Emotional abuse, like other types of abuse, tends to take the form of a cycle. In a relationship, this cycle starts when one partner emotionally abuses the other, typically to show dominance. The abuser then feels guilt, but not about what he (or she) has done, but more over the consequences of his actions. The abuser then makes up excuses for his own behaviour to avoid taking responsibility over what has happened. The abuser then resumes "normal" behaviour as if the abuse never happened and may, in fact, be extra charming, apologetic, and giving – making the abused party believe that the abuser is sorry. The abuser then begins to fantasize about abusing his partner again and sets up a situation in which more emotional abuse can take place.
If you feel worse about yourself and second guess what you do or say or believe routinely after you talk to the person, then there is likely to be some emotional abuse. If your partner belittles you, yells at you or tries to make you feel like what you feel or have experienced is wrong, then that person is definitely abusive.
Researching this subject for my forthcoming book on this issue ‘Inviolate’ I discovered that most women get into abusive relationships because they did not recognize the signs that person was likely to be abusive. Perhaps some of the women set the bar too low because they were used to being abused by one or both of their parents. Often survivors or victims of this treat the abuse as a learning experience, becoming a kind of emotional alchemist, turning the worthless and painful parts of this experience into the pure gold of knowledge.
Almost everyone has grown up with the proverb: 'Sticks and stones may break my bones' - the meaning and origin of this phrase
It’s well meaning, this phrase. A sign of bravery standing up to a bully, “you can harm me physically, if you choose to, but your words will not harm me.” It’s well meant bravado. It is not coming from someone who is lived through emotional abuse though.
However, some people use the phrase as if it is interchangeable with abuse. The use it as if it is some sort of proof statement instead of an old adage that has just been handed down. These people are very strong deniers of emotional abuse, there some here at Quora even. There are some everywhere. It’s not like you can ever really get away from all of them. You will find them in almost every city, every reasonable size internet forum. For some reason they even have to troll the survivor forums of emotional abuse every now and then until caught and kicked off.
These hardliners, the ones that must absolutely deny emotional abuse are often doing a process called “othering.” That is, they are trying to make the person who is describing emotional abuse as damaging sound like the one who is crazy. It’s a process not too dissimilar to gaslighting except it has a different source. The source of othering is self-defense and fear.
If emotional abuse is that real, then they and their loved ones are all in danger. They don’t know how to deal with that. There is nothing that they can do to prevent or fix that. There is no abuser yet to attack to save their children and siblings from suffering this kind of abuse. So to prevent being helpless, they attack the victim of emotional abuse in order to feel safer.
How does this help? If emotional abuse is not real. then their family and friends are all safe. So they isolate and attack the emotional abuse victim to make their story sound impossible. [Emotional abuse is impossible. Words cannot hurt. That is impossible.] They go on the attack.
Othering happens in small ways all the time. Psychologically we use it everyday. It’s not always this bad. But it can be. Even politics can get so severe us-vs-them that there can never be a compromise because they are the “others.” So it’s not surprising when it shows up in other actions as well.
Saurav is the author of the forthcoming book ‘Inviolate’ discussing the issue of psychological control and domestic abuse. Exclusive forewords to the book are written by UN speaker and human rights activist Mandy Sanghera and Polly Harrar, founder of The Sharan Project, who is a leading expert on forced marriages and honour based abuse and has been supporting women for over 20 years. You can follow Saurav on Twitter at @sd_saurav
Saurav Dutt is the Guardian Books and LA Times Book short-listed British author of fiction and nonfiction works. He wrote for The Guardian, The Independent; he is a novelist, independent film producer, playwright, screenwriter, graphic design illustrator and above all, an accomplished author and [...]