How to recognise emotional abuse
How to recognise emotional abuse
In fact according to Refuge's 1in4 campaign, a quarter of all women in the UK experience domestic abuse. But the aspect of abuse that no-one really talks about, arguably the most toxic, life-altering side is emotional abuse.
In a relationship it can be hard to come to terms with the fact that your partner is abusing you psychologically. No-one’s hitting anyone and after all it’s just words right? Everyone says things they regret when they’re angry?
But the fact is emotional abuse is abuse like any other. And like physical abuse, the wounds left can last a lifetime but can also be harder to heal. “It’s important to break the myth that abuse is only ‘real’ if it involves bruises,” says Sandra Horley, CBE, chief executive of domestic abuse charity Refuge.
Emotional abuse, or mental or psychological abuse is a big problem in the UK. Often emotional abuse can lead to a violent relationship and when two women a week are killed by their current or ex-partners, emotional abuse is not something to be underestimated. Don’t think that it’s just older, married women who are at risk. A recent YouGov survey confirmed that women from 16-19, and thereafter 20-24 are the most at-risk age groups for these types of abusive relationships. Futhermore emotional abuse can take place in any relationship, old or young, heterosexual, gay or lesbian.
We talked more to the Women’s charity Refuge and victims of emotional abuse to get the full picture of how this affects relationships and what can be done to support women, men and teens who are victims of emotional or psychological abuse within their intimate relationships.
What is emotional abuse?
Emotional abuse can vary in exact detail but the main thrust is that one partner seeks to dominate and control the other in their relationship.
Sandra says emotional abuse can manifest in various forms of manipulation. “Emotional abuse can involve a range of behaviours designed to frighten, confuse and isolate a woman (or man). This can include name-calling, undermining, threats and humiliation. Abusers may isolate their partner from friends and family, or use jealousy as a way of controlling their movements.”
Often in cases of emotional abuse most victims believe what is happening is their fault, will try anything to please their partner or have difficulty believing that what is happening is a form of abuse in the first place.
“A recent survey by Refuge and Avon, for example, found that over half of respondents either disagreed or didn’t know if extreme jealously constitutes domestic violence," says Sandra.
Emotional abuse is a complex issue. Having the person who supposedly loves you the most turn on you for no apparent reason is incredibly hard to come to terms with. Often behaviour can be explained away by stress, or the fact they might be ‘going through a hard time’ but more often than not these partners are crystal clear in their intentions to bully, intimidate and control their partner and that kind of behaviour does not go away.
The main thing about an emotionally or psychologically abusive relationship is control and it can come in any shape or form.
There is no ‘type’ of domestic abuser, they don’t come from a particular class, or a particular group.
If you followed the high profile case of Anna Larke and Justin Lee Collins - who made her sleep facing towards him, list all her sexual partners in graphic detail then test her on the answers, subject her to humiliation and degradation on a frequent basis – you can see that even the most charming of men can be perpetrators of abuse.
What are the warning signs of an abusive partner:
In any situation of abuse, prevention is better than cure and for many abusive relationships the warning signs are there from the beginning.
Knowing what to look out for is important. If a member of your family or one of your friends is being abused – which if we take the stats, the likelihood is that somebody you know will be – it is vital that the signs of abuse are recognised before it is too late.
If your partner (or the boyfriend/husband/girlfriend/wife of someone you know) acts in these ways they could be emotionally abusing you (or someone you know):
If your partner:
One woman who suffered abuse for 3 years said that her partner would continually subject her to all these things.
She says: “She criticised my choices - in clothes, friends, work. I'd previously had a relationship with a man and had a child with him. She would deliberately call him my 'boyfriend' and accuse me of continuing my relationship with him, even though we'd been separated more than 5 years.”
This escalated to continually accusing her of affairs, monitoring her activity with the people that surrounded her: “She checked my phone obsessively & shouted at me if I hadn't told her about a text I received.“
All of these actions count as emotional abuse but leaving your partner is easier said than done. What might look like a simple solution from an outside perspective can seem like a complete nightmare when you are experiencing it.
As with any relationship, the longer you are together, the harder it gets to leave but don’t worry, there is help out there.
Thankfully the UK Government is well aware of the risks of domestic abuse and later on this month there will be changes to what constitutes domestic abuse to include controlling, coercive and threatening behaviour.
Stalking laws have been amended and passed laws like Clare’s Law allow women to check if their partner has had a history of violence. There are also plenty of other charities and organisations that can help.
Refuge is a charity that specialises in providing emergency accommodation and safe houses for women. Sandra says: “At Refuge, we help women to understand that they are not to blame for the abuse. We help women and children to rebuild their lives, free from fear.”
Charities like Women's Aid as well as being a hub of information and support for victims of domestic abuse, also includes a large forum of survivors of abusive relationships where women and men alike can reach out to each other.
Separate charities like Cassandra Learning and the NSPCC offer specially tailored help for young adult victims under the age of 25.
There are also supportive networks for men who have experienced abuse from their partners. Mankind Initiative is for male victims of emotional or physical abuse.
There are campaigns backed by Government and authorities like the UN which aim to educate and eradicate violence against women which you can get involved in, including End Violence Against Women. The more people who raise awareness of domestic abuse in all its forms, the less likely it will be that perpetrators will get away with the abuse -every single supporter counts!
After the isolation of domestic abuse it can be hard for victims to adapt, this is where organisations like SEEDS comes in where survivors can have their voices heard by those planning and providing domestic abuse services. As well as this Sue Penna Associates concentrates on raising the profile of domestic abuse and offers training and research about abusive relationships. If you want to know more about domestic abuse then any of these organisations can help.
On top of this network or support for victims there are also organisations in place to rehabilitate perpetrators of abuse. One of these is Respect; a membership organisation where perpetrators of domestic abuse can go to get counselling, anger management and some form of rehabilitation.
What to do if you think your friend is being emotionally abused:
Less than 24% of domestic abuse cases are reported at all, so increasing awareness and support will give women and men the confidence to fight back and take control of their lives.
Abusers will carry on abusing so it is up to friends, family and the government to ensure that victims can be protected - we're all in this together.
Article Plan How to recognise emotional abuse