One woman. One horse. 48 states for Domestic Violence Awareness

Check back often for the latest updates and stories from Meredith and Apollo as they journey 10,000 miles on a four year ride around the USA.

Domestic Violence is Also This - Emotional Abuse

This is part four of a series. It contains details of my own experiences and other potential ptsd triggers which may be disturbing to read.

The term “domestic violence” is in some ways misleading, the words themselves reinforcing the misconceptions and myths about this extremely common issue.  What do you think of when you hear the word “violence?” Probably the first word that came to your mind, as with most people - even many of those who have been abused  - is physical violence of some kind.  Hitting, punching, slapping, kicking, shooting, stabbing.  Something visibly violent.

But domestic violence does not start and end with physical violence, and many people have been victimized without having a hand laid upon them.  So many women (and men!) I have talked to have expressed the belief that they were in a “bad” relationship, but it wasn’t abusive because their abuser never hit them.  For this reason, I have come to prefer the term “domestic abuse,” which more easily is understood to include other abuses than just physical.  

It’s time that everyone understood that domestic violence, or domestic abuse if you prefer, is more than just physical violence.  It also includes financial, psychological, emotional, sexual, spiritual, and technological abuse.  For this October’s domestic violence awareness month, I will be discussing each one.  Most abusive relationships include a combination of several types of abuse; many of the types have overlapping characteristics.  Only one type is needed for a relationship to be called abusive, though; experiencing only one type is just as difficult and damaging as going through them all.

Emotional Abuse

All abuse is about control.  With emotional abuse, the abuser seeks to control their victim by use of emotions.  This can be instead of or in addition to other means of control such as physical and financial abuse.

Emotional abuse can include:

* Criticizing
* Shaming and blaming
* Belittling language
* Withholding affection as punishment
* Property damage as a means to emotionally hurt (such as by throwing out or breaking something that the victim loves)
* Alienation and isolation of the victim from their family and friends
* Gift-giving with a guilt trip - using gifts to prove something, as a sort of debt over the victim, to belittle the victim (such as “see what all I gave you and you never appreciate me”)
* Making unreasobable demands or expectations - such as to spend all your time together, being dissatisfied no matter how hard the victim tries to meet their “needs,” expecting the victim to always have the same opinions as them (and to read their mind about those opinions)
* Invalidating and dismissing the victims ideas, opinions, feelings, etc
* Behaving erratically and unpredicably so the victim feels like they are “walking on eggshells”
* Making confusing and contradictory statements (sometimes aptly called “crazy-making”)
* Embarassing the victim in public
* Guilt trips

It is often closely intertwined with other kinds of verbal and psychological abuses, such as gaslighting, name-calling, refusing to take responsibility for their actions, threats and ultimatums, etc. Some forms of technological abuse can also be called emotional abuse, such as reading the victims emails without their consent. A comprehensive list of emotionally abusive behaviors is excellently compiled on this website.

My story

What else can I say about emotional abuse, that my own story would shed light on? As with all abuse, it started small and it started slowly.  Little snide comments or criticism masked as “just being helpful” or “just a joke” or “just being overly sensitive.” Things that weren’t worth fighting over, or breaking up over - especially in the early stages when he would apologize or promise to stop.

And following the textbook cycle of violence, the emotional abuse got worse and worse, with less and less “honeymoon period” in between.  Until eventually I felt so ashamed, so ugly, so stupid, so worthless, that I couldn’t even imagine trying to leave and being able to survive  on my own. Who else would love me? Who would even hire me? Surely I’d be homeless and starving, alone and vulnerable.

It seems almost unbelievable that I would have been brought so low in my own esteem.  I had a happy childhood, was an excellent student and had a bright future.  I was confident and outgoing, if a bit shy.  But years of gradually increasing  emotional abuse turned me into a weak, submissive, and scared wreck of my former self.  Before it happened to me, I would have thought myself immune to such a thing.  I was too smart, too independent, to fall prey to such a degree of abuse.  But then I learned the hard way that it can happen to anyone.

How to get help

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, contact your local shelter or the National Domestic Violence Hotline (visit their page here).  Support for survivors is also available. 

1 comment:

  1. thank you for sharing this, Meredith!! I'm learning a lot about this issue - really interesting. I'm so grateful you are no longer bound by this relationship. You are an amazing woman and I admire you greatly.


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