Everyone loves to see a couple who cares deeply and passionately for each other. The couple is filled with such eager anticipation of years together in emotional bliss. Feeling so attached to one another, neither expect there to be times of emotional crisis. Yet, in most relationships there will be emotional wounds, and sometimes worse, that must be dealt with effectively.
In recent years, mental health professionals have become more acquainted with the topic of emotional abuse and its effects, and most important, ways to heal from it. It seems to have been a topic that pastors and counselors have shied away from. We have been unfamiliar with the symptoms of emotional abuse; and because it has been hidden in a shroud of secrecy, we haven’t talked openly about it. Perhaps as much as anyone, we professionals have been reluctant to face this issue head on. It’s time that changed.
As we begin this topic, let’s make sure we’re all talking the same language. Emotional abuse is understood as a pattern of behaviors used by a perpetrator to control their partner, physically, mentally and/or emotionally. For the sake of clarity, in this article I will refer to the perpetrator as male and the victim as female, as is often the case, though this could be reversed.
We all know that there are situations that arise in a marriage or domestic relationship that cause emotional damage. Name-calling, threats, intimidation and humiliation, all of these create fear in the victim and lasting emotional damage. Because of his manipulation and use of anger, she becomes more and more dependent upon him, causing increased isolation. Often he uses truth-twisting, rewriting of history, minimization and blame-shifting to defend himself and cause her to feel responsible for the situation. He often lacks insight, or refuses to take responsibility for these actions.
Common Symptoms of Emotional Abuse
- Using anger in a way that frightens you
- Blaming you
- Humiliating you
- Threatening you
- Controlling how you spend money
- Monitoring what you are doing
- Controlling your friendships
- Monopolizing your time and attention
There are myriad other ways he has made you feel unsure of yourself. In addition to what he has done are countless things he has not done that cause insult to injury, such as not championing you, not encouraging you and not helping you feel confident about yourself. In a healthy relationship, you should feel secure, safe and encouraged. You should feel confident and able to bring up any topic, with the knowledge that what you want to say will be appreciated.
If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms or not experiencing the qualities listed in the previous paragraph, you may be a victim of emotional abuse. Let’s consider what needs to occur to bring healing to your relationship.
1. Tell yourself the truth.
Denial is at the root of emotional abuse and change cannot occur unless you tell yourself the truth about what is happening and the impact it has had. It is often helpful to sit quietly with the above list and write about your experience. Have you been bullied? Have you been threatened? Have you felt frightened? These are qualities in an emotionally abusive relationship that you need to face.
2. Seek professional guidance.
Recovering from emotional abuse can rarely be done without professional assistance. Your emotional immune system has been weakened and it is likely that your mate denies the presence of these symptoms. “We are only as sick as our secrets,” is a helpful truism to remember. Not only is it advisable to tell someone, such as a trusted friend, but also to a respected and trusted professional.
3. Set healthy boundaries.
It is quite likely that if you have been in an emotionally abusive relationship, you have compromised your boundaries. You have tolerated behavior that should not be tolerated. You have settled for emotional actions that should not be part of your relationship. You must learn how to set boundaries on emotionally abusive words and behavior and hold your mate responsible/accountable for his actions. Expect resistance as you attempt to change entrenched patterns of behavior that must not be tolerated.
4. Learn the traits of healthy relationships.
It is one thing to set limits on emotional abuse and something else to recognize and value healthy behavior. Read all you can about the traits and actions of healthy relationships so you know what to look for and expect. Then, settle for nothing less than healthy relating. Tell your mate exactly what you expect and be firm in those expectations.
5. Seek God’s guidance and healing.
Thankfully, we don’t have to rely on our own strength and power to heal or set healthy boundaries. We are encouraged to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). We are told to seek wisdom from God, and if we do He will supply it in abundance. “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5)
Consider the wounds you have experienced with your mate. Do you have emotional scars as a result of interactions with your spouse?
Share your feedback or send a confidential note to me at email@example.com and read more about The Marriage Recovery Center on my website www.marriagerecoverycenter.com where you’ll find videos and podcasts on saving a troubled relationships, codependency and affair-proofing your marriage. Please ask about my free 20-minute consultation.