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Emotional Abuse

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    Emotional Abuse

    Two friends of mine came across an article from Cosmo a few months ago, and felt the need to share it with me. At the time, I was so caught up with life and everything else that I made the mistake of not taking heed to its significance. As someone with a friend who was, until recently, going through this very thing, I eventually realized that a lot of what's discussed here really happens - and to so many people, desis and otherwise. It's kinda long, but hopefully some of you'll read it with an open mind, and cast aside anything that might seem offensive as you do.

    First of all ... Ask yourself these questions to help determine whether your (or a friend's) relationship could be abusive.

    Does your (or your friend's) partner ...

    * Humiliate you/them in front of others and make you/them feel guilty?
    * Foce you/them to do degrading things like kneel down to beg for forgiveness?
    * Constantly lie to you/them?
    * Withhold affection to punish you/them?
    * Criticise everything you/them do?
    * Have sudden changes of mood, which dominate the household?
    * Make you/them feel uneasy when you're alone with him?

    If you answered YES to any of these questions, you or your friend could be with an emotionally abusive man.


    Are You At Risk Of Emotional Rape?
    Franki Hobson and Elizabeth Udall

    You meet a new man. For the first few weeks, or possibly even months, he seems like the answer to your dreams - charming, considerate and so easy to talk to. Then something changes. He becomes distant. Slowly and systematically he erodes your self-confidence by withdrawing his encouragement, his affection and reassurance. He puts you down and stops you seeing your friends. Before long, your self-esteem is so badly damaged you don't have the strength to get up and walk away.

    An extreme scenario, yes, but one that's increasingly common for women across Australia. Pinning down exact figures is impossible, but Deborah Miller, from Lifeline Australia - a service that provides face-to-face counselling, 24-hour telephone counselling, and referrals - says that most of the women callers have experienced some form of emotional abuse.

    "This is extremely widespread amongst women, but because there hasn't been a name to identify it, it's largely gone unrecognised," explains Miller. "It's difficult to acknowledge something that doesn't even have a name - let alone talk openly about it."

    In fact, experts in the UK and the US believe that this kind of abuse is so damaging and traumatic, they're calling it "emotional rape".

    "I consider it the most underrated trauma of our age," says US expert Dr. Michael Fox, author of the Emotional Rape Syndrome: How To Survive And Avoid It ( "The term 'emotional rape' implies a horrific crime, and that's exactly what these women are going through. To use a word with less impact would grossly misrepresent the degree of emotional trauma suffered by the victim. In sexual rape, the words 'without consent' refer to the victim having not agreed to sex. Emotional rape is the abuse of someone's higher emotions - love and self-respect - without consent."

    Take Angela*, a 30-year-old office manager, for example. When she first met David*, Angela had a good job, lots of friends and she wasn't afraid to speak her mind. Eleven years later, the relatoinship has left her feeling worn out and worthless. For years, she suffered from severe panic attacks due to the systematic emotional abuse within the relationship, and feels she is only now getting back on her feet.

    Constant Criticism

    Angela and David first met when she began a new job. "I thought David was charming and attentive, we rarely argued and had wonderful romantic times together. We got on so well, we moved in together after 18 months."

    But just over a year later, the relationship changed for good. "I found out David had been having an affair," says Angela. "I tried to leave him, but he begged me to stay and - because I loved him so much - I gareed to give it one more go. Then, a few days later, David started blaming the affair on me. He said I wasn't slim enough for him. I'd be sitting awkwardly on the lounge so I seemed to have a double chin and he'd say to me, 'For Christ's sake, I can't go near you, there's so much fat.' Or we'd be out together, and he'd hiss at me, 'Hold your stomach in. There are people looking.'

    "His mood would swing from one moment to the next," she continues. "He'd tell me I made him feel trapped and I should forget any ideas I had about 'forever', but then, seconds later, he'd insist he didn't want to lose me. The next day, he'd reduce me to tears by sneering that he didn't have to worry about me leaving him - nobody else would want me.

    "My confidence was being completely eroded," says Angela. "A few months after the abuse started, I noticed I was in a permanent state of nervous anxiety. He refused to socialise with any of my friends and soon he forbade me to ask them over. But he never invited me out with his friends, and if I asked him why, he'd say that he was embarassed by me."

    Mind Games

    Seven years after they first met, David bought Angela an engagement ring. "But he told me not to get my hopes up about a wedding," she says, "as he had no intention of marrying me in the near future. He seemed to enjoy giving me hope and then withdrawing it - and the more he did it, the lower my self-esteem dropped. My best friend Claire was constantly telling me to get out of the relationship. But I couldn't.

