When most people think of abusive relationships, they think of the physical domestic violence you often hear about in the media. While this type of abuse is serious and must be handled, verbally or emotionally abuse can be just as serious. Leaving these types of relationships can often be difficult, making it necessary to teach both men and women that this behavior is unacceptable and doesn’t have to be normal. Learning more about women and men in abusive relationships can help you determine whether you are in one and how to proceed if you are.
What Is Verbal and Emotional Abuse?
Not everyone can identify when they are in a verbally or emotionally abusive relationship. For some people, the behavior is perfectly normal. They may have seen one of their own parents treat the other that way and learned that’s the way relationships work. Unfortunately, any time someone makes you feel as if you are unworthy of their love and attention or seek to make you feel bad about yourself, it is not okay. Unfortunately, there is no single way of emotionally or verbally abusing someone. It presents itself in many forms.
One of the biggest concerns over this type of abuse is the long-term damage that can result. Depending on the extend of the abuse and for how long the victim has been exposed to it, mentally abusive relationships can have serious long-term effects. Many people have difficulty learning how to trust other people or may leave the relationship with extremely low self-esteem. These issues can be difficult to reverse later in life. Working with a counselor during therapy sessions can make a difference over time.
The first step in determining if you need help leaving an abusive relationship is identifying the warning signs. In some situations, these signs may not indicate a serious problem in your relationship. However, if you identify many of the signs, it may be worth reconsidering the value of your relationship. With the help of couple’s and individual counseling, you may be able to reverse an abusive relationship, but it is important to understand not everyone is capable of making this change or may be willing to take the right steps to do so.
Some of the signs of an abusive relationship can include:
- Threatening to leave you
- Inciting fear due to actions or words
- Restricting your access to money
- Controlling behavior
- Breaking items
- Criticizing your actions
- Calling names
- Emotionally degrading you privately or in front of others
- Making jokes about you, especially around other people
- Withdrawing affection or approval
- Making serious accusations with no proof, such as cheating
- Getting jealous
- A pattern of mean and rude behavior, followed by apologies
- Blaming others, including you, for the actions
This is by no means a comprehensive list of potential methods of emotional or verbal abuse. The bottom line is determining if your significant other’s behavior is targeted toward belittling you or making you feel as if you are worthless without them. Different abusers will use different tactics based on their own personal experiences and what they feel will be the most effective way to control you.
The problem with emotional and verbal abuse is that it typically follows a set pattern. There are plenty of good times in your relationship that seem to outshine the bad times. The abuser is good at making you feel as if you are at fault for the way he or she behaved or that he or she didn’t really mean it. In a relationship, it is important to realize that people will make mistakes and there will be bad times. However, when there is a distinct cycle in the behavior, it can be an indicator of a more serious problem.
The cycle of abuse typically operates as follows:
- Tensions begin to build as conflict occurs or there are other problems going on in life, including at work or during social functions. There may or may not be specific triggers that lead up to abusive episodes.
- Once tension reaches its peak, the abuser lashes out at the other person in the relationship. The abuse tactics may be the same very time or they may differ depending on the situation leading up to the period of abuse.
- After the abuse occurs, the abuser typically apologizes for the behavior. It may be something as simple as saying he or she is sorry or it may be more complex, such as taking a vacation together, sending flowers or buying an expensive piece of jewelry or other token of love.
- A period of calm commonly follows the apology. Unfortunately, the victim may not know when the next period of tension and abuse will happen. During this time, you may feel as if everything is okay, but there may be worry in the back of your mind that your significant other may snap.
Learning about and understanding this cycle of abuse can help you identify if you are a victim or if your spouse simply was having a bad day. Fighting and arguing are not necessarily a sign of an abusive relationship. It is important to look more deeply at the behavior to make a final decision.
Men are more likely to leave an emotionally or verbally abusive relationship. Understanding why women stay in these relationships can help you break free from the abuse in your life. There are several reasons why people remain in abusive relationships, even after they identify there is a problem.
Those who are victims of abuse go through a variety of emotions that can lead to confusion and other problems. For instance, many victims feel a lot of fear. Because of the threats the other person makes, they may fear for their life or they may fear for what life will be like after the relationship, particularly if there are children involved. In addition to fear, they may feel as if the behavior is normal for relationships. They may also be embarrassed about being in this situation or feel as if their love can overcome anything. Many victims of abuse often suffer from low self-esteem, which means they may not feel as if they are worth enough to be treated better.
