How emotional abuse fucks with your mind
Put simply, emotional abuse is a monstrous mind-fuck. Control through criticism, gaslighting, silent treatment, isolation, and withholding love or/and love-bombing is an emotional abuser's M.O. Emotional abuse is not just temporarily confusing, it causes long-lasting effects that can seriously alter someone's ability to thrive in life. This is because it screws with a person's sense of self-worth, confidence in decision-making, and ability to interpret their experiences clearly. In my case, the effects included constantly questioning myself, a lack of confidence in social and work life (which meant trouble maintaining friendships and employment), a constant anxious feeling that things could go wrong at any moment, and associated physical ailments (chest pains, brain fog and headaches).
As I discussed in my blog post, Domestic Violence Defined, the goal of an emotionally abusive person is to assert control over their partner. Often, emotional abuse will creep in slowly during a relationship. In the beginning of my own relationship, although there had been red flags (pointed out by my closest friends), I'd brushed them off as misinterpretations. I was madly in love and somewhat blind, but the red flags were also not very obvious in the beginning - some antisocial and isolating behaviour, but nothing that alarmed me. My ex's behaviour only began to get nasty about a year into our marriage, when I was pregnant with my daughter (his firstborn child). It took a long time for me to understand that his behaviour was not my fault. I spent years trying to change him by changing myself, as I'd become convinced that I somehow deserved his maltreatment - if only I could give him the attention, space, freedom, and understanding he needed... if only 🙄.
Not being able to recognize abuse may sound strange to someone who has not experienced emotional abuse, but that's how this kind of abuse works: it plays on a person's tendency towards self-criticism and desire to please. I spoke with several therapists over a twenty-year period before 1) I truly understood that I was not at fault, 2) could label his behaviour, and 3) could gain the confidence to leave him. Then, after I left, it took me over a year to feel safe enough to start talking more openly to friends about my experience dealing with abuse. And, although I am a writer and I write for social change, it took me until now (almost two years from the day I left), to feel comfortable enough to write publicly about it (i.e. to fully stand up for myself and say "fuck it!" to my desire to please).
Part of the reason it took me so long to both label my ex's behaviour as abusive and talk about it was because he had a very different public persona. He worked in family counselling and was liked by his clients and colleagues. He behaved in a supportive and jovial way toward his friends. To me, it seemed like I was the only person he behaved horribly towards. I've since learned that people who are abusive often have different personas. I'll write more about this in a future post. For now, I want to stress that good behaviour in some situations and with some groups, does not justify abusive behaviour towards you. Period.
Emotional abuse is a mind-fuck like no other because it confuses someone to the point of helplessness. It's like being stuck in a vortex of self-doubt. Gaslighting (constantly being told that your experiences didn't happen the way you remember them), silent treatment (used as a punishment for not complying with your partner's wishes), and other passive-aggressive responses keep victims locked in as they continuously question their experiences and blame themselves for instigating their partner's abusive behaviour. It is psychologically damaging in a way that can have long-lasting and sometimes permanently damaging effects.
If you think you may be in an emotionally abusive relationship, please reach out to your local women's centre for support and advice (or see my list of provincial support lines below). You may feel alone, but you are not. There are millions of us, and we've got your back ❤️🩹
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. My contribution to awareness is a series of blog posts that will continue until the International Day for The Elimination of Violence Against Women. Please take the time to read through my previous posts on my blog, or click on the following links (in order from oldest to newest):
If you think that you or someone you know is being abused, call (in Canada):
BC: VictimLinkBC: 1-800-563-0808
AB: Family Violence Information Line: 1-780-310-1818
SK: Mobile Crisis 24/7 Helpline: 306-757-0127
MB: Domestic Abuse Crisis Line: 1-877-977-0007
ON: Victim 24/7 Support Line: 1-888-579-2888
QC: SOS violence conjugale 24/7: 1-800-363-9010 (bilingual service available)
NB: Chimo Helpline: 1-800-667-5005
PEI: Island Help Line: 1-800-218-2885
NS: Neighbours, Friends and Families (Abuse and Violence Support Line): 1-855-225-0220 NL: NL Sexual Assault Crisis and Prevention Centre 24/7 Support and Information Line: 1-800-726-2743
Nunavut: Kamatsiaqut Nunavut Helpline: 1-800-265-3333
NWT: NWT Help Line: 1-800-661-0844
YK: VictimLinkBC: 1-800-563-0808
"What are the effects of emotional abuse"
Emotional and Psychological Abuse
National Domestic Violence Hotline