Saturday, May 16, 2009

Emotional Abuse: Is There Hope?

How do we become victims of emotional abuse? What does emotional abuse look like? What can we do to repair an emotionally abusive relationship?

Emotional abuse is difficult to define. It doesn't leave bruises on the body, it doesn't break dishes or punch holes in walls. It does, however, leave the victim feeling confused, angry, degraded and wounded. Emotional abusers denigrate their partners with a sharp tongue that cuts like a knife. Words that wound leave deep emotional scars that can last a lifetime. Name calling, sarcasm, vulgarities, litanies of past offenses, screaming tirades, public humiliation, defamation, character assassination, the silent treatment, emotional blackmail and other offenses are among the tools of the abuser.

We may feel terribly afraid and unhappy. We are confused about what has happened to our relationship. We once felt that our partner was our perfect match, but now those times seem to be less and less frequent. We may be questioning our instincts. We feel that we are being treated with disrespect, but we are told that we are at fault. We may be spending a great deal of time crying or feeling despair at our inability to communicate our needs to our partner in a way in which we can be heard and understood. We tell our partner why we are upset, but they seem unwilling or unable to modify their behavior.

This scenario is all to familiar to many of us who have been emotionally abused or are being emotionally abused at the hands of our partner. We are confused by our inability to decide how to proceed, but unable to decide whether to leave the relationship. As a result of the abusers continuous denigrating behavior we are beginning to feel less and less capable. We are slowly suffering from the effects of degraded self esteem.

The cycle of abuse has a distinct pattern. Following incidents, abusers oftentimes apologise for their behavior and actions. They may promise change. The honeymoon phase that follows incidents may include times when we are showered with affection and gifts in an attempt to decrease the abusers sense of guilt and shame. We too are often filled with shame as a result of allowing ourselves to be abused. We may tell virtually no one what is happening, believing what we are told by the abuser, that we are at fault. This combination of low self esteem and shame keeps us locked into the cycle of abuse and makes deciding whether to stay or leave the relationship extremely difficult.

Initially the relationship may have been fulfilling allowing both we and the abuser to enjoy the partnership. Over time, as the incidents became increasingly frequent, both we and the abuser began to feel less and less satisfaction within the relationship. We may feel angry, resentful and hostile over the continued abuse. The abuser, on the other hand, may feel misunderstood and persecuted due to their inability to see their behavior from another point of view.

Our ability to connect the dots and see the interconnection between our enabling behavior in allowing ourselves to remain in an abusive relationship, and the degradation of our self esteem, is paramount to us being able to rebuild our self image and begin to practice self care. Emotional abuse occurs within partnerships gradually, growing worse over time if left ignored. It is imperative that we seek help to increase our understanding of our part in the situation. At the same time, if we are to repair our partnership, the abuser too must desire assistance to change the pattern that has emerged in the relationship.

If both partners are interested in repairing the relationship and willing to do the necessary work to increase their respective self esteem, there is hope for recovery. The key to having hope for improvement is the individual desire of both partners to commit to repairing the relationship. If this commitment is present, both partners may be able to deal individually with their underlying issues in a safe therapeutic environment. Once the process of recovery has begun in earnest and individual progress has been made, learning how to communicate effectively may be possible.

Emotional abuse is not to be ignored. We may not realize how great it's impact is upon us initially. Over time as we become aware of our decreased self esteem, we learn that our enabling behavior has cost us a great deal. It is never too late to learn self care. We ask for help in finding and using tools to rebuilt our shattered ego.

No comments:

Post a Comment