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A Guide to Key Information on Emotional Abuse.
A Guide to Key Information on Emotional Abuse.
A Guide to Key Information on Emotional Abuse I personally believe that emotional abuse happens due to the lack of awareness of Key Information. This brief guide about emotional abuse intends to provide such information in order for people to be able to find new and healthier ways to interact with each other. I hope you will find it useful and that you will benefit from the information in this guide. I What is Emotional Abuse? Although there isn’t an accurate definition of emotional abuse, we can define it as the psychological mistreatment of one person from another. Like any other type of abuse, emotional abuse is a form of violence and aggression. It can take place at home, school or college, work, or within a social environment. It is an improper and disrespectful way to relate to and interact with other people. Emotional abuse has diverse consequences which include the Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Depression, Alcoholism, Substance Abuse, and also Suicide, and other mental and/or medical health problems (like ulcers, etc.) Who is Involved? Emotional abuse is a problem that involves two or more people. The abuser and the victim of abuse, and some times, third parties who can be “accomplices or partners in crime” o act as “advocates or judges”, siding with either the abuser o the victim. In order for the abuse to take place, there has to be a frustrated person who is unable to find healthy ways to interact with others, and who channels his or her frustration mistreating or humiliating others. And also, there has to be a “victim” who, for some reason, allows abuse to occur. It’s important to remember that… “It takes two to have a fight” 1 “Key Information to Understanding Emotional Abuse” © Mariana Barrancos 2008 – All Rights Reserved www.abusoemocional.com Arbitrators and Witnesses Sometimes, a third person (or more people) can be present, witnessing the abuse. This observation can be passive, without participating in the abuse, or the witness(es) can get involved, siding with the abuser or advocating for the victim (rescuing the victim. It’s important to point out that if the third party involved does not act as an impartial arbitrator, helping to solve the problem, then his or her actions (supporting the abuser, or advocating for the victim’s rights) can have a highly negative impact. Examples: An employer belittles an employee in front of his co-workers, telling him he is good for nothing. Perhaps one of his co-workers reacts in defense of the victim of abuse (in this case, it’s a verbal emotional abuse), or maybe, another co-worker makes fun of the abused employee, finding it funny that the victim is being verbally abused. In both cases, the co-workers are reinforcing the idea of abuse. They are not helping to solve it, even if their intention is to defend the victim’s rights. When we attempt to “rescue” another person, speaking on his or her behalf, we are also degrading him or her. In some way, we are taking for granted that this person is really “good for nothing” and is unable to speak for himself. This only emphasizes the emotional abuse of the employee by the employer. Conversely, if the co-workers neither defend nor laugh at the abused employee, and talk to the victim once the employer is gone, they might be able to help the abused employee understand he or she has the right to be treated with respect and dignity. This would be a healthy approach when a third party is involved. When we witness an incident of emotional abuse, it is crucial to be objective. We should not side with the abuser nor try to rescue the victim. Ideally, we should try to talk in private with both parties to help them understand that emotional abuse is wrong, it’s unhealthy and it’s not a proper way to interact with others. We don’t need to be a professional therapist to give a positive point of view that may help the abuser and the victim. But it’s vital to be fair, objective, a good observer and have a sound common sense and a high degree of empathy. Different Scenarios Where Emotional Abuse Occurs Emotional abuse happens more often in romantic relationships, and also between parents and their children, employers and employees, faculty and students, authorities and citizens, or just between friends and peers. When abuse occurs in a setting where the abuser has a higher degree of authority or a higher rank than the victim –such as in the case of the employer and the employee- we can say it embodies a fair example of Power (emotional) Abuse. 2 “Key Information to Understanding Emotional Abuse” © Mariana Barrancos 2008 – All Rights Reserved www.abusoemocional.com Likewise, this kind of emotional abuse can occur between parents and children, particularly in young children o school age children. When children turn, approximately, 12 or 13 years old, they start to "rebel" against authority. They don’t rebel against authority because they are "rebels without a cause" or just because, but because they start questioning other people’s criteria or perspective, including that of their own peers, and start shaping their own point of view and judgment. Nowadays, many children have already become "free thinkers" at a much younger age. II What does Emotional Abuse consist of? Emotionally abusing a person means his or her self esteem in undermined, he or she is psychologically degraded, feelings of insecurity are instilled, or the abuser makes the victim feel he or she has no worth as a human being. The victim is belittled, criticized, verbally or physically mistreated, ignored, humiliated, laughed at, or denigrated among other things. When I (personally) speak to physical abuse, I’m not referring only (or specifically) to physical violence or harm –either