“You’re too fat”. A bruise on your cheek
“You won’t achieve anything in life”. A cut to your ankle
“You’re a drain on our resources”. A black eye
“Nobody cares about you”. A stab to your heart.
Just because there is no physical evidence does not mean the effects are less damaging or painful. Broken bones, bruises and all the other lacerations have evidence. Possibly the worst of all though is completely invisible to the naked eye. It could have happened to your best friend, your brother. It could happen to anyone.
What am I talking about? Emotional abuse. Yes, I know. I can hear the alarm bells ringing in your brain at even the word “abuse”. We’ve all been taught about physical abuse, we’ve all been warned about sexual abuse but we are never told about plain and simple emotional torture. This is the hardest to recognise because it comes in so many different forms. It can come from your family, your friends, your teachers or other activity organisers.
So what is it?
It’s often a subtle form of control. Manipulative and derogatory. It is so easy to miss especially when you’re the victim. Often when you do realise you are too distressed, too nervous and too damaged to fix the problem. You sometimes can’t explain what is happening that is so awful, after all everyone’s had their fair share of the school bully or of being grounded by their parents. Emotional abuse is so much more complex than that. It might start of as a simple dig here and a confiscation of a phone there, but it escalates into so much more.
2. Degradation: Do they constantly put you down? Is everything they say consistently negative even though they know it upsets you? Do they make jokes at the expense of your feelings?Often the victim is left feeling doubtful of their own abilities and begins to believe the negative words until they become all-consuming.
For example: David’s friend constantly tells him he’s ugly. He is bombarded with texts and emails about how he’s a failure, how he won’t be successful in life and he should just give up. His friend sometimes disguises this abusive language as constructive criticism by saying things like “If you weren’t so fat, maybe you’d pass your exams”. Notice how these things have no correlation, they are simply designed to upset the victim.
3. Neglectful/Ignorant: This is easier noticed in parents however it can come from any walk of life. Are you consistently given the silent treatment without there seeming to be a reason? Do they give you the cold shoulder when you do something that they view as inconsiderate or upsetting when in reality it wasn’t? Do they ignore your basic needs such as food as punishment for a bad report?
4. Codependent: Again, this is tricker to recognise and will not affect everyone who experiences emotional abuse. In essence, it means the abuser treats you like an extension of themselves. They may share inappropriate and upsetting information about their own lives with you or coerce you into dangerous behaviour. This is a major warning sign as anyone who loves you or is in a position of care should never encourage a behaviour that could be damaging.
5.Blameful: Do they refuse to ever claim responsibility when things go wrong? It isn’t them, it’s always you, right? They also probably don’t like being told that their incorrect and may become physically abusive or threatening when this occurs.
For example: Melissa’s teacher was the one who made the mistake on the exam, not her. However Melissa gets the blame. She is called stupid by her teacher and told that she is always going to fail. When Melissa points out the mistake, politely, to her teacher she is met with rage and retracts out of fear.
Other things to look out for could include:
I need you to remember that no matter how worried you are, getting help is vital. It might be difficult and simply saying “I need to talk to you” may be challenging but it is the first step to changing a toxic situation. Nobody deserves to live in fear. Find an adult you trust and chat to them. You don’t have to give names right away or talk about what you want to do. Just chat about how you feel and slowly you’ll get there.
I want to finish this article as I began it.
Just because you cannot see the abusive behaviour does not mean it does not exist. The pain is just as real and can be just as damaging long-term. Wounds scar the flesh, but words scar the soul.