a son or daughter to fully meet the unmet childhood and adolescent emotional needs of the parent. A child or teen can not be the filler of someone else’s needs when they have their own needs. This is a clear case of role reversal, the consequences of which are very serious.

A child in this situation feels overwhelmed, facing an impossible burden yet still trying his or her best to do the impossible. The child will necessarily feel inadequate as he fails to do the impossible. By the time the child is a teen, he will feel not only inadequate, but drained and empty. He will feel insecure and afraid of failure, disapproval, rejection and abandonment. The implicit, if not explicit, message has always been “if you don’t fill Mother’s needs, she will reject or abandon you.”

The teenager will have also learned that it is is impossible to make mother happy. No matter what the teen has done to try to make her happy it is never enough. So the teenager starts to feel like a failure, or “failful” as opposed to successful. This shatters his or her self-esteem.

This, briefly, is the danger of the emotionally needy, and therefore often, emotionally abusive mother.

Signs of Abusive Fathers

He’s trying to control you and make you dependent on him if:

  • He has to know where you are and who you are with all the time.
  • He tries to control your contact with your friends.
  • He puts down what you wear, do and say.
  • He tries to control you by being very bossy, giving orders, making all the decisions, and does not take your opinion or your feelings seriously.
  • He is scary. You worry about how they will react to things you say or do.
  • He abuses drugs or alcohol.
  • He puts you down so you will lose self-esteem, confidence and control
  • He tells people things you did or said that embarrass you and make you feel stupid.
  • He says it’s your fault when things go wrong.
  • He calls you stupid, lazy, fat, selfish, spoiled, ugly or a “slut”.
  • He blames you when he mistreats you. He says you deserved it, or you provoked him, pressed his buttons, made him do it.
  • He threatens you.
  • He uses physical violence or he physically controls you, for example, physically stopping you from going out of the house.
  • He hurts or hits you, or uses his greater physical strength to hold you down so you make you feel helpless, powerless or humiliated.
  • He threatens to hit you, hurt your friends, pets or family if you do not do what he wants.
  • He says he will kick you out of the house if you don’t obey him.
  • He threatens to stop giving you money, or to not pay for your education if you don’t obey him.
  • He threatens to kill himself and blames it on you.
  • He gets very angry about small, unimportant things.
  • He will not tell you his feelings when you ask and then he blows up.
  • He pressures you to do things you don’t want to do.
  • He attempts to manipulate or guilt trip you by saying “If you really loved me you would…” or “If you were a good daughter you would….”
  • He compares you to other people’s daughters and says things like “Why can’t you be more like….”
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2 Responses to “What is Emotional Abuse?”

  1. 2010 in review « Bev’s New World Says:

    [...] The busiest day of the year was December 1st with 58 views. The most popular post that day was What is Emotional Abuse?. [...]

  2. Things That Never Made It Into Print... Says:

    Enjoyed reading your page! Highly informative.

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