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Published on December 07, 2021

couple sitting on couch having argument

How to Deal with Emotional Abuse

It’s much too common – and it’s all about control. Emotional abuse is the most prevalent form of abuse – more than 80% of us experience it – yet the fact it is common in no way makes it OK.

“Our feelings can be intense, and they can cloud our thinking and affect what we do,” said Avera Social Worker Nikki Eining, CSW-PIP, MSW, QMHP, of Avera Behavioral Health Services. “We all know how things like embarrassment or shame can really hurt us. Abusers can use these emotions to control or manipulate individuals.”

Gaslighting and Other Tactics of Emotional Abuse

Eining said the abuse comes in many forms, including:

  • Criticizing what you say, do or how you look
  • Reminding you of an embarrassing memory or event
  • Recalling a shameful time in your life
  • Blaming or faulting you, even if it’s not true

Creating a sense of confusion, so that you feel like there’s something wrong with you – also known as gaslighting.

“With gaslighting, the abuser tries to get you to doubt your own memory,” said Eining. “They might question things you say, or frame things in ways to make you feel ‘crazy.’”

Together, these tactics can lead to fear and isolation. “The abuser seeks control by trying to force someone to remain in these negative emotions,” Eining said.

Emotional Abuse and Kids

It’s estimated that about half of all kids face some maltreatment. One in four children have experienced it along with other forms of abuse, such as physical abuse or household dysfunction.

A number of categories fall under the umbrella of emotional or psychological abuse when it comes to children. Among them are:

  • Rejection, which aims to make a child feel useless or worthless.
  • Scorn, which can include humiliation and shame, along with undue criticism.
  • Isolation, where kids are kept from friends, siblings or other adults in the family.
  • Absence, where an adult will ignore emotional needs or shun the child.

“Each of these, along with other tactics, create fear and a hostile environment,” Eining said.

More serious forms of abuse, such as threats, exploitation, neglect, verbal abuse, neglect and exposure to violence in the home. “Studies show that when one form of maltreatment occurs, the likelihood of other forms occurring is nearly 90%,” Eining added.

Children facing this sort of treatment may have trouble in school and behavioral health issues including eating disorders, depression and anxiety. They may have trouble sleeping and act out, too.

How to Stop Emotional Abuse

Recognizing emotional abuse can help us put a stop to attempts to control our behavior.

“When you start to set boundaries, you often see abusers become insecure or anxious,” Eining said.

Understanding that abusers are much like bullies can help a victim take steps to stand against the threats of emotional maltreatment.

“They’re lashing out as a coping mechanism,” Eining said. “Remind yourself: their response is not your fault or even about you. It’s about them.”

In severe cases, you may need professional aid to overcome the issues. Counseling can help couples and families, especially when the learned behavior of this abuse is shared – and used – by more than one person.

You can learn more about Avera Behavioral Health resources that also can help you.

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