What is EMOTIONAL Abuse? (Part 1)

after being with that person!

PREVIOUS: Grandiosity vs Normal

See series of posts on Emotions

NOTE: How others treat us is about them (their damage or health).
AND  –  How we react to others is about us (our wounds or Recovery!)
“Emotional abuse is underneath all other types – the most damaging aspect of physical, sexual, mental, etc. abuse is the trauma to our hearts and souls, from being betrayed by the people that we love and trust.”
“Emotional abuse is a devastating, debilitating heart and soul mutilation. The deepest lasting wound with any abuse is the emotional wound.”
From Co-dependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls, by Robert Burney    (MORE….)

• E.A. is also sometimes referred to as Psychological or Mental Abuse, divided into Verbal Aggression, Dominant and Jealous Behaviors – by the “Conflict Tactics Scale”. The US Justice Dept. considers it anything that causes fear by intimidation. Health Canada identifies it as being motivated by urges for “power and dyscontrol✶”.  Unlike sexual or physical mistreatment, which can cause lasting trauma pulling hairwith only one event, E.A. comes from repeated exposure.  It can show up in many guises, obvious or subtle, a form of violence experienced in any relationship that is just as damaging as physical assaults, if not more so – because it goes to the core of who we are as human beings. (Wikipedia)
✶Dyscontrol : “An uncommon disorder that begins in early childhood, characterized by repeated acts of violent aggressive behavior in an otherwise normal person, which is markedly out of proportion to the events that provoked it”

Noticing E.A.
E.A. can be very difficult to identify because:
a. very often there are no outward signs of it, such as physical scars or broken bones. It ‘only’ breaks our spirit! It includes the use of coercion, threats, insults, neglect…. to control the other, who loses (or never gains) self-esteem & freedom to grow.   Victims of E.A. blame themselves for the mistreatment & their S-H makes them cling to perpetrators, staying because they believe they have nowhere else to go & no one else will want them

b. it’s so common in our culture that we don’t consider it a problem. Alice Miller’s “For Your Own Good” (1980) describes this issue.  And her “Banished Knowledge” is about how we’re taught from early on to ignore being treated badly (T.) & how it feels (E.).  People who are emotionally hurtful are everywhere & are usually oblivious to the effect they have. This includes people who:
• only talk & think about themselves (no room for us)emotional abuse
• don’t consider our personality when interacting to us (only their own)
• try to make us take care of them, make us feel guilty, be needy…..
• try to fix us with action-ideas, when we’re only needing empathy
• tell us what to do, how to think, how to feel
• tease us using things they know we’re sensitive about
• make a judgmental or belittling comment to us in front of others

ALSO, when someone is the butt of such treatment the people around them often validate pubic humiliation & thoughtless or cruel remarks by laughing, as if the comment was clever & amusing, or even cheering the perpetrator on – as long as it’s not being done to them! This applies to siblings, school mates, co-workers, club members… When we are the target – we feel terribly alone, hurt & angry.

Our Emotional Reactions
✶ The most important thing to remember is that ALL categories of abuse cause emotional damage. We need  to notice how those actions or words make us feel emotionally – as in NOT happy!
UNDER – No matter how much we know about our issues, without doing deeper FoO work many ACoAs have a hard time even recognizing familiar abuses as they’re happening, much less feeling an emotional sting. Because we’re still numb to old pain & unloving toward ourselves, it’s very hard to connect our depression & S-H with being exposed to E.A.
• It’s as if we were wearing that huge white medical collar that vets sometimes put on dogs/cats – we can see over the top, but not the knife in someone’s hand as they stick it in our gut – especially if they’re smiling! We may feel some pain, but don’t understand that it’s truly coming from outside of ourselves. As trained victims, we always assume that if we’re hurting it a sure sign there’s something wrong with us. NOT SO!

OVER – When we do over-react emotionally to a person or event, the tricky part is being able to over-reactseparate what just happened in the present from the accumulated suffering of past abuse. Often it IS a combination of the two, in layers – like when someone only ‘stepped on your toe’, but it feels like the foot has been cut off & we’re left bleeding, because of all the times our family did the same thing to us. Whenever we have an intense reaction we know “If it’s hysterical, it’s historical”. We can validate our fear, outrage, sadness…. while still staying in the present moment & seeing reality. SO –

We Need To:
• double check if something was actually an abusive situation – or are we reading into it (projection) because it’s so similar to what was repeatedly done to us when we were kids.
— We can ask ourselves : Did this call for such an intense reaction? Do I feel like I’m being stomped on, discarded like garbage or my life being threatened – when all someone did was not phone or write me back – immediately / looked at me ‘funny’ / didn’t say hello /  told me what to do…..
— ‘Checking’ includes asking someone we trust for an evaluation of the event, or going back to the original person & asking what they meant by ___, or why they did ____. Whether they tell us the truth or not, many times their answer will be surprising – it’s not what we thought they meant, because it had nothing to do with us. It’s important to ask.
As Well As:
• be able to identify unpleasant or inappropriate words & actions that we are subjected to, not ignoring work abusethe event or how we feel. For some ACoAs this may take outside validation, including comparing lists of ‘My Rights’ with those of Abusive Behaviors.

✶ All Over & Under-reactions come from either our WIC or PP. Appropriate ones come from our UNIT.
Learning to tell the difference between actual abuse & our projections or paranoia comes from internalizing the healing of Recovery work, accumulated information about present-day reality & validation of our feelings & experiences, via meetings, reading, healers & therapists.

NEXT: Emotional Abuse (Part 2)


8 thoughts on “What is EMOTIONAL Abuse? (Part 1)

  1. Someone close to me does something minor and unintentional, and I go apeshit on him.  What’s that about?  Apparently, I’m reacting to past emotional abuse. . . .You say: “When we do over-react emotionally to a person or event, the tricky part is being able to separate what just happened in the present from the accumulated suffering of past abuse….  (Read more at HEAL & GROW for ACoAs)


    • I hope you can figure out what button he’s pushing in you. What in you family – or school years – does it remind you of?

      What do you ‘hear’ (subtext) when he does that thing? Such as: That you’re stupid, bad, have to take care of him / that he’s incompetent, immature, unavailable…? Remember: “All roads lead to Abandonment” so whatever the button, you’re feeling abandoned by his behavior, & regardless of his intention


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