Item: It's not
victims are always the best actors.
They have to be, to live their whole lives
with the pain and shame, pretending there is
nothing wrong. It's the greatest
performance of all."
I created this page a long time ago,
mostly to try to help suicidal and self-harming
teens see how they are being emotionally abused
in their homes. I want to add now that I am still
suffering from the effects of being emotionally
abused when I was growing up. Much of my personal
writing reflects what happened to me. I don't
really like to say that I was abused. I hesitate
to use that word. It is easy to use it when I see
what has happened, but harder for me to use it
when I talk about myself. It is is easier to say
things like "They should teach all children
and teens about emotional abuse and invalidation and how to show emotional support
and be your own best friend when you have no
emotional support at home or in school."
Sometimes writing about other people's abuse, or
trying to help them, is a way of avoiding our own
pain, but sometimes it might also help us get in
touch with it. In any case, I hope this page
helps raise people's awareness.
Feb 6, 2006
Jan 2012 update - all of
the above still applies.
(Updated November 19, 2008 Podgorica, Montenegro,
2011 Sydney, Australia)
PS - If you are
not familiar witih me and my site, I'll just say
I have been traveling literally around the world
trying to find happiness or at least reduce my
Teens, Internet, Emotional
Why Couples Counseling in
Abusive Relationships Doesnt Work
Jan 2010 - It's good to use feeling words..
Oct 2009 Letter
from Reader - A not so comforting mother
Letter from 31 Year Old
Abuse, Marriage, Teenagers
Emotional Abuse, Parents, Teenagers,
Letter from a Uni student
Suggestions when a younger family
member is being abused
|What is Emotional Abuse?
Abuse is any behavior that
is designed to control and subjugate another
human being through the use of fear, humiliation,
intimidation, guilt, coercion, manipulation etc.
Emotional abuse is any kind of abuse that is
emotional rather than physical in nature. It can
include anything from verbal abuse and constant
criticism to more subtle tactics, such as
repeated disapproval or even the refusal to ever
Emotional abuse is
like brain washing in that it systematically
wears away at the victim's self-confidence, sense
of self-worth, trust in their own perceptions,
and self-concept. Whether it is done by constant
berating and belittling, by intimidation, or
under the guise of "guidance,"
"teaching", or "advice," the
results are similar. Eventually, the recipient of
the abuse loses all sense of self and remnants of
personal value. Emotional abuse cuts to the very
core of a person, creating scars that may be far
deeper and more lasting that physical ones. In
fact there is research to this effect. With
emotional abuse, the insults, insinuations,
criticism and accusations slowly eat away at the
victim's self-esteem until she is incapable of
judging the situation realistically. She has
become so beaten down emotionally that she blames
herself for the abuse. Her self-esteem
is so low that she clings to the abuser.
victims can become so convinced that they are
worthless that they believe that no one else
could want them. They stay in abusive situations
because they believe they have nowhere else to
go. Their ultimate fear is being all alone.
can also be called psychological abuse, mental
abuse. If it occurs within a family it can be
called psychological incest or emotional incest.
Types of Emotional Abuse
- The other person
places unreasonable demands on you and wants you
to put everything else aside to tend to their
- It could be a demand
for constant attention, or a requirement that you
spend all your free time with the person.
- But no matter how
much you give, it's never enough.
- You are subjected to
constant criticism, and you are constantly
berated because you don't fulfill all this
- Aggressive forms of
abuse include name-calling, accusing, blaming,
threatening, and ordering. Aggressing behaviors
are generally direct and obvious. The one-up
position the abuser assumes by attempting to
judge or invalidate the recipient undermines
the equality and autonomy that are essential to
healthy adult relationships. This parent-child
pattern of communication (which is common to all
forms of verbal abuse) is most obvious when the
abuser takes an aggressive stance.
- Aggressive abuse can
also take a more indirect form and may even be
disguised and "helping." Criticizing,
advising, offering solutions, analyzing, proving,
and questioning another person may be a sincere
attempt to help. In some instances however, these
behaviors may be an attempt to belittle, control,
or demean rather than help. The underlying
judgmental "I know best" tone the
abuser takes in these situations is inappropriate
and creates unequal footing in peer
relationships. This and other types of emotional
abuse can lead to what is known as learned
- The other person may
deliberately start arguments and be in constant
conflict with others.