domestic or social- I’m also referring to physical neglect. For example: a mother may not address her children's basic needs (like having enough and proper clothing in winter, or clean clothes and in good shape,) or she doesn’t supervise the personal hygiene of her children, or she skips breakfast before she sends them to school. This mother is emotionally abusing her children in a physical way; she is physically neglecting them, even if she is not beating them. Later on we will discuss the various different types of abuse which all have a severe impact on the mental health of the victims. When children are victims of emotional abuse, they will exhibit diverse problems as adults regarding the relationships they will establish with other people and the way they will interact with others, and in some cases, they may become abusers themselves. This is why it is also critical to understand what leads an abuser to abuse his or her victim. In most cases, this is due to the fact that abusers did not have a sound reference role model during their childhood, and they may have been victims de abuse or they may have witnessed emotional abuse at home, school or their social circle. The Cycle of Abuse Just like many other problems and conditions, emotional abuse has different phases or stages. It usually starts with the building-up of tensions that trigger the specific act of abuse, and often ends with apologizes and/or excuses. After a while, the incident is forgotten, until new tension starts building up and another incident of abuse takes place. Below we will see a simple sketch of the cycle of abuse and we will discuss its different phases. 3 “Key Information to Understanding Emotional Abuse” © Mariana Barrancos 2008 – All Rights Reserved www.abusoemocional.com Stages or Phases of the Cycle of Abuse As we have mentioned before, there’s an initial phase where tensions start building up through a given period of time. This time frame varies and might be a matter of days or hours, or even larger or shorter periods of time. Next, a specific incident of abuse occurs, and the victim is abused. Last, once the negative energy that comes from anger or frustration has been released, apologies or excuses follow and, sometimes, the abuse will attempt even to justify his or her actions and later on, the incident of emotional abuse is “forgotten”. Here is a very simple example: A middle-class woman, who financially depends on her husband, has a very common addiction. She spends all day on the phone talking with her friends. Since she doesn’t have a career or children to take care of, and since her husband works out of the home all day long, se is bored and the only thing she does every day is pay "phone visits" to her friends, to talk about unimportant things. Every end of month, when the phone bill arrives, her husband gets really angry at her because of the amount he has to pay. Depending on the degree of reaction and the current situation at that time, a significant argument can take place, where the husband can blame his wife for the excessive expense or verbally abuse her, and he can even get to abuse her physically. Also, the wife may react in different ways. She can argue even more harshly, advocating for her right to speak on the phone or justifying the expense. Or she may feel guilty and accept the aggression and being humiliated, trying to placate the abuser. Levels or degrees of reaction 4 “Key Information to Understanding Emotional Abuse” © Mariana Barrancos 2008 – All Rights Reserved www.abusoemocional.com All of us have different levels of reaction. And even the same person may react with a different intensity before similar incidents or scenarios. For example: if a mother sees her toddler about to stick his fingers in a wall outlet, the most common reaction is to shout at him NO! Other mothers may not only yell NO, but also, they may hit the toddler’s hand. Also, some mothers, apart from yelling or hitting, may lecture the toddler making him feel awkward or silly. But there’s also mothers who hold their breath, rush to their child, take him away from danger and explain to him that if his puts his fingers in a wall outlet he will hurt himself badly, and they emphasize how important it is not to do so. None of these mothers, regardless of how they react, intend to emotionally abuse their child on purpose. They simply don’t want their child to get hurt. But, there are ways and ways to set boundaries and say “NO”. There are constructive ways and destructive ways, or to say it differently, positive and negative ways. Emotional abuse falls within the destructive or negative ways to set limits or say “NO”. The levels or degrees of reaction vary, from minimizing an incident to overreact or react in an exaggerated way. And these different levels of reaction also depend on the situation the person is facing at the time. For example, if a student is failing his college courses and fails in another exam he might insult the faculty or feel his professor is mocking him. Also, he may channel his frustration at home, mistreating his parents or siblings, or within his social circle, verbally abusing his friends or his girlfriend. It’s like “somebody has to pay for the negative experiences he is going through.” In the case of the man whose wife was addicted to "phone visits" with her friends, when the alarm clock goes off, he may smash it against the wall instead of turning it off, or maybe he will push his wife out of bed and “demand” his breakfast served fast. When a person feels frustrated, they usually feel anger and need to vent or channel this negative energy, somehow. And again, when a person feels frustrated, they may not feel anger but fall in a deep state of depression o apathy. For example, the wife who spent all day long on the phone, may feel humiliated by the verbal aggression of her husband and get