    "At the time, I believed it was because I loved him too much - now, I know I couldn't break free because my confidence was so low. I soon got to a point where I geninely wondered why he stayed with me. I reasoned that it must be out of sympathy, and because I was so low, I felt pathetically grateful for that.

    "Seven months later," Angela recalls, "David walked out on me. I'd been made redundant from work; I felt I'd lost everything and I desperately needed his support. That's when David told me he no longer wanted to be with me because I wasn't good looking any more."

    Although she moved out, Angela continued to see David for the next three years; their relationship only breaking up when she discovered he was having yet another affair. "When I confronted him, he said he didn't like me enough to be faithful," she remembers. "That was the final straw: I felt something inside me break. Every inch of the person I was had been destroyed. I ended the relationship and haven't contacted him since."

    According to Fox, Angela's experience is typical of a woman who's been emotionally raped - and the fallout, he says, can be just as devastating as a sexual rape. "I began researching emotional rape after a friend of mine in an abusive relationship attempted suicide," Fox explains. "In fact, US studies suggest that a person in a situation such as Angela's can experience many of the recognised symptoms of post-traumatic rape syndrome - severe depression, as well as a feeling of a destroyed personality, are both common."

    Taking Control

    Experts agree that emotional abuse is far more complex than verbal abuse. While the latter form tends to be erratic and a direct response to specific situations, emotional rape is, quite simply, a systematic destruction of someone's personality. "Emotional abuse of this nature is a patterned and purposeful behaviour, and its purpose is to control and undermine," explains Fox. "It's an attack on a woman's personality, rather than on her body."

    "An emotional rapist consistently attacks a woman's psychological defences until he has broken down all of her strengths - from her self-worth to her support systems: like social networks, confidence at work and home etc," adds Miller. "Eventually, the woman is left vulnerable to everything. It can be so soul-destroying that I've heard women, who have been both physically and emotionally abused say they'd prefer the bruises to the emotional scars. It can take a lifetime to rebuild confidence after feeling powerless for so long."

    Fox believes all emotional rapists display distinctive characteristic traits - charm, intelligence and crucially, a passive-aggressive nature. If, for example, the man you're dating often makes you feel guilty, or if he uses emotional blackmail in order to get you to do what he wants, alarm bells should be ringing. "Emotional rapists are insidious and skillful," says Fox. "They are passive-aggresives who treat partners badly, but do it subtly and over such a period of time that, while the victim feels only a sense of unease, they find themselves doing everything their partner wants them to."

    Women who haven't experienced emotional rape may find it impossible to understand that someone could stay in a relationship where it exists. But Fox sounds a cautionary note. "Every one of us is vulnerable, because we all need love," he says. "Our friends and family might be able to see that a relationship is damaging, but the person within the relationship will be blind to the abuse. It's a basic human tendency to believe what we wish to be true, despite evidence indicating the contrary."

    Helen*, a 25-year-old book editor, was in an emotionally-abusive relationship for two years. She's happily married now, but still feels scarred by her former partner. "I met Mark* at university, and he was charming, friendly and incredibly devoted," she says. "But he did have a knack of making me feel guilty if I disagreed with him. Then, about six months into the relationship, I went out with friends against his wishes. He rang me on my mobile to tell me he was feeling really depressed - so depressed, in fact, that he was suicidal.

    "I was terrified and rushed home, but he was fine," Helen continues. "After that, he became verbally abusive. He told me I shouldn't go out because people would see how fat I was. I went from a size 12 to a size eight in six months, and he still said I was obese.

    "He'd call and tell me he really loved me and that he wanted to see me on the spur of the moment," she recalls. "Then, after I'd cancelled my original plans, he wouldn't turn up. If I went to his flat, he'd make me clean up and tell me I was really dirty. If I cooked at his place, I'd have to leave all the tins and bottles perfectly lined up with their labels facing the same way, or he'd say I was useless."

    Twisted Words

    "I know it seems crazy that I stayed with him, but I truly believed I was worthless and lucky to have him," says Helen. "He eventually dominated my life to such a degree that I lost my job. Finally, I found out he was having an affair. But when I confronted him about it he said that the other woman had a boyfriend who physically abused her, and he was protecting her from him. How could I take Mark away from her? It was really ironic - the thought of physical abuse was appalling, but what he was doing to me was absolutely fine.

    "We had a huge argument and once again I felt so powerless, so ground down by his nastiness that I picked up a knife. But Mark wouldn't even give me that moment of anger. He opened his shirt and said, 'Go on then,'" Helen remembers. "The final straw came when he called and excitedly told me how his 'other girlfriend' was pregnant - he even described the scan he'd just been to see with her."

