by Oluseye Igbafe
Emotional abuse can be quite difficult to recognize by abused persons; and even by family and friends. This is because it doesn’t leave any physical scar and is often done behind closed doors. It is difficult to recognize because the abuse often starts as a normal relationship conflict.
Worse still, emotional abuse can sometimes reinforce the negative perceptions and emotions that victims already have of themselves, thereby, making it seem as though the abuse or criticism is not only true but deserved. This is more true for those with pre-existing self-esteem issues.
The first step to stopping emotional abuse is recognizing it; recognizing abuse is a huge part of stopping itself. When you are able to tell yourself, "s/he's wrong" or "this isn't right", you are half the way to saying, "stop this behavior".
To spot abuse please read my article to see the warning signs here
9 Steps to Stopping the Abuse
Once you have spotted emotional abuse, it is time to face up to it and stop it. In most cases, abusive people do not change. If you are therefore not married to the abuser, it is best you break off the relationship and walk away. If, however, you are married and have children and do decide to remain in the relationship, then below are possible things to do to stop the abuse.
1. Have a Strong Support System: Have strong and meaningful relationships outside your partner. Have good friends and keep in touch with your family; talk to your family/friends/counselors regularly. Refuse to be isolated from your friends as their support will give you emotional balance.
2. Build Your Self-Esteem: Don’t internalize every criticism; believe in yourself. No one is perfect and you probably are not more flawed than the others, so reject every attempt to bring you down. Recognize that you have a right to be who you are. Celebrate yourself and focus on the positives.
3. Set boundaries on emotional outbursts: You need to inform your abuser that you will not tolerate emotional abuse: you have to be adamant about this. Let your partner know that you are open to hearing his concerns about your actions and how they affect him, but will no longer engage in conversations that attack who you are as a person.
4. Don’t appear upset: Your abuser thrives on his ability to hurt you, try to remain calm and unaffected. If possible remain upbeat. Smile as though you did not hear the abusive words. Crying and sadness would feed his desire to hurt you.
5. Refrain from engaging in tit-for-tat: This is easier said than done but it is better to keep calm and refuse to descend into exchange of words as this may escalate into violence. Also, you want to set the standard for right and respectful communication. Do not be tempted into trying to beat them at their own game: Two wrongs don’t make a right!
6. Talk About It When Everyone is Calm: Realize that this is a problem and would not go away on its own. You need to let your abuser know what s/he is doing wrong; do this after everybody has calmed down. If you believe this will trigger another attack, then don't do it alone. Make sure you have a trusted friend, a mediator, or a counselor in the room with you.
i. State how you feel when s/he insults you, yells, calls you names, tries to control you, etc. E.g. "I feel sad, hurt, and angry when you insult me.")
ii. Set your boundaries: Let s/he know that you will not allow them treat you this way anymore. (e.g. "I love you but I am not going to let you treat me like that anymore.")
iii. State how you would like them to treat you instead. For example, "I want you to talk to me about problems without calling me names, comparing me to people you don't like, or making fun of me."
iv. State what you will do if they don't treat you with respect and continue to be abusive. For instance, "If you insult me and speak to me disrespectfully, I will not reply or I will leave the room.
v. State what you will do if the behavior continues repeatedly and be willing to follow through. (e.g. "If you continue to insult me we will need to either go into counseling or end the relationship/marriage as I do not wish to live in such abuse.")
7. Get Counseling for Yourself: Counseling is important as it provides you with the support you need to make strong decisions. Make sure you see a counselor who is unbiased and has some form of professional training.
8. Get Counseling for Each Other: If you wish to continue the relationship, it's a good idea to go to counseling together to learn better ways of communicating. If you cannot go into counseling together, then each of you should at least go into counseling individually. Even if your abuser refuses to go into counseling, still go into counseling by yourself, for yourself.
9. Take Responsibility For Your Life: Realize that it is your life and the only life you will live; take responsibility for your life. Never believe you don’t deserve better. If your abuser makes no commitment to change, then it might be best to leave or seek help.
Finally, If you try to end the abuse and it doesn't change, then you must make the decision that is best for you and for your children (if any). Growing up in an abusive environment can also impact your children negatively.
Recognize that you deserve better, no matter what your abuser is telling you. Don't linger in an abusive relationship.
Don't become a victim.