It’s hard to quantify emotional abuse to people who’ve never experienced it. The insidious, subtle way it washes over you rendering you dull and lifeless – the first sign is often “I used to be so fun, what’s happened to me?” If you’re asking yourself that question, and you genuinely have no idea how it happened, chances are you’ve been a victim of emotional abuse – you just don’t know it.
People who haven’t experienced it think everything you mention to them is no big deal, and that’s part of the problem. Emotional abuse appears to be ok, on the surface. The rational part of your brain says “It’s no big deal” but the emotional part of your brain tells you “something’s wrong” but both your brain, and your abuser, will keep telling you it’s ok. Let me tell you, it’s not.
Emotional abuse makes its victims feel crazy. Why? Because a lot of the comments are quite normal – what’s not normal is the quantity and real motivations behind them which you aren’t in the privileged position of knowing when you’re the victim.
“Did you have a nice shower? What were you doing? Shaving your legs?” – no big deal right? Granted, a bit odd, but just an innocent question isn’t it? How about if this happened after every single shower you ever took? Taking a step back you start to realise that this isn’t normal – this repetitive, hounding question has two hidden motives behind it. The person wants you to know that they felt you’ve taken too long having that shower and they want to know what you’ve been doing in every detail.
Let’s have a look at another example. “Did you have a nice time? Who were you with? How many people were there? Why didn’t you get a taxi home? That was dangerous. Who are you texting?” Incessant questioning from an abuser is a really, really common trait of emotional abuse. It grinds its victim down to the point where they are constantly on guard and taking note of every detail in case they’re questioned on it. And if you don’t have some of the answers? Be prepared to be made to feel very, very bad about that.
You’ll sit an over-analyse all of these conversations wondering what you did wrong. And the answer is, nothing. You did nothing wrong. Your gut is telling you it’s not right – listen to it.
You’re always in the wrong
If you’re in the grips of an emotionally abusive relationship, you can say goodbye to ever being right about something or receiving a genuine apology. You’re angry about something they’ve done? How dare you be mad at them! You aren’t allowed to show any anger, and the minute you do – you’re the bad guy. This cycle is just perfect for an emotional abuser.
With this wonderful cycle that’s perfectly aimed to protect the abuser, don’t expect to ever resolve anything, like, ever. It’s also interesting to note that if you ever get an apology, chances are it won’t be a genuine one. Watch out for the “Sorry…but you told me you didn’t want to.” Or “Sorry…my head’s just so full of everything at the moment. I just can’t cope.” WHAM. There it is. They’ve managed to apologise to you but made sure the focus is firmly back on them. And this will destroy your self-esteem and leave you helpless to their power. You’re not worthy of receiving an apology or having anything ever resolved, because don’t forget about poor old me.
They’ll also always look to find ways of contradicting everything you say, as if they’re always looking for a fight/debate against the person that they say they love. This is a mental mind fuck because there’s nothing wrong with a good bit of healthy debate, but when it happens every single day you’ll be left feeling always wrong. Always. You want to book a train ticket? Well you should have got it from this website, because it would have cost you 20p less and buying it early was a silly thing to do and you should make sure you leave early. You’ll feel like you’re 12 years old again.
They’ll tell you what you need and what you don’t
At the beginning of a new relationship, it’s kind of sweet to have someone looking out for you and caring for you a lot. But it’s amazing how quickly this slides into control for an emotional abuser and how hard it is for the victim to spot.
A few years ago I knew that things weren’t right – but the only way I could explain it to my mum was by telling her that I no longer trusted myself to take a coat when the weather was hard to predict. I’d been paralysed by indecision because the moment I stepped out of the front door I would be told “You don’t need that today,” or “Are you sure you need that? I don’t think you need that,” if I had been bold and made the wild decision to take a coat.
It creeps up on you under the disguise of caring, looking out for you, but what it’s actually doing is removing your ability to make a decision without your abuser’s permission or approval. It’s a sneaky tactic that slowly hands over all power to your abuser so that you have to justify every decision you make about what you need and what you don’t. Then when it comes to big decisions, you’ll eat yourself up inside trying to make one or persuading your abuser that you need something. And that hurts. Be prepared to be told no or have a real fight on your hands.
It’s really painful to admit that the person you love, and says they love you, lies to you. And there’s something weird about this – I always thought it was the big lies that would hurt the most, but I was wrong.
Being lied to over and over again about small, insignificant things actually feels a lot worse because you realise that there’s no honesty of any kind in your relationship. When you love someone, why do you feel you need to lie to me about that conversation I know we didn’t have but you’re persuading me we did? And why do you need to lie to me about the fact that I caught you looking at dirty pictures on the internet? I had always thought it was the actions that really, really hurt but the lies hurt even more.
They cause you doubt. You want to trust, you want to believe the best in that person so you take them at face value – you love them. And they love you don’t they? There’s a term that’s used widely in relationship abuse called ‘Gaslighting’ – when the abuser alters your sense of reality to make you feel confused and wrong. To put it simply, they lie to you. And all those small, insignificant lies build up to leave you so utterly confused about what is right and what is wrong, you genuinely won’t know any more.
They’ll let you down when you need them the most
One of the most difficult things to come to terms with when you’ve suffered, or are suffering, from an emotionally abusive relationship is that you will be let down in your hour of need.
It can take years to reach these points, but when you do it will do you a massive favour because it will show you how incapable your emotional abuser is of truly looking after you. When it comes to situations where there’s no easy way out or they’re put on the spot to help you out in a way that requires them to drop everything and be there for you, they can’t do it.
The demand placed on them is so huge, they will crumble and, again, turn it back on you and make it your problem. “Well, what do you want me to do?” – something you don’t expect to hear when you’re seriously ill or desperately in need of help.
Emotional abusers only see one person; them. The only person they need to protect and keep safe is them, and despite any promises of change to their behaviour they won’t be capable of doing it. Expect to see these repeated patterns of abandonment and guilt (you shouldn’t be so needy!) a lot.
And take comfort that you’re not alone if you choose to forgive a lot, before you reach your final straw. Some people never get there.