Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Identifying Emotional Abuse

Most people think of abuse in terms of physical assault. However, there are many forms of abuse and not all forms show up as black eyes, bruised ribs, or a broken arm. All forms of abuse are equally awful. Each of us has different thresholds for physical pain, and we all carry different, internal battle scars. Because of these differences, some can handle a punch in the face far better than cruel words. Some, like ducks with thick waterproof feathers, cannot be harmed by words, but have a delicate neck that is easily bruised or broken.

Physical abuse is often obvious; emotional abuse is often insidious. Emotional abuse slowly chips away at your self-esteem, like water wearing down a rock over time. If someone hits you, you are aware that you are in danger and need to fight back or run to a safe place. Yet, when someone tears at your self-esteem in slow, subtle ways over time, it is less obvious that you are in actual danger.

Maybe it's just a few words said to you that feel unkind or cruel... it's not like he actually kicked you in the teeth, right? You feel the sting of those words, but you look in the mirror and everything appears to be intact. So, you brush it off and make excuses for his behavior. And you immediately feel foolish that it bothered you, so you resolve to toughen up or lighten up. A verbal put-down here, a subtly sarcastic insult peck there...

I'm not suggesting that every joke or tease is abusive. It's not. For example, I have certain friends to whom I can holler, "What's up, you filthy tramp?" They'll respond, "Not much, you dirty whore!" We laugh because we feel safe with each other and understand it's just sarcasm. However, I also have friends I would never dare say such a thing to because they are sensitive, or we're not close enough that I can be certain of what might hurt them. I care about them so I honor their personal comfort zone. If something hurts or bothers them, even inadvertently, I just don't say it.

So, how can you discern emotional abuse from a friendly, well-intentioned joke? Ask yourself: How does it make you feel? Do not consider how someone tells you you should feel about it. Totally disregard that! All that matters is how you actually feel about it. It's never up to another person to identify what hurts you. Only you can establish your boundaries, and it is always okay to set them. So when you tell someone he has crossed your line of emotional comfort, and he responds by trying to convince you to adjust YOUR feelings, then something is wrong. No one gets to define your feelings. A caring person will simply take note of your feelings, admire your fearless confidence to share them, apologize, and choose not to say or do that to you again.

People who love you will not try to isolate you from your friends or family. Someone who loves you will not guilt, bully, or intimidate you to get what he wants sexually, emotionally, or otherwise. The person will be patient and respect your comfort level. Someone who loves you will not disregard, mock, or belittle your feelings. The person won't take advantage of you financially or control your finances in any way. The person will not betray your confidence, share your secrets, or insult you to others behind your back. If overtime you express your feelings, set a boundary, or ask for something you need within the relationship, you find that you are being pushed to defend yourself, this is a form of emotional abuse.

If you suspect something is somehow "off" about your relationship, but you can't quite put your finger on exactly what it is, two key things to ask are:

How does the way he treats you make you feel? 

What is his response when you tell him how you feel? 

Always remember that in healthy relationships, you are safe to share how you feel, and you will never have to defend your feelings or adjust your boundaries.

Your feelings are formed from your personality and life experiences. Just like your nerve endings warn you when you're too close to a flame, these feelings are built-in badass warriors that protect your self-esteem. They are the valiant defenders of your inner voice and self respect. Genuine love and affection come with automatic and unconditional respect for your self esteem, your needs, and your feelings. And you are too wondrous and badass to ever accept anything less.

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