depressed. She may feel apathetic and with no energy or willpower to take care of 5 “Key Information to Understanding Emotional Abuse” © Mariana Barrancos 2008 – All Rights Reserved www.abusoemocional.com the house chores or to take care of her personal appearance, look for a job, study, or do anything to keep herself busy. Sometimes, some victims of abuse feel so depressed that they abuse themselves other people, like their children, for instance. They may not pay attention to them, or not take care of them, letting them “do whatever they want” because they don't feel capable enough to set limits or play her role as a mother. This, in the first example (of all), the employee who is being humiliated by his boss at work, may feel he is unable to set boundaries at home as well. He may think of himself as “weak”. Or he may feel very frustrated professionally or feel he has no worth as a human being. And when he gets home, he may make his family pay for his frustration, either verbally abusing them or ignoring them. To ignore someone or a person's needs is also a form of emotional abuse. Maybe it’s a more painful way of hurting others. This is why, sometimes, some people would rather put up with emotional abuse (verbal, physical, etc.) rather than be ignored. They prefer to get pity strokes or crumbs of affection before getting “indifference”, hence they allow emotional abuse to occur. They don’t know other healthier ways to interact with others. III Emotional Abuse Can Be Avoided, Prevented, Stopped and/or Solved The problem of emotional abuse it’s not a problem that cannot be solved. Also, it doesn’t take to be an expert in the subject to solve it or stop it. Of course, a good therapy (individual, group, for couples, or for families) will always help more than to try to solve it by ourselves. But, even when we are receiving therapy, it’s US –ultimately- who decide to stop the abuse or not allow it, and see sound ways to solve it. When we are part of the problem, it’s more difficult to see things from “the outside”. There are many emotional aspects at stake. The victim of abuse (or the abuser, too) may no wish to go on with this type of unhealthy mistreatment, but they may just don’t know what to do to stop it. All of us have different life experiences. We have different viewpoints - not only about relationships but also about the way we see other people and ourselves. Some people simply feel they are capable, while this is not true. Sometimes, it’s all just about some “labels” we have internalized since our childhood. 6 “Key Information to Understanding Emotional Abuse” © Mariana Barrancos 2008 – All Rights Reserved www.abusoemocional.com If during our childhood we were repeatedly told we were a “bad kid” or a “good for nothing”, it is possible that we will grow up believe that and, later on in life, seek to interact with people who will reinforce that idea. But this does not necessarily mean we are bad or useless. In order to prevent or solve the problem of emotional abuse, it is critical to become aware of the fact that ALL of us have the same right to be respected and accepted for we are. Please note that we are always referring to ordinary people and scenarios. It is not the same, for instance, in the case of a murderer or a rapist. Even though their human rights must be respected, these kinds of people need to be restricted or confined in order to protect the safety of others, and when possible, they should get therapy and social rehab treatment to help them solve their problems so that they can’t hurt anybody else. The line between what’s considered a crime or “insanity” and what is considered a psychological “problem” it’s not too clear. There are too many facts we need to consider when we try to solve the problem of abuse. Among them, we can find the level of intellectual capacity of a person, this is to say, if this persona can rationally understand or not what he or she is doing (be it the victim or the abuser). Sometimes, when a person is unable to see or understand, or chooses (for some reason) not to see or understand an abusive relationship or a particular incident of abuse, we feel that talking to them it's like "talking to the wall", and the chances of finding a solution of mutual agreement are minimal. In such cases, it’s important to reflect on the possibility of "leaving that place” (place = role). What we are trying to say here, it's that sometimes, it’s important to realize when it’s time to cut our losses within a relationship, be it a romantic relationship, a work or business relationship or any other kind of unhealthy relationship. “People only change if they decide to do so” It is only when we become aware that we do not “have to” tolerate emotional abuse, and we can really choose from other options to interact with others in a healthier way, that we can start seeing the problem from the outside and stop it, prevent it in the future and/or solve it. Something we should never forget about is the fact that no one should make decisions for us and we should not make decisions for others. We cannot blame others for not understanding our point of view. We should rather ask ourselves whether we are delivering a clear message or if we are trying to start a conversation with someone who, maybe, lacks the necessary level of development or the intellect to understand what we are trying to explain. Each person is unique and has had different life experiences. Some may be similar to those of other people, but ultimately, they are the pillars of our opinions and the way we see and interpret things. Each person has their own particular standpoint, a personal perspective, and this does not mean that one perspective is 7 “Key Information to Understanding Emotional Abuse” © Mariana Barrancos 2008 – All Rights Reserved www.abusoemocional.com good or bad, or better or worse than that of another