Physical abuse is often the type of abuse that is mentioned in media or the one that is validated in social circles as a marker for abuse. But, there are other types of abuse that are just as important, and which often are the precursors for physical abuse. These are psychological and emotional abuse.
Although intangible for the most part, psychological and emotional abuse can greatly damage a person. Sometimes even more so than physical abuse. This type of unseen abuse can also lead to physical illnesses if it creates high amounts of stress and pressure on the person for long periods.
Even though awareness is being raised more and more on this subject, it is still difficult to identify when someone is being emotionally abused to it not leaving visible or tangible traces. Here at Psych2Go, we have compiled a small list of signs that you’ve been emotionally abused in the hopes that it will help with early identification, and help people get out of abusive relationships.
This article is for information and educational purposes only. It is not meant to diagnose or treat anything. If you become aware that you are living in an abusive relationship please reach out to a mental health professional, abuse advocate, local abuse organization, or the police near you. There is a link to a therapist locator at the end of this article to help with that search.
The next list is by no means conclusive, if you would like more information about the topics discussed below or a more comprehensible list of signs please refer to the sources below. We also encourage that you expand your research by looking up more sources. And now, here are 6 signs you may have been emotionally abused.
Withdrawal can manifest in many forms. It can look like avoiding eye contact, showing fear or hesitancy towards others or a specific person. It can take the form of isolation where the person doesn’t go out or speak to anybody. They may refuse to visit others or have others visit them.
They may communicate less, refuse to follow the rules, refuse medication, and just want to be alone all of the time. Emotionally abused people withdraw to feel safe says the Addiction Center. It may also be to try to avoid or become invisible to the abuser in hopes that the abuse will stop.
But, withdrawal can lead to other serious physical and psychological problems if it’s done for too long. If the person is refusing food, they might lose weight drastically. If they spend too much time alone, they might develop another mental illness or make worse the one they already suffer from.
2- Low-self esteem & Worthlessness
Low-self esteem and worthlessness can be expressed verbally with phrases like “It doesn’t matter, I’m going to die soon”, “I’m not good enough/worthy enough”, “I don’t matter, nobody listens to me” or some variations of those. To identify that low-self esteem or worthlessness is a problem, the person has to be constantly saying these things.
Another way this can manifest is in a refusal to participate in things that they used to enjoy or not doing rituals that they used to do every night or every morning.
3- Changes in appetite or weight
Some abusers take control to the point where they start keeping tabs on what the other person eats, then they try to convince the other person to change their diet. In most cases, these changes in diet are not healthy and keep the victim in a weakened state.
The abused person may keep this mentality even after the events have transpired because they are still convinced that this is the right thing to do, that they will become fat and ugly if they do not continue with it, or that something bad will happen if they don’t.
4- Signs of distress: Frequent Crying or Angry Bursts
When someone has been emotionally abused they may also show signs of distress. They may frequently cry or have bursts of anger and irritability. Due to the abuse, they have become anxious and hypersensitive to people. They try to minimize whatever conflict they think might come if they do something to upset you so they overanalyze.
When the anxiety, the fear, or the trigger becomes too much they may cry uncontrollably. They may also cry if they have flashbacks or think they did something wrong because they think they will get punished or abused again. They can also express anger instead of sadness, in angry outbursts that may or may not make any sense.
This is all of their suppressed emotions and feelings of violation that they developed throughout their abuse, coming out because they finally feel safe enough to let it all out.
5- Blaming themselves for things
Blaming themselves or apologizing often is something that victims of emotional abuse may do a lot. Apologizing to inanimate objects like a chair or a sofa if the person accidentally hit it and apologizing for everything, are two ways this can be represented.
Blaming themselves for small things or things out of their control, are other ways people who were emotionally abused can react. The abuser often tries to shift all blame and guilt onto the victim, making them believe that it was their fault that things went wrong. After some time of repeating this and supposed “reinforcement” of outside events, the victims come to believe this so they will automatically blame themselves and apologize for everything even if they had no way of controlling or knowing about the situation at all.
6- Fears law enforcement officers
Another sign that you may have been emotionally abused or someone near you may have been emotionally abused is an unfounded or extreme fear of law enforcement officers. It is a well-known fact that not everybody likes the police for different reasons, still, there is something to be said when it comes to extreme fear towards them.
It could be possible that this person could have had a bad experience with the police that left them traumatized, but if you know that this person has never had an interaction with the police there may be another cause. Abusers know that what they are doing is wrong, and they are aware of the consequences of their actions which is why they look for ways to prevent their victims from getting help.
One of those ways is to make them believe that the police are bad or something bad will happen if they call them. For example, the abuser might say that if the other person calls the police, the police will take their children and they will never see them again. Or that the abuser will make sure to put the victim in jail for some reason or another.
Whatever their threat or excuse is, the abuser will find a way to make the other person fear the police more so than just the general dislike that many people have of the police.
If you are a victim of emotional abuse, or you suspect that someone is a victim of emotional abuse, we strongly suggest that you reach out to mental health professional near you. Getting that emotional and psychological help will pave the way for you or your loved one to become stronger to leave the abusive relationship. If you are dealing with an elderly person, then calling the police is strongly suggested before anything else.
The WomensLaw website provides different sources and tools for help when dealing with emotional abuse including a psychologist locator to look up advocates, counselors, and local domestic abuse organizations near you.
According to WomensLaw, depending on the state (USA) you are from, you may be able to file criminal charges or you may be able to file a restraining order even though there might not have been any physical abuse happening.
It is scary to reach out for help, but reaching out for help is one of the best ways you have to end the cycle of abuse and get your life back. You are worthy, and you deserve to be happy so get yourself help and don’t look back.
Psychologist Locator for the USA: https://locator.apa.org/
Barclay, R. (2018, February 9). Alienation. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/alienation
Collier, E. (2021, April 12). Signs of Abuse in. . . The Hub | High Speed Training. https://www.highspeedtraining.co.uk/hub/signs-of-abuse-in-adults/
Fletcher, J. (2019, November 21). What are the effects of emotional abuse? Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/327080
National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. (n.d.). Emotional abuse. NSPCC. https://www.nspcc.org.uk/what-is-child-abuse/types-of-abuse/emotional-abuse/
WomensLaw. (2022, February 7). Emotional and Psychological Abuse. WomensLaw.Org. https://www.womenslaw.org/about-abuse/forms-abuse/emotional-and-psychological-abuse