Oh No! Am I Being Emotionally Abused and Don’t Even Know it?

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’
  • Isolation

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.

  1. 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)?
  2. 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?
  3. Does your partner routinely ridicule, dismiss, or disregard your opinions, thoughts, suggestions and feelings?
  4. Does your partner constantly belittle your accomplishments, your aspirations, or your plans for the future?
  5. 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?
  6. 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?
  7. 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?
  8. 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?
  9. Does your partner frequently threaten to end the relationship if you don’t do things her way?
  10. Does your partner constantly accuse you of flirting or of having affairs even though it isn’t true?
  11. Does your partner feel he or she is always right?
  12. 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?
  13. Does your partner frequently put you down or make fun of you in front of others
  14. 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.)?
  15. Does your partner feel you are the one who is responsible for all the problems in the relationship?
  16. 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?
  17. 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?
  18. 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?
  19. 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?
  20. 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.

18 thoughts on “Oh No! Am I Being Emotionally Abused and Don’t Even Know it?

  1. This man screwed with me so badly that I questioned my every thought. To him even my life experiences were wrong. As I write this now, I am blaming my self esteem issues for the entire ordeasl. It was my fault for the sick ways he manipulated me. He is a wolf in sheeps clothing and a master at gas lighting. It hurts to think that he never loved me as he said he did, I know now that he is incapable. A true narcissist he lacks empathy and convinced me I was weak for having it. I tried every which way to make things work but every effort failed and left me searching for answers on the Internet!! This blog has solidified how I have been thinking for a long time. Thank you for the help. I am thinking that I will get a reply telling me I am crazy and “being a victim”, he is really a great guy. What a number he has done on me!!! If you are with someone like this GET OUT IT IS NOT YOU!!!!

  2. From Phil’s:

    “The thing is, it has been so subtle that I still, to this day, keep wondering if it’s just a case of me being overly sensitive.”

    YES! It is subtle in numerous cases and this is one of the reasons why it is hard sometimes to identify.
    It is not you.
    Once your instincts raise the red flag alerting you are being abused TRUST IT.

  3. Thank you Eugenia. I’m sure you’re helping numerous people.
    Sometimes things are very complicated and the abuse and manipulation is done is such a way that it is hard to identify.
    I was emotionally abused when I was a child by both parents.
    I did therapy for 20 years, yeah… it seems too long but one has to remember I was trying to understand a lot of things, and ended it in 2008.
    My father is still alive and occasionally he tries to approach me. It always ends the same way: he gets mad for no reason.
    I feel that little child again inside me and I need to recover. It is always painful.
    But at least I always knew that the problem was not me.
    I read a book by Laing when I was 19 years old and it made me realize the numerous kinds of manipulations.
    I could not recognize but with the help of the therapy I finally understood more.
    I envy those who have a father and mother that are there for them.
    My therapist died last May. I hope she is at peace.
    For those who are being emotionally abused: whenever you have the feeling that things are “strange” trust your instincts. Don’t say to yourself: “No. I’m being paranoid.”
    Listen to your inner voice. Search for help.
    All the best,

  4. I appreciated reading this post. I’m just getting out of an emotionally abusive relationship which lasted over two years. You are so right that this can happen to anyone. I think that there is a belief that this only happens to people with bad/ no self-esteem. I was a confident, independent person prior to this relationship. It can suck you in and, if you don’t get out quick enough, it will eat away at your self-esteem until you really don’t have one anymore. The danger of this type of abuse, from my experience, is that you end up in a sort of bubble where it’s just you and the abuser, and you can become so alienated that you begin believing the horrible things they say. You begin to wonder if there really is something wrong with you. When you do try to reach out to others outside the bubble, they quickly become frustrated. “just tell him to leave!,” your friends and family tell you once, twice…by the third time, they start to wonder what in the heck is wrong with you. You feel pathetic and trapped. Since your support system has become frustrated, you end up going into a bubble where it’s just you and the abuser. The scars are, indeed, long lasting and painful. I never would have thought I would have allowed this to happen to me but it did. I think our society, as a whole, has become pretty desensitized, so much so that cruel and degrading language is not considered “abuse” in the way the physical abuse is. The most important quality I will be looking for in a future companion will be kindness. Be kind to yourself and make sure your significant other is just as kind.

    • I’m so happy for you that you were able to get out intact and even better you got the lesson. I wish you blessings in life and in any new relationship you find yourself in.

  5. Thank you for this post. My wife and I have just separated, having been married for well over a decade. She’s had a lot of issues with depression and grew up in a household where she was emotionally abused. She’s tried hard to overcome that in her own life and has been by and large successful, however, she still needed an outlet for her frustrations and I as the husband became that outlet. I struggled for a long time with reconciling my love for her and my hurt feelings, and over a very long time came to suspect that I was being emotionally abused. The thing is, it has been so subtle that I still, to this day, keep wondering if it’s just a case of me being overly sensitive. I have looked up the checklists and while I can identify with some of the items on the lists, her behaviour doesn’t fit that of the NPD type of abuser, so even these lists have kept me off balance. When I read what you wrote above about it becoming abuse when there is a consistent pattern, that really clicked for me. So again, thank you. Your posting has taken me one more step down the road of feeling like I’m not crazy for getting to the place I’ve arrived. Best wishes to you.