person. Sometimes, they are just different perspectives, different ways to approach life, or different opinions on a given subject. And every person has the right and the freedom to choose among those options he or she deems more adequate. We cannot force a person to accept our views or ideas to solve a problem, and we cannot impose on them our way of thinking (just because we believe it’s the right one or that we are right, even if this were the case). IV Emotional Abuse and the Law In some countries, emotional abuse is considered a crime and it’s punished by the law. Each country’s culture vary and the laws in each country are based on their culture, political and/or religious principles, hence, in some countries emotional abuse is legally considered a crime, while in others it is not. V Some Possible Causes As we stated before, frustration is one of the main causes that can lead a person to channel his or her negative emotions by abusing others. Now, where does that frustration come for? Frequently, they come from very high expectations or non realistic expectations. Also, they come from an ineffective way of communication. More often, people tend to cope with minor incidents of abuse and let tensions build up, pouring them lately on an act of abuse. To live in touch with reality is vital to avoid falling in a situation of emotional abuse. Below we have listed some simple examples of some of the possible causes that take an abuser to commit emotional abuse and the victim to allow it: Inferiority complex of the abuser or the victim. A low self-esteem. Feelings of frustration, anger, or other negative emotions that are not processed properly. 8 “Key Information to Understanding Emotional Abuse” © Mariana Barrancos 2008 – All Rights Reserved www.abusoemocional.com Unhealthy reference role models during childhood. An abuser may have been a victim of emotional abuse or a witness of an abusive relationship. Unresolved inner problems that lead to depression or aggression. Intellectual or developmental incapacity (immaturity) to understand and utilize different ways to interact with other people in a more adequate way. Need to exert control over others or need to be controlled. Emotional insecurity, lack of self-confidence. Lack of knowledge of Key Information on Emotional Abuse. We need to bear in mind, too, the cultural values and traditions, the religious beliefs and/or political views, the family traditions, the social environment, the family environment and the character of each person, their personality, forged by the unique experiences they have had. Typically, a child who is raised within a conservative family will grow up with values that are totally different from those of a child brought up in a more open minded or unconventional family. In some countries, it is considered culturally “wrong” that two lady friends go out together and meet for a coffee at a coffee shop, without the company of a man. In this kind of countries, if the man does not allow the woman meet a female friend for a coffee without her husband being present, it would not be considered an abuse because according to their own cultural values “it’s wrong for two women to go out on their own”. While the same scenario in other countries, this is if a man does not allow a woman to meet a lady friend for a coffee and chat, the law considers the man is violating the woman’s rights and restricting her freedom. Hence, the cultural background of each person is important. Likewise, the intellectual level of the people is equally important. If parents are excessively demanding and harsh with their child and this child suffers from a developmental or mental delay, then they are abusing their child because he would never be able to meet his parents’ expectations (even if he wanted to. VI Profile of the Abuser There are different types of abusers and different levels of abuse. Generally, abusers are people with a strong psychological or emotional immaturity, and probably, they have been a victim of abuse during their childhood or a witness of an abusive relationship, and they have not been able to learn better and healthier ways to interact with others. Often times, low self-esteem, lack of self-confidence and frustration lead a person to feel he or she needs to control other people or constantly degrade them. 9 “Key Information to Understanding Emotional Abuse” © Mariana Barrancos 2008 – All Rights Reserved www.abusoemocional.com Among the most common characteristic of abusers, we can list the following: They have a low level of tolerance, a volatile temper and any minimal incident triggers their negative reaction. They are very insecure, excessively possessive and jealous. They feel a strong need to control others or restrict their rights and freedom. They need submissive people willing to obey their rules. Often, they have very superficial relationships with different partners. They don’t commit. They have unrealistic expectations. They are very demanding. They give orders, they don’t ask. They have a great ability to deceive others and they also deceive themselves often. They blame other about their own problems, or they blame the world, life, their luck or a particular situation. They never acknowledge the harm they cause. They are inconsiderate and never show empathy towards others. Usually, they have a dual personality: they can be charming and cruel at the same time. These are very general characteristics. We also need to remember that each person is unique, and an abuser may exhibit some personal traits that other abusers may not have. Abusers may be either male or female, and they can also be parents, employers, teachers, law enforcement agents, friends, etc. Here are other common characteristics of abusers and the different types of abuse: The abuser makes the victim feel responsible for his emotions. He threatens the victim. He insults, humiliates, verbally or physically attacks the victim. He makes the victim feel guilty so he can justify his abuse. He needs to be the center of all conversations and needs undivided attention. 