“Shut up your disgusting.”
“Go ahead and leave me, no one will ever want you anyways.”
“Your such an idiot.”
These are just a few examples I received from Christians who were involved in emotionally abusive relationships.
Before you casually dismiss emotional abuse as not being that serious, understand that the National Institute of Health recently did a literature review of studies on emotional abuse and found that the effects are just as damaging as physical abuse.
Emotional abuse is the most common type of abuse because its easily disguised by society as being just a “normal way to communicate” and doesn’t leave the obvious physical marks like physical abuse does.
The Church and Christians aren’t innocent when it comes to emotional abuse either. For example, I received this message from someone.
We are Christians but my wife always tells me how bad of a person I am because I cheated on her almost 16 years ago. I repented and asked for forgiveness but she still does this. What can I do?
There are a few problems with this, 1) The wife is denying her husband of the grace and forgiveness that God freely gives us, 2) The wife is being a hypocrite because she herself has sin in her life, 3) The wife doesn’t understand that only God has the authority to hold sin over another person.
This is emotional abuse, period.
Most people don’t realize they are emotionally abusive towards another person or are in an emotionally abusive relationship.
Typically, emotional abuse is very subtle, it cloaks itself under the guise of quotes like, “guidance, advice, just trying to help.”
The first thing that’s important in identifying and understanding emotional abuse is dispelling some of the common myths surrounding it.
According to emotionalheal.org, some of the most common myths about emotional abuse is…
-Its not serious or dangerous.
-Its not violent.
-It doesn’t leave any significant scars.
-Is gender specific.
What are the different types of emotional abuse?
According to the University of Illinois, emotional abuse is a non-physical behavior that uses tactics such as fear, manipulation, and humiliation in order to control or subjugate another person.
There are three general types:
This is where a person refuses to accept that they are emotionally abusive. They won’t listen, hear, or accept any sort of confrontation about the issue and usually make statements such as, “I never did that to you” or “I have no idea what your talking about.”
They can also flatly give you the silent treatment which in a sense, is a form of neglect because they are neglecting and denying your feelings.
The result is that this type of behavior only invalidates your feelings and perceptions while making it extremely difficult to come to any sort of resolution to stop the emotional abuse.
In aggressive abuse, a person will name call, insult, belittle, accuse, order, and threaten in order to invalidate another person.
It also might be more indirect. For example, a person who speaks in a tone with a “I know best” attitude can be an attempt to subjugate the other person. This damages the even ground and autonomy required in a healthy relationship.
Isolation is another aggressive form of emotional abuse and is typically experienced more by women (Karakurt & Silver, 2013).
This is where a person minimizes the emotional abuse by saying things like, “Your just too sensitive” or “Im just trying to help you.”
The point of this behavior could be a few reasons, 1) To deflect any sort of responsibility that the emotional abuser plays in the relationship, 2) To make you feel as though the emotional abuse is really a problem with you.
Are there differences between gender?
Yes, men and women tend to use emotional abuse differently. For example, men tend to use intimidation and aggression while women tend to use emotional abuse to gain power and to manipulate.
There is also a common stereotype that exists about emotional abuse which is that only women experience it. This is simply not true.
Dr. Tara who has her Doctorate of Psychology talks about emotionally abusive relationships on her blog called shrink4men.com.
Her website focuses on helping men identify and heal from emotionally abusive relationships and I highly recommend her if you have time.
She mentions how easy it is for men to dismiss emotional abuse by a women by saying things like, “She’s just very emotional,” or “she’s just been through a lot” and so attending to her needs are more important.
If a guy is emotionally abusive towards a women he’s immediately labeled as a jerk and vilified.
What are some ways you can begin to heal from emotional abuse?
1. Release the pain you feel from the emotional abuse.
People who experience emotional abuse often consciously overlook it despite the pain and scars it leaves.
Even though you may not be able to pinpoint and identify the emotional abuse you are experiencing, that doesn’t dismiss the pain and damaging effects it is causing on your core self.
The next step to healing once you’ve identified the emotional abuse is to allow yourself to feel and express the pain and hurt it caused you. Releasing all of this pent up pain is vital to helping you heal.
I would encourage you to seek a Christian counselor or someone you can trust to allow yourself to do this in an environment where you feel safe.
2. Accept what happened but don’t ruminate over it.
Its important to accept that you experienced emotional abuse but its also equally important that you don’t dwell on it. Why? A recent study found that when we experience rejection of any kind like emotional abuse, we actually activate the same regions in the brain when we experience physical pain.
When emotional abuse is allowed to continue it has the ability to damage our deepest core where we start to internalize and believe the hurtful things that a person says.
If you continue to ruminate over the past, you will continue to activate the same regions of the brain for pain. In theory, continuing to reinforce the pain through negative, ruminating thoughts will only prevent you from healing and moving on in your life.
3. Rebuild your core self through God’s word.
Emotional abuse as I noted earlier literally physically hurts our core self and when emotional abuse is allowed to continue its like having a small wound that only gets bigger and bigger as it persists.
You more than likely have internalized all of those hurtful things a person intentionally or unintentionally said to you. Its important now that you rebuild your core self through prayer and meditation on God’s promises about you.
How can you do this?
-Paraphrase and write out scriptures into the form of short personalized messages to you that affirm your value. Ex: Psalm 139:13-14.
-Write down all of the positive qualities you have and look at them each day.
-Ask God to help you rebuild, restore, and renew your mind so you can reclaim your true identity in Christ.
4. Practice forgiveness every time you feel angry or bitter.
Most people who have been through emotional abuse also experience some bitterness, anger, and resentment through the healing process. Its important when you encounter these feelings to remind yourself this,
“Yes that person hurt me in a very real way.”
“Yes, I have a right at times to experience and express my anger.”
“But, I do need to consciously forgive that person for the pain they caused me because my Father in Heaven forgives me for mine.”
If your still not convinced why forgiveness is so important to healing, check out this article with the studies that back it up.
I really hope this article helped you learn more about emotional abuse and gives you some practical ways to heal from it if you are experiencing it.
What are your thoughts about emotional abuse? After reading this article do you think that you are experiencing emotional abuse in your relationship?