    For years afterwards, Helen felt she'd brought the abuse on herself. "I definitely have a need to please and I lack self-confidence - Mark exploited that," she says. But any worried she had about relationships have been dissipated by the man she met next. "It took me a few months before I started dating again. Then I met Pete*. We have been together for three years and happily married for one. Now I look back and I think I was so unlucky with Mark."

    Facing The Truth

    Neither Angela, nor Helen, underestimates what their partners subjected them to. They now know the abuse was more than just nastiness. "It went far beyond that. It was emotional rape," says Helen. "You can't experience total destruction of yourself and just put it down to a partner's nastiness," adds Angela.

    Miller explains that breaking the vicious cycle of emotional rape required overcoming big psychological barriers. "The starting point is simply to ask yourself, "Am I in an emotionally exclusive relationship?'" she says. "It will focus you. Trust your instincts. If you feel that you're being put down, manipulated, or made to feel guilty, or if you're losing your confidence etc, go with that feeling," Fox agrees and suggests keeping a diary to force yourself to see the truth. "It's often difficult with such subtle, long-term abuse to notice it day-to-day," he says.

    "But if you record incidents, you're able to notice patterns and inconsistencies, and see the bigger picture. Insist friends tell you what they think, but remember - emotional rapists are very clever at presenting a 'face' to the world. They often appear calm and cool, in favourable contrast to the victim, who has been ground into a state of emotional instability."

    Some men cut women off from their social networks so they have no one to approach for advice or help," adds Mller. "Often, the men doing this feel so powerless themselves, they cunningly stop a woman seeing her support groups - those who help build her confidence. It makes him feel safe because if she doesn't have support, or feel good about herself, she's less likely to leave him," she says.

    If you think you might be in a relationship with en emotional rapist, take action. "It's impossible to stop your partner being abusive, but you can stop yourself from being victimised," says Miller. "It's not your job to fix him. You have to put all of your energy into healing you." But she warns: "You may feel worthless and in a low state, so it's paramount you remember not to blame yourself for putting up with it, or for not knowing it was happening. This will only cause you more emotional harm. It's not your fault, so don't be hard on yourself. There's nothing wrong with opening up to love, and to do that you need to allow yourself to be vulnerable. If someone abuses your trust, however, it's their issue, not yours," insists Miller.

    "Recognising that you're being emotionally abused by your partner is a positive first step," she continues. "Moving out of the relationship is the second. You'll need support, and you may need objective help from a trained counsellor. You might feel ashamed, and it may seem hard, but the problems arising from emotional abuse are not insurmountable."

    It's a year since Angela last saw David. "I look back and wonder, 'Why did I let him do that to me for all those years?' But I know it's because I loved him so much and didn't want him to leave me." With the help of her familiy and friends, Angela feels she's getting better. "Five years ago, my mum said she could see the light dying in my eyes; now she can see it returning. As for David, I'm a much better person without him."


      Yeah people tend to ignore this kind of thing because they'll say well at least he /she is not hitting you, they take care of you, feed you, they have a good job, they are nice etc.

      All I can say is if you have not lived it there is no way you can possibly understand how seriously damaging this kind of abuse is and it's effects never go away.

      I see this happening to so many girls I know, to students I work with and yeah guys too.

      I don't even have to have witnessed them being abuse... it's like just by looking at them I know. It's very easy to spot when you've been abused like this yourself.

      The very scary thing is people who've grown up the victim in such an environment often end up becoming abusers themselves later on. Either they have no idea, are in denial or somehow justify their abusive behavior towards others by saying well I get angry too and have a right to be.

      All I can say is stay the hell away from such people. You are better off alone!
      Even if it means cutting off all ties from your family!

      Find friends who are genuinely supportive and positive. The company you keep makes a very big difference good or bad they will influence you whether you realise it or not.


        Re: Emotional Abuse

        Originally posted by zulaykha:
        * Humiliate you/them in front of others and make you/them feel guilty?
        * Foce you/them to do degrading things like kneel down to beg for forgiveness?
        * Constantly lie to you/them?
        * Withhold affection to punish you/them?
        * Criticise everything you/them do?
        * Have sudden changes of mood, which dominate the household?
        * Make you/them feel uneasy when you're alone with him?

        If you answered YES to any of these questions, you or your friend could be with an emotionally abusive man.
        I knew someone like that and saw it as a huge red flag. Not only are people like that abusive psychologically but perhaps even physically if given the chance. You never know. I put it down to their insecurities with life and trying to pass these on to women but if the women are smart, they'll see these signs and leave right away.