10 “Key Information to Understanding Emotional Abuse” © Mariana Barrancos 2008 – All Rights Reserved www.abusoemocional.com He refuses to apologize because he is always right. Judges or criticizes the victim or what the victim does. Uses punishments and rewards to emotionally manipulate the victim. Invades the victim’s privacy. Underestimates the victim, minimizes the importance of the victim’s needs and feelings, or ignores them. Abusers usually have a sharp natural perception -most of the times they unaware of it- about the weaknesses of the victim. Emotional abuse occurs when a person allows it to occur (expect for victims who are children, disabled people, or some elderly). We are not trying to justify the abuser, but it is very important to understand that the victim also plays a crucial role in the emotional abuse. VII Profile of the Victim As it happens with abusers, victims usually allow abuse mainly because they are unaware or ignore other healthier ways of interacting with people. Also, as we have already seen in the case of abusers, it’s possible that victims of emotional abuse may have been victims of abuse during childhood or they may have witnessed abusive relationships. Victims of emotional abuse tend to feel unable to set boundaries or be in control of their own life. They usually depend on others, emotionally or financially, or both; and they lack good judgment and a realistic standpoint that could allow them to see with clarity and objectivity what’s right and what’s wrong. These are some common characteristics of the victims of emotional abuse: They have a low self-esteem. They tend to be very insecure, and anxious. They have a submissive personality. They feel inferior to others. They depend on others, emotionally and financially. They feel they don’t deserve to be respected as human beings. They have unrealistic expectations. 11 “Key Information to Understanding Emotional Abuse” © Mariana Barrancos 2008 – All Rights Reserved www.abusoemocional.com They feel they need to be controlled (or “protected”) by others. They are excessively tolerant and accommodating. They don’t stand for their rights. They deceive themselves by thinking that –one day- magically, the abuser will change. The blame themselves on other people’s problems, or they blame it on the world, or life, or luck or a given situation. They are not aware of the fact that they allow abuse to occur. They don’t feel they are capable to succeed by themselves. They tend to have a difficult time with setting boundaries and saying "No”. They believe they can “change” the abuser. Usually, they are psychologically weak people who have learned to be content receiving “crumbs of affection” and they prefer to receive “pity strokes” rather than be ignored. They are afraid of growing old alone or being unemployed, they believe they will not be able to find something better than what they have until now. We may also argue that there’s some level of “comfort” on the victim’s side, since –somehow- the victim chooses to put up with the abuse as a way to avoid growing up and being in charge of his/her own life. The victim chooses to let others make decisions for him/her, or chooses to be financially supported, etc. To some extent, the victim chooses (whether consciously or unconsciously) to pay a high price for that level of comfort that allows him/her not to make any changes, or not to grow, and not to make his/her own decisions, set boundaries, and succeed in life. At the same time, they live between depression, due to the lack of self-achievement, and frustration, because of the continuous controlling and belittling attitude from the abuser. Often times, victims of emotional abuse allow abuse to occur because they feel they don’t have anything to live for, as it happens with some older people. VIII Signs and Symptoms of Emotional Abuse When we interact with other people, it’s important to learn to pay close attention to these people’s attitude and response, beyond their obvious words. When we learn to read between the lines, we realize that there are some red flags or alerts, or what we call signs and symptoms that will allow us recognize an abuser or a potentially abusive relationship. Some symptoms are more evident than others, and some are more subtle. 12 “Key Information to Understanding Emotional Abuse” © Mariana Barrancos 2008 – All Rights Reserved www.abusoemocional.com Let’s start by analyzing a simple example: An excessively ambitious person, who is also unscrupulous, selfish, and inconsiderate with others, usually tends to belittle his/her peers, and will often project that attitude towards most aspects of his/her life (at work, in love, in his/her social life, etc.) The ability to abuse someone emotionally is conveyed through verbal and non verbal messages that can be obvious or subtle. It is also important to consider how we feel in front of certain people. Do we feel comfortable with them or do we feel uncomfortable in their presence? Or, do we feel we have to be careful regarding what we do and say so as not to upset this person? Can we just be ourselves o do we have to someone different so as to be accepted by this person? These may be some of the symptoms of emotional abuse or a potentially abusive relationship: We feel we can't discuss with our partner what is bothering us. We fear what might be our partner’s reaction if we decide to stand for our rights. We feel we need our partner’s permission or approval to make a decision to do what we wish to do. Our partner frequently criticizes us, humiliates us, mocks us, or constantly passes judgment on everyone. Our partner ridicules us when we express what we need or how we feel. Our partner isolates us from other people, invades our privacy, tends to exert a disproportionate control over us or is extremely jealous or possessive. Our partner limits our access to money, hinders our career, or restricts our professional or vocational freedom, or even incurs in debts that we will have to end up paying for. Our partner constantly interferes in our interactions with other people telling us what we have to do or say (how we have to raise our children, how we have to talk to our boss, with what friends we should meet, etc.) We feel “trapped” in this relationship. We feel we are not recognized, accepted, nor respected. 