It might be easy to use the term liberally, but only a person who has been victimized through an ‘Emotionally Abusive Relationship’ can fully understand the gravity of the issue. It is not just when you are dealing with it that you suffer. But the entire ordeal of identifying that you are actually in one, coming to terms with this fact and then finally working your way out of it (or continuing to go through the pain) is an absolute soul-draining journey.
One can have an emotionally abusive relationship with anyone. It can be with your parents, your sibling, your children and most commonly with your spouse/ partner. Abusive traumatization only comes into play in a relationship when one person is in some way dependent on the other. It could either be out of love, out of financial dependence, out of societal pressures or just when the victim is so low on his/her self-esteem that they fail to acknowledge that they are being subjected to emotional abuse.
Most commonly, an emotionally abusive relationship exists in a romantic alliance or a matrimonial set up and most often the woman is the subject. Though, this is just based on factual statistics and cannot be generalized for every relationship. There are men too, in marriages that are abused and agonized by their wives. But in common scenarios, the infliction is more inclined towards the woman, as they happen to be touted as ‘soft targets’ in our patriarchal setup.
Emotional abuse generally works like this:
“They scream at you and humiliate; you hold yourself together and shout back.
You think you are making yourself strong internally and learning to give back.
But this doesn’t stop the harassment; rather the violence only grows more intense.
Next time they shout, you keep yourself together and do not say anything at all.
This silence also provokes them further and calls for further harassment and screaming but there are no threats.
You realize this is the way to calm their anger. You have learnt how to combat this.
Gradually you learn to go silent. Any mistreatment, no amount of screaming or abuse can make you utter a word.
Slowly you go dead inside, you train yourself how to take the abuse, how to cry inside without any tears showing away. You learn to suppress everything inside you. You don’t remember what emotions like happiness or love anymore.
It is only after some time you realize that in this attempt to calm the other person down, you have become dead yourself. Something inside you is over and you can never be the same person you were before. You feel like saying your words out but you have forgotten how to express yourself. Something inside of you has died forever.”
The most difficult part of being in such a relationship is that most often the woman fails to identify the signs and accept that she is being abused. This could also be attributed to the fact that emotional abuse, contrary to physical abuse cannot be validated or reported and has no visible signs. Rather, the victim herself goes into endless bouts of self-doubt and self-questioning just to accept to herself that she is being subjected to all this suffering.
Lopsided upbringing and the illogical manifestation of biased notions of culture and gender roles since childhood are one of the biggest reasons for the current existential abusive equations in marriages. The conditioning of society is deeply plagued. Women, since childhood, are never educated on their rights, and their need for respect, equality and acknowledgment from their closest relationships. They are never taught to put themselves as a priority too. All that is ever fed into our minds is a sense of responsibility and the onus to keep the family together. We are raised to be nurturers and givers. Never is it realised that even a woman needs warmth, love and nurturing so that she can give back the same to the family. Hence, in the name of holding the family together and letting things go, women seldom realize when they are being emotionally abused and their self-respect and worth are crushed to the ground.
How Does One Identify If They Are In an Emotionally Abusive Relationship?
Forgiving each day and letting go is a part of building up any relationship. But when it is only one partner who is the subject all the time, then that raises concern. Also, if you feel you are not being heard at all or your emotions are being validated, that means that even your most basic needs are not being addressed.
Remember, emotional abuse is never mild. You cannot let go of abuse thinking that it is just once in a while or it is not intentional. The abuser very well knows what he is doing and it is actually a conscious role play on his part to maintain his control and dominance over the subject. If you feel abused, it means it is there. You might not realize its ramifications at the time that it is happening, but in the long term, it would have far-stretched scars on your personality. Most women feel that they might have done something wrong to agitate the man, but it is never so. No amount of mistakes, shortcomings or disagreements in a relationship legitimizes a man abusing a woman in any way.
A major sign of emotional abuse that a woman must watch out for is when she is not treated as well by the man as she treats him. The ways or channels of showing acknowledgement or addressing emotional needs to be loved and heard might be different. But if the man just refuses to acknowledge your existence or your identity, then that is a major concern.
In an emotionally abusive relationship, most often the woman is marginalized to verbal abuse, hatred, arrogance and toxicity by the man either behind closed doors or amidst family or in the public domain. The idea is to absolutely crush the identity of the woman, to take away her ability to say anything or even express herself. If the woman is adhering to such behavior in the name of adjusting to the marital setup or being an obedient partner, she is grossly mistaken. The abuse won’t tender or dwindle (diminish) with time. It is only going to get more violent and unabashed once the abuser consolidates his power over the victim. This behavioral pattern is so vicious that the woman would just end up doubting her conduct all the time.
Another sign of such a disorder is that the abuser’s behavior is unpredictable. Most patients with bipolar disorders turn into perpetual abusers. The man would apologize for his extreme behavior soon after the act, and the woman would empathetically go on to forgive him and be the bigger person. This lends a false sense of holding an emotional power over the man to the woman. The woman keeps negating her trauma and the poignance of her pain and continues empathizing with the man for his inability to express himself properly. She still feels that it is his immense latent love for her that pushes him to come back to her even when she has faulted him so gravely that he lost his temper. It is she, who is responsible for pushing him to the edge these feelings of guilt and low self-esteem never let the woman accept her suffering and the emotional bruising she is being subjected to. This exchange of abuses becomes a part of her daily routine and she gradually trains her mind to accept this miserable life as her destiny and a part of her reality.
Abusive relationships are an existential reality of our society. They exist in various forms: physical, mental, emotional, or even Gaslighting. The whole intent behind this is to deteriorate the confidence and identity of the subject so much that the abuser can have unshakeable control over their life. The woman must be honest with herself about her feelings. If you feel what’s happening with you is not justified and is borderline violence, then definitely is abuse. Don’t give the other person so much benefit of the doubt that you just become blind to what is happening around you. Acknowledge and accept what is happening and then decide upon what you want to do with it.
No matter how sensitively you try to communicate with the abuser, the behavior won’t change. Don’t have any notions of self-doubt or overanalyze where you went wrong. Nothing makes it permissible for the man to threaten or harass you. Speak to your well-wishers or seek professional help. Stand strongly with yourself. Every woman certainly has it in herself to either amend this situation or teach the abuser that she won’t take this abuse. Or else move out of such a relationship and heal herself.
Your life is far more precious to be messed up for something like this. If the abuser is not willing to take ownership of his wrongdoings and accept his mistake now, then no matter how hard you try, he never will. The situation is only going to aggravate further from her.
The scars and the after-effects of being in an ‘emotionally abusive relationship’ are far more damaging and long-lasting than one can think. It takes years of compassion and nurturing even for the strongest of individuals to heal them. If you are going through any of such experiences, please do yourself a favor and put yourself and your well-being as the priority. You are the only one who is responsible for your life. Better start taking accountability for it.