- The person may be
"addicted to drama" since it creates
- Denying a person's
emotional needs, especially when they feel that
need the most, and done with the intent of
hurting, punishing or humiliating (Examples)
- The other person may
deny that certain events occurred or that certain
things were said. confronts the abuser about an
incident of name calling, the abuser may insist,
"I never said that," "I don't know
what you're talking about," etc. You
- The other person may
deny your perceptions, memory and very sanity.
- Withholding is
another form of denying. Withholding includes
refusing to listen, refusing to communicate, and
emotionally withdrawing as punishment. This is
sometimes called the "silent
- When the abuser
disallows and overrules any viewpoints,
perceptions or feelings which differ from their
- Denying can be
particularly damaging. In addition to lowering
self-esteem and creating conflict, the
invalidation of reality, feelings, and
experiences can eventually lead you to question
and mistrust your own perceptions and emotional
- Denying and other
forms of emotional abuse can cause you to lose
confidence in your most valuable survival tool: your
- Someone wants to
control your every action. They have to have
their own way, and will resort to threats to get
- When you allow
someone else to dominate you, you can lose
respect for yourself.
- The other person
plays on your fear, guilt, compassion, values, or
other "hot buttons" to get what they
- This could include
threats to end the relationship, totally reject
or abandon you, giving you the the "cold
shoulder," or using other fear tactics to
- The abuser seeks to
distort or undermine the recipient's perceptions
of their world. Invalidating occurs when the
abuser refuses or fails to acknowledge reality.
For example, if the recipient tells the person
they felt hurt by something the abuser did or
said, the abuser might say "You are too
sensitive. That shouldn't hurt you." Here is
a much more complete description of invalidation
- Minimizing is a less
extreme form of denial. When minimizing, the
abuser may not deny that a particular event
occurred, but they question the recipient's
emotional experience or reaction to an event.
Statements such as "You're too
sensitive," "You're exaggerating,"
or "You're blowing this out of
proportion" all suggest that the recipient's
emotions and perceptions are faulty and not be
- Trivializing, which
occurs when the abuser suggests that what you
have done or communicated is inconsequential or
unimportant, is a more subtle form of minimizing.
- Drastic mood changes
or sudden emotional outbursts. Whenever someone
in your life reacts very differently at different
times to the same behavior from you, tells you
one thing one day and the opposite the next, or
likes something you do one day and hates it the
next, you are being abused with unpredictable
- This behavior is
damaging because it puts you always on edge.
You're always waiting for the other shoe to drop,
and you can never know what's expected of you.
You must remain hypervigilant, waiting for the
other person's next outburst or change of mood.
- An alcoholic or drug
abuser is likely to act this way. Living with
someone like this is tremendously demanding and
anxiety provoking, causing the abused person to
feel constantly frightened, unsettled and off
criticizing, name calling, screaming,
Excessive blaming, and using
sarcasm and humiliation.
Blowing your flaws out of
proportion and making fun of you in front
of others. Over time, this type of abuse
erodes your sense of self confidence and
Understanding Abusive Relationships
No one intends to be in an
abusive relationship, but individuals who were verbally
abused by a parent or other significant person often find
themselves in similar situations as an adult. If a parent
tended to define your experiences and emotions, and judge
your behaviors, you may not have learned how to set your
own standards, develop your own viewpoints and validate
your own feeling and perceptions. Consequently, the
controlling and defining stance taken by an emotional
abuser may feel familiar or even conformable to you,
although it is destructive.
Recipients of abuse often
struggle with feelings of powerlessness, hurt, fear, and
anger. Ironically abusers tend to struggle with these
same feelings. Abuser are also likely to have been raised
in emotionally abusive environments and they learn to be
abusive as a way to cope with their own feelings of
powerlessness, hurt , fear, and anger. Consequently,
abusers may be attracted to people who see themselves as
helpless or who have not learned to value their own
feelings, perceptions, or viewpoints. This allows the
abuser to feel more secure and in control, and avoid
dealing with their own feelings, and self-perceptions.
Emotional abuse victims
can become so convinced that they are worthless that they
believe that no one else could want them. They stay in
abusive situations because they believe they have nowhere
else to go. Their ultimate fear is being all alone.
Understanding the pattern
of your relationships, specially those with family
members and other significant people, is a fist step
toward change. A lack of clarity about who you are in
relationship to significant others may manifest itself in
different ways. For example, you may act as an
"abuser" in some instances and as a
"recipient" in others. You may find that you
tend to be abused in your romantic relationships,
allowing your partners to define and control you. In
friendships, however, you may play the role of abuser by
withholding, manipulating, trying to "help"
others, etc. Knowing yourself and understanding your past
can prevent abuse from being recreated in your life.