In addition to the emotions, the victim may be under a lot of pressure to stay. If the woman is pregnant or the couple has children, the abused may fear that abuse will pass along to the children if he or she leaves. They may also feel as if divorce is a taboo subject, whether in their social or family circles or due to religious beliefs. This is a major reason many people choose to stay in these relationships.
Some individuals suffer from other limitations that keep them in these relationships. Some women and men find themselves in relationships at a young age and make the wrong choices. Others may not trust authority figures due to circumstances in their lives and may not want to get involved in the court system. Still others may be in immigrant status or may not speak English, making it difficult to reach out for help.
Finally, some people choose to stay for logistical reasons. For instance, a woman may be a stay-at-home mom and can be concerned about money and how to survive alone. If a couple lives far from family and friends, the victim may feel there is nowhere to go for help. Those who suffer from a disability may feel leaving is not an option because they need someone to care for them.
While all of these may seem to be valid reasons to stay in a relationship, there is no good reason anyone should have to put up with abuse of any kind. Seeking help may be difficult, but there are many resources available to help abuse victims. Unfortunately, figuring out how to leave can often leave the abused feeling hopeless and lost.
If you are ready to get out of an abusive relationship, coming up with a safety plan is your best option. As long as you aren’t in imminent danger, it is often best to meticulously plan your exit to ensure it goes as smoothly as possible. If you can, schedule an appointment with a counselor to give you the emotional support you will need during this time. As you create your plan of action, consider these important steps:
- Stay in close communication with family or friends
- Keep yourself occupied with activities you enjoy
- Contact resources for abuse of men or abuse of women
- Keep track of incidents in a journal so you have everything in writing
- Pack up all important papers and anything else irreplaceable. Keep it in your trunk so you are ready to leave at a moment’s notice.
- Take dated pictures of any physical marks or property damage
- Hide an extra set of keys so your significant other can’t remove your means of escape
- Keep your Internet history clear to avoid tracking
- Check computer and cell phone for tracking software and remove if found
- Leave when your significant other is away for work or out. This avoids confrontation.
Always make sure someone knows what is going on and what your plan of action is. If you make any changes, let this person know. This person will play a major role if someone suddenly can’t get a hold of you.
Sometimes, you may not have to leave your home, especially if you get a restraining order against your abuser. If your abuser is asked to leave your home, there are certain steps you should take to protect yourself.
- Change the locks immediately
- Consider changing your telephone number
- Alter your schedule and routines if possible to prevent stalking
- Let your boss know what is going on
- Keep a copy of your restraining order on you to use if needed
- Change any previously scheduled appointments
- Communicate with your child’s daycare or school about who can pick up your child
If you are moving, there are additional steps you should take to further protect yourself.
- Rent a PO box for mail
- Choose a secure apartment or neighborhood
- Alert local police of your restraining order
It may feel as if leaving will be the answer to all of your problems. Unfortunately, abusive relationships, especially those that were emotionally or verbally abusive, can require a long time to heal. Most people understand the importance of working with an experienced abuse therapist to ensure you have the emotional support you require to move forward with your life. Emotional scars often take much longer the heal than physical wounds, which can make this type of abuse more dangerous.
If you are trying to recover from this type of abuse, you should:
- Cut all ties with your ex, if possible. When children are involved, this is not always feasible.
- Process your emotions. This can be done with the help of a counselor. Allow yourself to go through your emotions.
- Seek support from family and friends. Ask them to take you out to help you forget and move on.
- Don’t rush into a new relationship. Relationship abuse tends to be a cycle for everyone. Abusers are more likely to abuse, and the abused are more likely to enter another abusive relationship.
- Find a new hobby or activity. You will meet new people and start building a new life.
Abusive relationships can be difficult to get over and even harder to decide to leave. The first important step is to identify if you are the victim of abuse. Sometimes reading through the warning signs can be enough to open your eyes and help you realize you don’t deserve to be treated this way. This is the next step to reaching out for help and leaving your relationship behind you. No one deserves to be treated in this manner. With the right support, you can leave this life in the past and move forward with positive relationships.