  6. Thank you so much for this blog. For years I have felt alone in feeling that my now ex-husband was emotional abusive towards me. While I am sad that this happens to anyone, I am glad to know that I am not alone. I have been struggling a lot with depression the last few years as a result of my marriage to an abuser and I don’t want anyone else to feel as alone as I have the last little while. Thank you.

  7. How would I determine if it was just me feeling “yes” answer to over half of those questions. My husband always tells me I am too sensitive and looking to make arguments or trouble with him. Maybe it is just me not able to handle real life? How can I figure out if it is abuse/control or just me being crazy and insecure?

    • It has to be consistent, consistency determines abuse. Keep reading further in, I’ve written more about emotional abuse and the different types. It may make things clearer for you.

  8. Your blog on emotional abuse and NPD is the best I have ever read and is much needed by me today especially. As you write of IR alot I happen to have been in an IR rellationship with a black man who I have known from 20 years ago. I never remembered him to ever be emotionally abusive yet I wasn;t involved with him back then, only for the past 1 1/2 years. We split up Tuesday. Up until Tuesday this person used to tell me to Stay in my lane, don’t speak in the bedroom for it is a sanctuary, I have introduced you to all the important people being my mother, sister brother and child. He tells me he can have female friends and travel with them if he wants but he is only with me. Then he tells me he has a friend and colleague that he travels with to Conferences which are mostly out of the country. The person he travels with is 25 years younger and a quote accomplished african american woman and I suspect he takes her accomplishments for granted. When I asked about calls he would tell me to mind my business. He was trying for so long to get me to get into a business with him and this became an ordeal. The last ordeal however was this….he had given me these wonderful intimate cards bequeathing long lasting love and relationship on a friday and then the saturday he did not call. Sunday he called leading me to believe he didnt call cause he was ill. On Monday we were together and I found a $200 receipt from Sat. He had lied and went out. We split up until the next Sunday. That next week he begged me to come back and I did but then Tuesday morning a call came in at 7:30 AM and that to me was odd. I saw the name of the person and asked a friend about this woman who called. The person asked called the woman and then she proceeded to call my ex. My ex, then called me and chewed me up and berated me to death. I am done but the emtional abuse lingers. My counselor says that my ex has been playing me from the beginning and found every button. All I have to say is that the emotional abuse from any man can be paralyzing.Eugenia, your blog was so helpful

    • You’re welcome. Although your ex may have played you from the beginning be grateful that you realize it now and have left and are getting help to overcome the damage. At this point that’s what matters.

  9. Hello Eugenia,
    Thanks a lot for your blog, it’s really interesting to read, I have a question though, I am new to the United states and I mean I do not intend to discriminate at all. I was first settled in Oakland, California and off course you know there is a big Black Community, I find it so difficult to date black women and I even told one Women that he has mental issues without even realizing the matter of emotional abuse. and I believe most Black women who lives in poor neighborhoods like east Oakland suffer from Emotional Abuse like one of the girls told me when I wanted to get intimate with her. after she rejected me in a very bad tone ” do you know what we black women go through? then she said I would like to be the aggressive!!!
    my Question is;
    Would you blame Black men abuse as the cause of Black women being Emotionally Abusive?
    Again, I am here to seek some truth from an Educated black women’ point of view and not to discriminate. as I believe I have been abused emotionally many times by black women and I start to understand that it’s not their fault of being abusive but they had to Act the way they do.
    Thanks for helping.

    • You know I was going to go into long spiel about how all black women aren’t alike and you gotta get know a young woman but I’m not. I’m going to keep it simple and straightforward that’s my style. Whatever these women you meet are or are not is not your problem. You are the only common denominator in this. If all you’re meeting is dysfunctional black women, maybe you need some time for introspection because there is something about you that is drawing these women to you. Think about that, maybe you need to look at my vlog ‘You Draw Who You Are, Not What You Want’. It might do you some good.

  10. Pingback: …And How the Hell Do I Get Out of It « Married Girl in a Weird World

  11. Yes, this can happen to the best of us, before we even realize it’s happening. Then we start to ask ourselves if we’re being overly sensitive and then work harder to try to “understand” the man… when it’s really him being emotionally abusive. It’s important to recognize the cycle and get out before it’s too late!

    • That’s it exactly, that’s what I did. I really just kind of thought my ex was a bit of jerk. But never recognized the deep levels it went to, I just figured it was a surface thing. He was having a hard time in his career, things we’re panning out as he’d hoped. But it’s so much deeper and with the NPD I’ve come to find out that what I thought may have had something to do with me, had nothing to do with me at all. This is has been a heck of a discovery for me. I’m not even finished with these books. I’m putting these out so people know the warning signs and recognize them, if I’d had something like this before I got married or even in my marriage I would have known what was happening. But I knew something was off, I just didn’t know what and yea I thought if I understood and worked harder on the marriage it would be reciprocated, hmpf!

  12. Hello:

    I enjoy reading your comments over at BB&W. Emotional abuse is a subject in which I’m very interested. Looking forward to the rest of the series, especially NPD. I suspect someone in my life has it, and I would like to get your insight. I love your blog.

    • Thanks so much, glad you came over. I’m enjoying getting some insight into what happened to me and how those things came about. For awhile I was putting some blame on myself for my ex’s behavior and feeling bad for him a little. After reading some of this stuff about NPD, I’ve realized it wasn’t my fault and I shouldn’t waste my time feeling bad for him. Well please come back, next week’s is going to be more discussion on NPDs. It’s a wild one.

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