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Are You Being Abused Emotionally?

In honor of October being Domestic Violence Awareness Month, I wanted to speak on some forms of abuse that are not physical. According to "One in four women and one in six men have experienced partner emotional abuse since the age of 15". So, as someone who was previously emotionally and mentally abused in a romantic relationship, I wanted to speak on it a bit. Why? Because something happened to me a few weeks ago that triggered an emotional scar that I thought was healed. Also, sometimes sharing your story helps others! The thing about emotional wounds is that they don't disappear. What happens is they get filed in a compartment in your brain until something happens that triggers the memory and causes you to react in a fight, flight, or freeze response. Or causes you to acknowledge the trigger and react in a way that is safe for you, or both. (Because remember two things can be true at once) I won't talk about what happened because that doesn't matter but what does matter is that we are all aware of signs of abuse and we are also able to differentiate between whether or not what triggered us is also currently abuse or if it's not abuse and we have PTSD and even though the trigger brought up memories we are not currently being abused. I think at the moment it's hard to decipher what is real, but it's always good to be able to reflect and decide when we are in an emotionally safe space.

I'm going to only cover emotional and mental abuse in this blog, but some other forms of abuse are:

Financial Abuse

Reproductive Abuse

Sexual Abuse

Physical abuse

Addictive Abuse

This blog is purely for you to be able to notice if you are in an emotionally and mentally abusive relationship, and I will have links at the bottom for resources on these and other types of abuse as well. But first, story time. So, many years ago I had frequent panic attacks. Among other things like swelling, chronic migraines, weight gain, severe acne, scarring, etc. The panic attacks gradually got worse and worse and I went to the hospital three times for them because I thought I was in my 20s having a heart attack. The third time I went to the hospital an advocate came into my room and asked if she could talk to me. I said sure not really knowing what she wanted. She was a middle-aged black woman and I remember her hands were warm when she placed them on mine and she smiled and said softly "Are you being abused at home? Don't worry I won't say anything, but we can get you help. Is he here?" Mannnnn I moved my hands so quick and defensively said "Abused!!! Ain't nobody beatin' me!!" She smiled again and said softly, "Believe it or not there are worst ways. And sweety according to your chart, your weight gain over the last three times you've been here has increased, your panic attacks are worse, your skin is scarring, you're dehydrated, and you having severe bronchitis three times this year all point to another type of abuse.". I remember immediately regretting always going to the same hospital lol. So, then she gave me a pamphlet and a sheet of paper. The paper had a list of "things" and side effects from those "things". I looked at her and said, "What is this?" She said, "Let's just read through the list and you circle what stands out.". I said ok and we began.

"Does your partner do any of the following?" she asked. Then she stated that it would only be a concern if there were 5 or more circled. I circled 30. Thirty freakin' things. "This is insane!" I thought to myself. I honestly didn't even know there were names for half of the stuff I was going through. I thought I was going crazy and whenever I would complain or try to explain to someone I could never properly articulate what I was experiencing. Seeing these things circled filled me with so many emotions. On the pamphlet it gave examples of each to help you answer more accurately, here's what I circled:

Denying support

Shutting down communication

Withholding affection

Using the silent treatment

Trying to come between you and your family

Invalidating you

Dehumanizing you

Destroying and denying

Blaming you for their problems


Goading and blaming

Unrealistic expectations

Using guilt


Stonewalling you

Walking out


Emotional blackmailing


Monitoring your whereabouts

Making verbal threats

Belittling your accomplishments


Disputing your feelings



Public embarrassment


Walking on eggshells

Damaging property

I'm going to list these and others and the definitions to all at the bottom

"Geesh!" I laughed a little in shock and a lot in embarrassment. Then, I started crying. I realized she was right. I was being abused in a way I didn't even know was real. In a way that I think so many people don't know is real. I thanked her and asked her if I could take a picture of the answer sheet and told her I felt safe at home and didn't need help. She explained to me how over time this type of abuse attacks your brain and your body internally and can make you physically ill and develop a "protective memory loss", she then gave me a list of resources and told me never to be embarrassed and that strong women can be abused too. I thanked her and went home as soon as they let me. In my mind there was no way my husband was doing these things on purpose, so once I told him we would get to the bottom of it. Together. HAHAHAHAHAHA What a little black Disney princess moment I had in my mind because NOPE! (Let's remember I write how I talk so... yea, back to the story) When I got home I told my ex what I'd learned and told him that we should go to therapy and how all of these things had been really affecting me and draining me. He so lovingly said, "Well ain't nobody beatin' you, or calling you names. But you can go to therapy, there's nothing wrong with me and you're the one that circled all those things. I don't know why you went to the hospital, you probably just needed a nap.". I remember thinking a few things. 1. "A nap N*gga????" 2. "This can't be life." and 3. "Okay, I need to leave.".