Are You Abusive to Yourself?
Often we allow people into
our lives who treat us as we expect to be treated. If we
feel contempt for ourselves or think very little of
ourselves, we may pick partners or significant others who
reflect this image back to us. If we are willing to
tolerate negative treatment from others, or treat others
in negative ways, it is possible that we also treat
ourselves similarly. If you are an abuser or a recipient,
you may want to consider how you treat yourself. What
sorts of things do you say to yourself? Do thoughts such
as "I'm stupid" or "I never do anything
right" dominate your thinking? Learning to love and
care for ourselves increases self-esteem and makes it
more likely that we will have healthy, intimate
Basic Needs in Relationships
If you have been involved
in emotionally abusive relationships, you may not have a
clear idea of what a healthy relationship is like. Evna
(1992) suggests the following as basic needs in a
relationship for you and your partner: (I have
changed this from "rights" to "needs"
and made other small changes- S.Hein)
- The need for good
will from the others.
- The need for
- The need to be heard
by the other and to be responded to with respect and acceptance
- The need to have your
own view, even if others have a different view.
- The need to have your
feelings and experience acknowledged as real.
- The need to receive a
sincere apology for any jokes or actions you find
- The need for clear,
honest and informative answers to questions about
what affects you.
- The need to for
freedom from accusation, interrogation and blame.
- The need to live free
from criticism and judgment.
- The need to have your
work and your interests respected.
- The need for
- The need for freedom
from emotional and physical threat.
- The need for freedom
from from angry outburst and rage.
- The need for freedom
from labels which devalue you.
- The need to be
respectfully asked rather than ordered.
- The need to have your
final decisions accepted.
- The need for privacy
See also human emotional needs
- The Emotionally Abused
Woman: Overcoming Destructive Patterns and
Reclaiming Yourself, Beverly
- The Emotionally Abusive
Relationship: How to Stop Being Abused and How to
- Evans, Patricia. The
Verbally Abusive Relationship: How to Recognize
It and How to respond. Holbrook, Massachusetts: Bob
Adams, Inc., 1992.
Stalking the Soul: Emotional Abuse
and the Erosion of Identity
Your Needs Denied
One way of looking at emotional
abuse is being denied the thing you need when you need it
the most. John Bradshaw
says something similar to this. He said we were most
shamed at the times when we were most in need.
Here are some examples:
|16 year old David goes
into his room and locks the door behind him. He
locks the door because his mother and father have
been walking in on him and his girlfriend without
knocking. The father tries to come in and finds
the door is locked. He is furious. He bangs on
the door. David opens it. His father accuses him
of locking the door so he can have sex. As
punishment, he takes the door off the hinges and
removes it completely. He says, "This is my
house and I won't have anyone locking the doors
that month, with the door to his bedroom still
removed, David and his girlfriend are up late
watching TV. His parents go to bed. David and his
girlfriend wait till they think it is safe and
then sneak downstairs to the basement, take off
all their clothes and start making love. Suddenly
the father comes in and turns on the lights.
Again, David needed privacy
and his father denied it, while even worse, he
humiliated and shamed him.
|When Becca was 12 she went
to her father and said "I feel like
crying...." She wanted and needed to be
comforted. She needed reassurance and wanted to
know she would be accepted by her father, even
when she not happy and smiling. Her father said
uncaringly, "Well go cry then."
When she needed comfort, acceptance
and reassurance, she got rejection. (See more
stories about crying.)
|Carolyn did not feel
understood or accepted by her mother, so she
spent a lot of time on the Internet writing
poetry in her online journal and chatting with
her friends who had similar problems with their
parents. Her mother decided Carolyn was spending
too much time on the Internet, so she had it
Carolyn most needed emotional support and a safe
outlet for her feelings and thoughts, she was
denied it by the person society has entrusted and
empowered with filling her basic emotional needs.
Characteristics of Emotionally
1 - Based on studies of Adult Children of
list is from the work of Janet Geringer Woititz.
She did her original work on adult children of
alcoholics, but I believe her findings can be
generalized to people who were emotionally abused
in general. Certainly all children of alcoholics
were emotionally abused.
- Can only guess at what
healthy behavior is.
- Have trouble
- Lie when they don't
need to. Lying might have been a survival
tactic in the home. (She explains that
perhaps the child learned from parents
who lied to cover up problems or avoid
conflict. Or simply to avoid harsh
punishment, or to get needed attention.