13 “Key Information to Understanding Emotional Abuse” © Mariana Barrancos 2008 – All Rights Reserved www.abusoemocional.com We feel obligated to do things we do not wish to do. We fear we might not find someone better. The other person makes us feel we owe him/her something. We believe the other person will not be able to live without us or that we will not be able to live without him/her. These are some signs of emotional dependency that are telling us we are living in under a situation or in a relationship where emotional abuse is present. Another important indicator to note is the well-known "hypothetical conditional" or "would" We someone speaks constantly using the conditional verb tense: If I had… I would… If you wouldn’t... I could... we are in presence of someone who uses mind games to distract us from what’s going on in real life or what he or she is really doing: this person is manipulating us. And manipulation is a distinctive characteristic of emotional abusers. Thus, as we have mentioned before, it’s very important to be realistic. Are these “promises” kept? Or, Will those “wishes in a loud voice" that the other person expresses come true? Is it simply a wise move to deceive us and distract us from reality? And the same applies to the recurring: “Yes, but…” - “Yes, but” means NO. For example, someone says “Yes, we could do what you like, but…” Which is to say, “NO, we won’t do what you’d like to do. We will do what I want.” Below we have quoted some typical phrases compiled from different sources. If you argue with him, he says you're stubborn. If you're quiet, he argues with you anyway. If you call him, he says you're needy and clingy. If he calls you, he thinks you should be grateful. If you don't act like you love him, he'll try to win you over. If you tell him you love him, he takes advantage of you. If you dress sexy, he says you're a slut. If you don't dress nice, he says you look bad. When you don't sleep with him, he says you don't love him. If you do sleep with him, he only does it the way he likes it. If you tell him your problems, he says you're bothering him, If you don't, he says you don't trust him. If you try to bring up a problem, he says you're bitching. If he brings up a problem, he yells. If you break a promise, you "can't be trusted". If he breaks it, it's because "he had to". If you cheat, he wants to punish you by locking you up or beating you. If he cheats, he expects to be given another chance. 14 “Key Information to Understanding Emotional Abuse” © Mariana Barrancos 2008 – All Rights Reserved www.abusoemocional.com In sum, all these quotes reflect the egotism and self-centeredness of the abuser, which are due – ultimatelyto his/her own lack of emotional maturity and confidence. A self-confident person, who has a sound and healthy level of self-esteem, does not need to degrade, humiliate, nor control others. He/she will seek to interact with other people who are also "emotionally okay" and who do not need to be degraded or humiliated. Sometimes, when the abuser becomes aware of this key information on what involves emotional abuse, may come to understand that he/she is interacting with other people in an unhealthy way, and he/she can choose to change, but changing is a personal decision. Likewise, victims of abuse may also decide to change and look for a solution to the problem, or they may choose to go on being part of an abusive relationship. Let’s not forget that if we consider emotional abuse as a mental or psychological “illness” (so to speak), both the abuser and the victim are people who are “emotionally sick" (this is to say, they are not emotionally healthy people) and, therefore, they need help to understand how they can find ways to relate to other in a much healthier manner. Once again, let’s keep in mind that even if sometimes it’s necessary to break up an unhealthy relationship, such break-up by itself does not “cure” the victim or the abuser. It is only when we finally understand our own patterns of behavior and we become aware of the way we relate to others, or the way we solve or deep rooted problems, that we have a chance to stop establishing abusive relationships with different partners. “We Change from Our Inside” IX Additional Ideas to Detect Emotional Abuse While “interacting” with other people, we can practice this simple exercise. It will help us learn to “read between the lines” and see beyond words or beyond what appears obvious to our senses. 