I’m going to start out with a caveat before I start to write this series. I am not a psychologist, psychiatrist, psychotherapist or counselor. I have not studied psychology but I do have an interest that has caused me seek out more information on this prevalent and widely misunderstood form of abuse. I was the victim of emotional abuse in my previous marriage and am now becoming an advocate for women and men who are suffering this kind of abuse. The reason I am writing this series of blogs is because any woman can fall victim to this, if she doesn’t recognize it and I want black women to forewarned to be forearmed. I’m not just saying that one set of men can do this, any man can do this and if you are dating interracially you need to not let your desperation, low self-esteem, naivete, willingness to please or need to be loved be used against you by a bad non-black man. I will also be talking to folks who may be abusers and not even know it but my focus is on the abused. I’ve been studying this topic recently and have discovered some new things but also have had some my suspicions confirmed. If you believe you are the victim of emotional abuse, I say please seek out help for yourself. The black community is not one that even wants to acknowledge well known forms of mental illness so these less known mental issues are not something it will want to jump on the bandwagon to hurry and acknowledge. Please be aware that emotional abuse comes in many forms physical abuse, verbal abuse and sexual abuse but it just can be emotional abuse and many black women are victims of it because this abuse is passed down and passed along. This series I am doing will speak on emotional abuse and narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), I’m not an expert and if you want to find out more I suggest you check out the books that I will refer to at the end of this blog post, they have helped me and I think will help anyone who is suffering at the hands of an emotional abuser or person with NPD.
Emotional abuse is extremely prevalent in our society because firstly most people don’t believe it’s abuse, we’re so accustomed to it and it’s so prevalent it’s just seen as something people do and something we just live with. Emotional abuse can be defined as any nonphysical behavior that is designed to control, intimidate, subjugate, demean, punish or isolate another person through the use degradation, humiliation, or fear. Does this sound familiar to you? Does any of this sound like what is being done to black women in the black community? Emotional abusive behavior ranges from verbal abuse (belittling, berating, constant criticism) to more subtle tactics like intimidation, manipulation, and refusal to pleased. I was a long time victim of manipulation and the refusal to be pleased. It is tough and can be tough to recognize especially in a close love relationship, my ex-husband was also a master at gaslighting me but I’ll speak about that more when I talk about NPD next week. Emotional abuse does a lot of damage to the abused psychologically as well as physically with depression and panic and anxiety for victims is frequent. It can also lead to suicide.
Emotional abuse is negative behaviors and attitudes. Some examples of emotional abuse are the following:
- Humiliation and degradation
- Discounting and negating
- Domination and control
- Judging and criticizing
- Accusing and blaming
- Trivial and unreasonable demands or expectations
- Emotional distancing and the ‘silent treatment’
Emotional abuse can also include more subtle forms of behavior such as:
- Withholding of attention or affection
- Disapproving, dismissive, contemptuous, or condescending looks, comments, and behavior
- Sulking and pouting
- Projection and/or accusations
- Subtle threats of abandonment (either physical or emotional)
I also want to give examples of abusive attitudes, please be aware if these are the attitudes of folks you know or are involved with:
- Believing that others should do as they say
- Not noticing how others feel
- Not caring how others feel
- Believing that everyone else is inferior to them
- Believing that they are always right
Emotional abuse is considered by many to be the most painful form of violence and the most detrimental to self-esteem. This may because it last so long without any intervention or acknowledgement. It can slowly eat away at the person’s self-confidence and sense of self. Now I don’t want everyone reading this to start thinking they are being emotionally abused or the abuser, because that’s not true. We’ve all done this things from time to time, we’re human and fallible so some of these things we’ve had or loved ones have done but emotional abuse has a clear and consistent pattern. Even if it’s unconciously it has to have that clear and consistent pattern to be emotional abuse. I have a questionnaire from the book that will help you figure out if you’re in an emotionally abusive relationship.
- Do you feel as if your partner treats you like a child? Does he constantly correct you or chastise you because your behavior is ‘inappropriate’? Do you feel you must ‘get permission’ before going somewhere or before making even the smallest of decisions? Do you have to account for any money you spend, or does he attempt to control your spending (even though he has no problem spending on himself)?
- Does your partner treat you as if you are ‘less than’ or inferior to her? Does your partner make a point of reminding you that you are less educated or that you make less money or that you aren’t as attractive as she is?