Let's first touch on the difference between emotional and mental or psychological abuse. Mental abuse attacks the way you think/view things and situations, the way you remember things, and the way you think of yourself. (Your self-esteem) Some examples include making unreasonable demands, being overly critical, threatening to harm, wanting a partner to sacrifice needs for others, causing them to doubt their perception, and withholding words or affection. defines emotional abuse as "any act including confinement, isolation, verbal assault, humiliation, intimidation, *infantilization (IDK what this word means lol), or any other treatment which may diminish the sense of identity, dignity, and self-worth." Some examples include intentionally using sarcasm to painfully joke about serious situations your partner has gone through, dismissiveness (your partner is looking at their phone while you are expressing your needs or concerns), gaslighting (we will get more into), stonewalling you, having unrealistic expectations or unspoken expectations and then punishing you for not meeting them.

Now that we know the difference, I want to list ways abuse can occur and what they mean.

This type of abuse is humiliation, negating, and criticizing. It consists of the following:

  • Name-calling and derogatory nicknames. They’ll blatantly call you “stupid,” “fat,” or use other insults. Maybe they use terms of “endearment” that actually highlight things you’re sensitive about — “my little nail biter” or “my chubby pumpkin” — and ignore your requests to stop.

  • Character assassination. This usually involves the word “always.” You’re always late, wrong, screwing up, disagreeable, and so on. They might say these things to you, or use them to describe your behavior to others. (this is not the case in a healthy argument where one may be expressing feelings, this is intentional)

  • Yelling. Screaming, yelling, and swearing can intimidate you and make you feel small and inconsequential. Maybe they never hit you, but they do pound their fist, throw things, or damage property. Such as punch holes in walls etc

  • Patronizing. They belittle you by saying things like, “I know you try, but this is just beyond the scope of your brain.” "Don't make this about you." "You think so small you don't understand."

  • Public embarrassment. They pick fights, share your secrets, or make fun of your shortcomings in public. Whether someone can hear or not.

  • Dismissiveness. You share something important to you and they reply with, “What? Who cares about that?” Or they reply by saying how you shouldn't feel the way you do then proceed to not apologize or acknowledge your emotions. Body language like eye rolling, lounging, yawning, smirking, head shaking, seeming uninterested, or saying "I'm fine, you're upset" and sighing help convey the same message.

  • “Joking.” When you express discomfort with something they’ve said, they snap back, “Can’t you take a joke? Grow up.” You’re left feeling foolish and wondering whether you are, in fact, too sensitive. This is when it is done intentionally and without apology.

  • Insulting your appearance. As you head out, they stop you at the door. “That's what you're deciding to wear?” Or they constantly say you’re lucky they chose you since they could find someone so much more attractive.

  • Belittling your accomplishments. They brush off your achievements, saying they don’t matter, claim responsibility for your successes, or don't celebrate you.

  • Putting down your interests. They suggest your hobby is a waste of time. “You’ll never be any good at the piano, so why do you keep trying?” or "I don't know why you even do that you never finish what you start." Really, they’d rather you not participate in activities without them.

  • Pushing your buttons. Once they find something that annoys you or makes you uncomfortable, they begin to mention it every chance they get, ignoring your requests that they stop.

This type of abuse is control and shame:

  • Making threats. They imply — or say outright — that they’ll leave you or report you for being an unfit parent. They might even say something like, “There’s no telling what I might do,” to keep things vague and leave you afraid.

  • Monitoring your whereabouts. They want to know where you are, always, and insist you respond to calls or texts immediately. They might show up at your work or school, just to check you did actually go there.

  • Spying on you digitally. They demand your passwords, or insist you go password-free, and regularly check your internet history, emails, texts, and call log.

  • Gaslighting. Someone abusing you may deny that specific events, arguments, or agreements ever happened. Or minimize the way you experienced something. This tactic can leave you questioning your own memory, not to mention your mental health and well-being.

  • Making all the decisions. This might involve closing a joint bank account and canceling doctor’s appointments. They may insist you withdraw from school and resign from work — or do so on your behalf. Or maybe they tell you what to wear, what to eat (and how much), or which friends you can spend time with.

  • Controlling your access to finances. They keep bank accounts in their name and make you ask for money. They also expect you to keep your receipts and account for every penny you spend.

  • Emotional blackmailing. Someone using this tactic will attempt to get you to do things by manipulating your feelings. They might use tricky questions to “test” you, take on the role of victim, or try to guilt-trip you.

  • Lecturing you constantly. After you make a mistake, no matter how minor, they catalog all of your errors with a long monologue. They describe all the ways you’ve fallen short and make it clear they consider you beneath them.

  • Giving direct orders. From, “I don’t care what happened. You need to listen to me,” to “Stop taking the pill,” they expect you to do everything they say without question.

  • Having frequent outbursts. They told you to cancel that outing with your friend, or put the car in the garage, but you didn’t. So, they become enraged, angrily shouting about how inconsiderate and uncooperative you are.

  • Feigning helplessness. They say they don’t know how to do something, hoping you’ll simply do it yourself instead of taking the time to explain it.

  • Unpredictability. They explode for no clear reason, then suddenly shower you with affection. Or maybe their mood shifts from upbeat to dark and angry with little warning, leaving you never sure what to expect.

  • Walking out. A partner might leave a social event suddenly, so you have no way home. Or leave you with no warning. Or walk off or stop texting or hang up mid-conversation so your questions remain unresolved.