But as an adult, that tactic is
no longer appropriate.)
- Judge themselves
- Have trouble accepting
- Often take
responsibility for problems, but not
- Or they go to the
other extreme and refuse to take any
responsibility for mistakes while trying
to take credit for the work of others.
- Have trouble having
fun since their childhoods were lost,
- Take themselves very
seriously or not seriously at all.
- Have difficulty with
- Expect others to just
"know what they want." (They
can't express it because they were so
often disappointed as children that they
learned to stop asking for things.)
- Over-react to things
beyond their control.
- Constantly seek
approval & affirmation.
- Feel different from
- Are extremely loyal,
even when facing overwhelming evidence
that their loyalty is undeserved.
- Are either super
responsible or super irresponsible.
- Tend to lock
themselves into a course of action
without giving serious consideration to
alternative behaviors or possible
consequences. (This impulsiveness leads
to confusion, self-loathing, and loss of
control over their environment. The
result is they spend much energy blaming
others, feeling victimized and cleaning
She also makes this
through their ability to analyze, often realize
things which are disconcerting, which others
would not see. They also are often capable of
feeling more deeply, both pain and joy.
Adapted from Struggle
for Intimacy, by Janet Gerringer Woititz
See List 2 Below
2 - source unknown
- Feelings of low self-
esteem (they say as a result of being
- We perpetuate these
parental messages by judging ourselves
and others harshly. We try to cover up
our poor opinions of ourselves by being
contemptuous and gossipy.
- We tend to isolate
ourselves out of fear and we feel often
uneasy around other people, especially
- We are desperate for
love and approval and will do anything to
make people like us. Not wanting to hurt
others, we remain "loyal" in
situations and relationships even when
evidence indicates our loyalty is
undeserved. (I would say not wanting to
lose them, having an extremely hard time
- We are intimidated by
angry people and personal criticism. This
causes us to feel inadequate and
insecure. (I would say it further adds to
our feelings of inadequacy and
- We continue to attract
emotionally unavailable people with
- We live life as
victims, blaming others for our
circumstances, and are attracted to other
victims (and people with power) as
friends and lovers. We confuse love with
pity and tend to "love" people
we can pity and rescue. (And we confuse
love with need)
- We are either
super-responsible or super-irresponsible.
We take responsibility for solving
others' problems or expect others to be
responsible for solving ours. This
enables us to avoid being responsible for
our own lives and choices.
- We feel guilty when we
stand up for ourselves or act in our own
best interests. We give in to others'
needs and opinions instead of taking care
- We deny, minimize or
repress our feelings as a result of our
traumatic childhoods. We are unaware of
the impact that our inability to identify
and express our feelings has had on our
- We are dependent
personalities who are so terrified of
rejection or abandonment that we tend to
stay in situations or relationships that
are harmful to us. Our fears and
dependency stop us form ending
unfulfilling relationships and prevent us
from entering into fulfilling ones. (I
would add because we feel so unlovable it
is difficult or impossible to believe
anyone can really love us, and won't
eventually leave us once they see how
"bad" we are.)
- Denial, isolation,
control, shame, and inappropriate guilt
are legacies from our family of origin.
As a result of these symptoms, we feel
hopeless and helpless.
- We have difficulty
with intimacy, security, trust, and
commitment in our relationships. Lacking
clearly defined personal limits and
boundaries, we become enmeshed in our
partner's needs and emotions. (ie become
- We tend to
procrastinate and have difficulty
following project through from beginning
- We have a strong need
to be in control. We overreact to change
things over which we have no control.
Signs of Abusive, Authority Based
This page has moved here.
From a Social Worker in
While chatting with a social worker
in the YHA here, I asked her which is worse emotional or
physical abuse... She said emotional abuse is almost
alway present when there is physical abuse because it is
loss of trust.
I'd say there is also a loss of
security. And physical absue is emotional abuse because
it is using one person to fill another's unmet emotional need to feel in control.
She also said EA can be worse because it can go
unnoticed.She said "If you come to a hospital with a
broken bone people will do something about it."
So that made me wonder, "What
if you come in with a broken spirit?
April 2, 2011
Franz Joseph, New Zealand
1.Adapted from University of Illinois Counseling Center and http://www.bpdcentral.com/resources/abuse/evabuse.shtml
Abuse victions...Richard Dreyfuss in "Silent
Fall" (1994) (Morgan Creek Productions - Warner
Bros.) Written by Akiva Goldsman