15 “Key Information to Understanding Emotional Abuse” © Mariana Barrancos 2008 – All Rights Reserved www.abusoemocional.com Not only we need to pay attention to the consistency of the discourse of another person, but also we need to pay attention to their non verbal messages. Many times, a mere gesture or a slight attitude may determine the true intention one person has when he/she establishes a relationship with another. Let's explore now some useful questions we can ask ourselves when we interact with others: What are they saying? With this question, we want to focus on the subliminal messages that are usually hidden behind the apparent words. For example: if a man goes to a car dealer to buy a new car and is looking for an affordable one, the salesperson may show him a more expensive vehicle and say, “This is the best car in the market these days, BUT, I’m afraid it might be too expensive for you... ALTOUGH the price could be negotiable...". Here, the salesperson is clearly aiming at the desires and the ambition of being able to reach the best that we all feel inside. It is clear that the salesperson does not want to sale the client the kind of car the client wants to buy. He may even keep undermining the client’s self-esteem al using tricky statements such as, “you deserve to have a car that’s up to your personal level and lifestyle”. In fact, the salesperson is subtly abusing the potential buyer so he can sell the car HE wants to sell, instead of the one the buyer wants to buy, or can afford to buy. If the buyer is a self-confident man, he will buy the car HE wants and at the price HE is willing to pay, without feeling “he’s worth less" for not being able to afford the vehicle the buyer wants to sell to him. If the buyer has a victim profile, he will incur in debts in order to buy the car. Maybe he’ll apply for a loan or incur in debts that he will find hard to repay later. Maybe he will even deprive himself or his family from other things (vacations, etc.) so as to get “a car that’s up to his level.” This is why we say that each person has their own level of comfort or tolerance, where they feel comfortable with a situation or uncomfortable with it. And here is where part of the difference between people has its roots. Some people are in charge or in control of their own life, being able to accept other people’s suggestions, but making their own decisions based on what’s more convenient for them, while others are unable to do so. 16 “Key Information to Understanding Emotional Abuse” © Mariana Barrancos 2008 – All Rights Reserved www.abusoemocional.com How are they saying it? When we speak, whether consciously or unconsciously, we accompany our words with tone inflections or gestures (body language) or certain attitude. Some of these are more subtle than others, which are more evident. Sometimes, we don’t even need to SAY something. An idea can be "acted out", just like actors do. Even silence “speaks” for itself. Additionally, we may check whether there is certain degree of consistency between what it is sad and any body sign that accompanies the discourse. There’s plenty of interesting information and materials on Body Language, available in different formats (on-line, printed) and some are free and some are available at a small fee. Example: If a mother “shouts” at her child telling him (at the top of her voice) “Would you stop shouting (or speaking in a loud voice)”, the inconsistency is very clear. We cannot ask someone to speak in a low voice by shouting at them. If a man looks at the way his wife has dressed and says "hmmm... yes, it doesn't look bad..." but he pulls a face or shows disapproval, it is not even necessary for him to tell his wife if she looks okay in that dress or not, he clearly doesn’t like it regardless of what he says. Now, this does not necessarily mean that the woman doesn’t look well in that dress. It just reflects the man’s opinion (a valid opinion or not). Sometimes, people ask others for their opinion because they seek approval. We will never be absolutely sure or convinced of something, so we can also ask someone else’s opinion, just to know their point of view, instead of seek their approval. Generally, people with a victim’s profile, tend to seek external approval most of the time, or they may lie or hide their thoughts and feelings so as not to be rejected. Also, the abuser may always give his/her opinion (usually a negative remark), regardless of whether it’s been asked for or not. Some abusers have an “invasive” attitude and take things that belong to other people or take someone else’s place o checks the belongings of others without permission. Why are they saying it? What are they saying it for? Typically, there’s an intention or a purpose behind the words or the actions (a hidden agenda.) Other times, people can give their point of view uninterestedly or objectively. But in the case of emotional abuse, the “discourse or speech” usually acts as a distracting element to deceive the victim, so that the victim is unable to see the real purpose of the interactions. 17 “Key Information to Understanding Emotional Abuse” © Mariana Barrancos 2008 – All Rights Reserved www.abusoemocional.com Sometimes, the abuser may adopt a victim’s role to make the real victim feel guilty of the abuse. The verbal message may be “you don’t understand me” or “you don’t love me (enough)”, but the real message is “I will blame it all on you and you will have to obey me or you will regret it.” When parents or partners are overprotective and constantly address the victim as "poor little thing”… they are not exactly keeping the victim's best interest at heart. On the contrary, they are underestimating the victim and degrading or hurting the victim’s self-esteem. Also, they are teaching the victim that in order to receive attention or affection he/she needs to act as a "poor little thing" or he/she needs to be unable to do things by himself/herself. X Other Important Facts Let’s review once more some of the important facts that play a role on emotional abuse. Often times, a person commits abuse and another person allows it to occur due to the lack of awareness of key information. Some people simply ignore or are unaware of the fact that there are healthier ways to interact with others. Also, it’s very important to consider the cultural background of a person and his/her intellectual level. Some people may have certain intellectual limitations and may not be able to understand that they are abusing others or that they are letting others abuse them. Always bear in mind that people have different points of view, and that the perspective of each person is unique. Each person has been through unique life experiences. Some personas may have had similar experiences in life, but ultimately, their response to such experiences may be totally different. It is safer to say that there are different points of view, instead of good or bad points of view or correct/incorrect points of view. We all have the same right to express our personal views. Again, we want to emphasize that the facts to be considered in a situation where emotional abuse occurs are many and very diverse. 