  • Stonewalling you. During a disagreement or conflict, they shut down, refusing to respond to your attempts to communicate.

  • Walking on eggshells. To be overly careful in dealing with a person or situation because they get angry, irritated, or offended very easily; to try very hard not to upset someone or something.

This type of abuse is accusing, blaming, and denial:

  • Jealousy. They accuse you of flirting or cheating, or say you’d spend all your time with them if you truly loved them.

  • Using guilt. They might try to guilt-trip you into doing something by saying things like, “You owe me this. Look at all I’ve done for you,” in an attempt to get their way.

  • Unrealistic expectations. They expect you to do what they want when they want you to do it. They think you should always prioritize their needs, do things according to their standards (and punish you when you don't) — and you absolutely shouldn’t hang out with your friends or family if there’s any chance they might need you.

  • Goading and blaming. People who manipulate and abuse typically know just how to upset you. But once you do get upset, they pin the blame back on you — after all, it’s your fault for being so sensitive and incompetent.

  • Denying the abuse. When you express concerns about their behavior, they might deny it, seemingly bewildered at the very thought. They may even suggest you’re the one with anger and control issues or say they only get angry because you’re such a difficult person, or say "we don't feel things the same".

  • Trivializing. When you explain how much something they said or did upset you and hurt your feelings, they accuse you of overreacting or misunderstanding the situation. They don't apologize.

  • Blaming you for their problems. When things go wrong, they always blame you. If only you’d been a more loving partner, a more supportive partner, or a better parent, they might say, their life would be fantastic.

  • Destroying and denying. They might throw your phone down to break it, “lose” your car keys, or destroy other important possessions, then deny it or say it happened accidentally.

This type of abuse is emotional neglect and isolation:

  • Dehumanizing you. They’ll intentionally look away when you’re talking or stare at something else when speaking to you to make you feel unimportant.

  • Keeping you from socializing. Whenever you have plans to go out, they come up with a distraction or beg you not to go.

  • Invalidating you. They might suggest or say straight out that your needs, boundaries, and desires don’t matter to them, or that they can't (won't) do them.

  • Trying to come between you and your family. They’ll tell family members you don’t want to see them or make excuses why you can’t attend family functions. Later, they might tell you that your loved ones don’t care about you or think there’s something wrong with you.

  • Using the silent treatment. They might ignore your attempts at conversation in person, via text, or over the phone. Deliberately not speaking to you.

  • Withholding affection. They won’t touch you, even hold your hand, or pat you on the shoulder. They may refuse to have any intimate contact if you offend them, or they want you to do something you don’t want to do.

  • Shutting down communication. They might wave you off, change the subject, or simply ignore you when you want to talk about important concerns.

  • Actively working to turn others against you. They might tell other people in your life, including co-workers, friends, and even your family, that you lie, have lost touch with reality, or have had an emotional breakdown.

  • Denying support. When you need emotional support or help with a problem, they might call you needy, say the world can’t stop and wait on your problems, or tell you to toughen up and fix it yourself.

  • Interrupting. They might get in your face when you’re in the middle of an activity and take away your phone or anything else in your hands to let you know your attention should be on them.

  • Disputing your feelings. No matter what feeling or emotion you express, they might insist you shouldn’t feel that way. For example, “You shouldn’t be angry over that,” or “What have you got to feel sad about?”

Here are some tips if any of this resonated with you.

  • Don’t try to fix them. You may want to help, but it’s often difficult for abusive people to change their behavior without professional support. You can encourage them to work with a therapist, but they have to make the choice themselves.

  • Avoid self-blame. Remember, you never deserve abuse, no matter what you’ve said or done. The only person responsible is the one engaging in abusive behavior.

  • Prioritize your needs. Taking care of your physical and emotional needs can help you move forward to a place where you feel comfortable setting boundaries, reaching out for support, and leaving the abusive situation.

  • Avoid engaging with them. If you can Don’t reply to their text messages, phone calls, or emails. If you can’t avoid working or spending time with them, try to keep another person with you and limit your conversation to essential topics.

  • Set personal boundaries. Decide how you’ll avoid responding to manipulation or getting pulled into arguments. Express those limits to the person using abusive tactics and stick to them. You might say, for example, “If you call me names, I’ll go home,” or, “If you start teasing me in public, I’ll leave.”

  • Build a support network. It might feel frightening to open up about what you’ve experienced, but reaching out to loved ones and a supportive therapist can go a long way toward helping you get the support you need to heal.

  • Exit the relationship or circumstance. State clearly that the relationship is over and cut all ties, if possible. Block their number and social media accounts, and ignore attempts to reach out. (Unless there are children involved)

  • Give yourself time to heal. Take space to focus on your needs and recovery. This might involve rediscovering your sense of self, creating a new self-care routine, and talking with a therapist who can offer guidance with recovery.

*Infantilization is when an adult is being treated like a child, even though nothing about their mental, physical, social, or intellectual well-being requires such treatment.

If for whatever reason you cannot or will not leave, seek out a therapist to help you deal with your situation and give you tools to help you heal while you stay.

I hope this helped someone. Here are some other helpful links:

DV Hotline - 800-799-7233

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