When you consider what domestic violence is, you likely have those scary images in your head of an outraged partner physically attacking his wife or worse, their children, resulting in a frantic 911 emergency call. While – of course – violence is not only terrifying but damaging, the much more common type of abuse has nothing to do with someone using his hands, but rather, his words. In fact, therapists often say that many people (especially women) are emotionally abused every single day without realizing it.
“Emotional abuse can happen in any relationship once in awhile or continuously. I think that most people at one point in their lives have experienced some form of emotional abuse. Berating a person, yelling at them, calling them names, making them feel less than, all of this would constitute emotional abuse. At the base of emotional abuse is that the victim is made to feel bad about themselves. Emotional abuse can be dangerous if the person allows themselves to be abused, and then begins to put themselves down,” explains Dr. Dawn Michael, clinical sexologist and relationship expert.
You’re getting yelled at for nothing.
Every couple – no matter how much of a match you are for one another – has disagreements. Therapists actually say that arguing within a relationship can be healthy, as it helps you better communicate to your partner and can help widen your own perspective. But there’s a difference between bickering over who last walked the dog and your partner screaming at you inappropriately. “We call this the feeling of ‘walking on eggshells’ or in other words, when even the smallest mistakes you make has the person getting mad at you. This in turn can cause a person to become nervous around that person and make even more mistakes,” Michael explains. “This one is particularly insidious because if you do something small that they don’t like, your expectation would be that they either brush it off or say nicely not to do it, but a person who yells at the small stuff is usually a person that is controlling and has very little patience and therefore allows little mistakes to upset them. For instance, one time you don’t put the toothpaste cap on and they scream at you and tell you that you don’t care about them because you left the cap off.”
They say sly remarks that beat your confidence.
Though your boyfriend might tease you for the way you peel an orange or the crazy way you like to eat your french fries with ranch dressing and ketchup, an abusive partner will carefully say certain things that rub you the wrong way. Not only is it a tactic to always have the upper hand, those remarks overtime beat down your confidence and lead you to rely more solely on him for your own self-worth. “An emotionally abusive partner will put you down, instead of lift you up. Instead of complimenting you, they put you down, which can make you feel bad about yourself. They may say that if you were smarter you would have a better job, or if you lost weight people would like you more. It can even be putting you down to make you feel small so they feel better about themselves. This is not a nice person!”
They always result to name-calling.
Of all the things your partner should call you – derogatory and demeaning names are not terms of endearment or affection. Instead, they are a way of making you feel negative about yourself or to win an argument. “When couples argue it is not that they argue because all couples do, but how they argue. When name calling is a part of the argument its effects are lasting,” Michael explains. “Once it comes out of your mouth you can’t put it back in. Name calling is very immature as well as a way to gain control rather than resolve a problem and what happens over time is that the person being called names just begins to lose all respect for the other person.”
What should you do?
In so many words: stand up for yourself and get out of the relationship stat. “If your gut tells you that it is feeling abusive, then it is. Don’t brush it under the covers and take it, stand up for yourself and let that person know that you are not going to take it from them, if they can’t get their anger under control them they need to get help,” Michael says. “There are only so many times a person can apologize for being abusive. If they continue to do so then tell them that when they act that way you will not engage with them and walk away from them until they can cool down and be respectful. If you find yourself fighting back stop yourself, and walk away, because then it just becomes heated with no resolve, don’t stoop to their levels.”
About the Author: Lindsay Tigar is a 26-year-old single writer, editor, and blogger living in New York City. She started her popular dating blog, Confessions of a Love Addict, after one too many terrible dates with tall, emotionally unavailable men (her personal weakness) and is now developing a book about it, represented by the James Fitzgerald Agency. She writes for eHarmony, YourTango, REDBOOK, and more. When she isn’t writing, you can find her in a boxing or yoga class, booking her next trip, sipping red wine with friends or walking her cute pup, Lucy.