In the last few weeks, there seems to be a lot of talk about domestic abuse filling our airwaves. With news from the world of sports sparking a much needed debate on the topic. I am glad to see that the non-physical aspects of the abuse are becoming more and more highlighted as an equally bad, or even worse, aspect of an abusive situation.

Non-Physical Abuse Is Greatly Misunderstood

My parents were very rarely physically violent. They gave us an occasional slap, but there was no consistent violent strategy in my childhood home. I was, however, constantly made to feel like a burden and a failure. Growing up with that sense of worthlessness is detrimental to a child. As an adult, I had little confidence and self-esteem; I struggled to take care of my own physical and emotional needs,  and by 21 I was diagnosed with my first burn out. Emotional abuse is difficult to explain because it is not a ‘one off’ thing.

It is a systematic campaign designed to grind the victim down. It is hard for people to understand that, and as a result there is little understanding when you break away from the situation. I have been in quite a few situations where people became aware of my choice not to have contact with my parents, and I was met with judgment (I have had a few overwhelmingly supportive responses, too, and I am glad I now know who my support network is).

But it is not only the fortunate friends that have never experienced anything like emotional abuse that seem to have trouble describing it. I came across this definition of emotional abuse in an article on a medical website:

the failure to provide psychological care (e.g., allowing a child to ingest alcohol or drugs would be considered a form of emotional abuse).

An example that, from my personal experience, seems very poorly chosen. To be honest, even Google defines the term in a manner that resonates much more with my personal story.

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 intimidation, manipulation, and refusal to ever be pleased.

Where Victims Are Made

Whether an abusive situation is physical or not, it is usually the mind games that make sure the victims stays put. This is where the person is broken down. No self-respecting, confident individual will stand for any kind of abuse. So there has to be a process of gradually introducing it.

For those of us growing up with an abusive parent, we don’t know “normal” so we are unlikely to question our abusers. But in a workplace or romantic relationship there is always a build-up. It is these at-first, subtle strategies that will make a person lose themselves. It makes you stop believing you are competent, valuable, and lovable. You are made to feel like you deserve to be treated poorly, and you are made to feel responsible for anything that is done to you. This is where your wings are clipped; where you are made to feel like a victim.

Especially in situations where physical violence is not part of the abuse, I think victims are less likely to recognize the perpetrators behavior as abusive. In ‘The Subtle Side of Abuse’ stuff.co.nz highlights the psychological aspects of abuse, and tells the story of a woman who left her abusive husband after more than 60 years of marriage. She was 83 when she finally had enough of his emotional abuse.

Please Help Us Reach Out

Now imagine that for a moment that for the majority of your life you live in a home where you are constantly exposed to emotional stress. If the above-mentioned lady could make a new start at 83, I believe this proves that it is never too late to help a target. Still I would love to reach and help people well before then.

Being in that space, feeling alone and worthless, is a very dark place to be. Not many can escape without the help of others. Finding validation, support, and love on a website like ours can be of huge significance for a target to start their journey to recovery. It helps to understand what happened to them and makes sense of the world.

Please help us spread the word so that more targets can escape the horrors of abuse.

Do you know someone who may be suffering? Give them the link.
Do you work somewhere where we could hang up a poster? Please get in touch with me.
Follow us on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Tumblr, Google+ or Instagram. Share our posts and help us reach out to those that need support from their peers.
Is your friend not ready or able to leave their abuser, but could they use support from SwanWaters? Offer them a safe haven, by making your home and computer available to them.
Is there a health center in your neighborhood that could use a poster or some flyers to hand out? Let us know!
Are you helping a friend or spouse get over emotional abuse? That is hard work, we are here for you too! So feel free to join our community.


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Having gained experience while working for a variety of European non-profits, I am proud to now work with SwanWaters. My connection with the website is not only professional. I am glad to tap into my personal experiences to help those who are living in toxic relationships whether with parents, partners or in their professional life. We need to make the world more aware of the devastating effects of emotional abuse and help more people on their way to heal and thrive.

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