- Does your partner routinely ridicule, dismiss, or disregard your opinions, thoughts, suggestions and feelings?
- Does your partner constantly belittle your accomplishments, your aspirations, or your plans for the future?
- Do you find yourself ‘walking on eggshells’? Do you spend a lot of time monitoring your behavior and/or watching for your partner’s bad moods before bringing up a subject?
- Have you stopped seeing many or all of your friends and/or family since being in this relationship? Do you do this because your partner dislikes them, because your partner feels jealous of the time you spent with them, or because you are ashamed of the way he treats you in front of them? Did you stop seeing friends and family because you are ashamed of the fact that you’re still with him, even though you’ve complained to them many times about the way he treats you?
- Does your partner usually insist on getting her own way? Does she want to be the one to decide where you will go, what you will do, and with whom you will do it?
- Does your partner punish you by pouting, by withdrawing from you, by giving you the silent treatment, or by withholding affection or sex if you don’t do things his way?
- Does your partner frequently threaten to end the relationship if you don’t do things her way?
- Does your partner constantly accuse you of flirting or of having affairs even though it isn’t true?
- Does your partner feel he or she is always right?
- Does your partner seem impossible to please? Does she constantly complain to you about some aspect of your personality, your looks, or the way you choose to run your life?
- Does your partner frequently put you down or make fun of you in front of others
- Does your partner blame you for his or her problems? For example, does he claim it is your fault he flies off the handle and starts screaming? Does he tell you he wouldn’t do it if you didn’t make him so mad? Are you to blame for her problem with compulsive overeating? Because she has a drinking problem? Does he blame you for not being able to finish college or fulfill his dream of becoming an actor (author, singer, musician, etc.)?
- Does your partner feel you are the one who is responsible for all the problems in the relationship?
- Does your partner’s personality seem to go through radical changes? Is she pleasant one minute only to be furious the next? does he become enraged with only the slightest provocation? Does she experience periods of extreme elation followed by periods of severe depression? Does his personality seem to change when he drinks alcohol?
- Does your partner tease you, make fun of you, or use sarcasm as a way to put you down or degrade you? When you complain, does he tell you it was just a joke and that you are too sensitive or don’t have a sense of humor?
- Is your partner unable to laugh at herself? Is she extremely sensitive when it comes to others making fun of her or making any kind of comment that seems to show a lack of respect?
- Does your partner find it difficult or impossible to apologize or admit when he is wrong? Does she make excuses for her behavior or tend blame others for her mistakes?
- Does your partner constantly pressure you for sex or try to persuade yo to engage in sexual acts that you find disgusting? Has he ever threatened to find someone else who will have sex with him or who will engage in the activities he is interested in?
If you answered yes to more than half of these questions, you are in an emotionally abusive relationship. But yes to just a few can indicate you are in a emotionally abusive relationship. Once again, what characterizes a emotionally abusive relationship is consistent pattern of hurtful, humiliating and condescending behavior. Emotional abuse has no gender, that’s why he/she were used in the questions, anyone can be abused or an abuser. NPD are emotional abusers but not all emotional abusers are NPD and NPD are over 70% male. Although most of the questions above seem like obvious abuse, you also have to remember that many emotoinal abusers are very subtle and manipulative and can and will abuse people without the person quite being able to catch on as I said before, they are masters of the gaslight. I would suggest again that if you think you’re being emotionally abused, you do some deep thought about your relationship. Emotional abusers can get help because many are abusing out of habit and may not be aware of what they are doing but it’s up to you. But I would certainly suggest that if you’ve been a relationship like this, you get the therapy you need to overcome the damage that comes along with this kind of abuse. I did this because now more than ever I think emotional abuse is rampant in all kinds of relationships but particularly in intimate relationships and people need to know they aren’t just overreacting, you may be actually getting abused. Since it’s not obvious all the time like physical or verbal, folks who are being abused or folks who care about the abused may downplay it to everyone’s detriment. This is a serious and prevalant form of abuse and needs to understood and acknowledged. Next week I’ll be talking more about NPD and patterns of abuse. I hope this has helped someone to get out a relationship like this or avoid it all together.
Quotes and information used from: Engel, Beverly, The Emotionally Abusive Relationship. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2002.