18 “Key Information to Understanding Emotional Abuse” © Mariana Barrancos 2008 – All Rights Reserved www.abusoemocional.com Something that could be seen as a case of emotional abuse, within one culture, may not been seen the same way in other cultures. Also, the level of comfort or tolerance to abuse is inherent to each person. We need to understand that the decision to change and stop abusing others or stop allowing abuse, is a personal decision that cannot be forced, and will it occur “miraculously” in a matter of hours. What’s most important is to find a healthy balance and avoid “all or nothing" relationships. Relationships are like a two-way avenue and it’s critical to learn to share (give and receive) in a healthy way, as well as to accept different points of view. Extreme or “polarized” relationships, where one person “makes the rules” and the other one “obeys or follows such rules” are unhealthy relationships, and they are highly likely to be abusive relationships. XI Different Types of Emotional Abuse Emotional Abuse may take different forms. Here we will just list some of them and then we will explain them briefly. Emotional dependency Financial dependency Physical or emotional neglect Power abuse Intellectual abuse Emotional sexual abuse (not physical) Cultural abuse Emotional Dependency An abuser makes the victim feel as if the victim were “emotionally in debt” with the abuser. For example, the abuser may “reward” the victim PROVIDED THAT the victim accepts the emotional terms and conditions and/or mind games that the abuser imposes on the victim. There’s a condition or term that creates an emotional dependency. “I will love you (or I will reward you) PROVIDED THAT you will do as I wish or say.” “You’re a good person PROVIDED THAT I believe what you’re doing is right." “Without you, I can’t live.” (I can only live PROVIDED THAT you are part of my life.) Financial Dependency The abuser has full control of the money and/or the assets and manages them at their sole discretion. Regardless of whether the victim earns money or not, the abuser manages the income and decides how it is 19 “Key Information to Understanding Emotional Abuse” © Mariana Barrancos 2008 – All Rights Reserved www.abusoemocional.com spend, or when or on what, or how it’s invested or saved, etc. The victim does not have a say in terms of financial decisions. Emotional and/or Physical Neglect The abuser ignores or minimizes the basic and emotional needs of the victim. Above, we mentioned the example of a mother who does not care if her children have proper clothing, or does not supervise their personal hygiene, or has no concerns about her children’s health. She can also expose her children to unsafe situations. Many victims of emotional and/or physical neglect are children and elderly people, who – to some extent- depend on other to carry out their daily tasks. When an elderly person is in a nursing home, maybe his or her relatives don’t come to visit him/her, or the staff maybe does not take care of him/her as they should (they don’t help the person with their bath or personal hygiene, they may not supervise if the person takes their medication, they are not concerned about the person’s emotional needs). In other scenarios, addictions play an important role. For example, a father who has a gambling addiction and doesn’t care gambling the only money he has to feed his children. All these aggressive behaviors are typical examples of emotional abuse. Power Abuse Usually, it happens between a figure of authority and a person who has to report to that authority. A boss, a teacher, a specialist, a law enforcement agent, a landlord or someone who makes key decisions, can emotionally abuse others who play a less hierarchical role. A teacher who mocks his students or gives a class treating the students as if they were mentally challenged. A police agent or a bodyguard who bullies other people, instilling fear or threatening their safety. A bank executive who belittles a customer who needs to apply for a loan to repay an old debt. There are many examples where emotional abuse takes the form of power abuse. The abuser makes the victim feel he or she has no options to choose from because the power to make decisions is in the hands of the abuser. The victim feels there’s no way out because the abuser plays a higher hierarchical role. Intellectual Abuse In these cases, the abuser makes the victim feel inferior from an intellectual standpoint. This does not mean that the abuser necessarily has a higher IQ than the victim’s IQ. Perhaps the victim is more “intelligent”, in terms of his/her intellectual abilities. But the abuser is “smarter” and knows how to manipulate the victim so that he/she feels he/she is “less intelligent." 20 “Key Information to Understanding Emotional Abuse” © Mariana Barrancos 2008 – All Rights Reserved www.abusoemocional.com A victim may have more experience or better abilities to carry out a task, but the abuser points out to the victim that he/she “doesn’t have a college diploma,” suggesting that the victim does not have the intellectual ability it requires to get a college degree and perform such tasks. This kind of abuse also happens when an arrogant persona (the abuser) knows enough about a give subject (o pretends to know enough) and is also very eloquent when he/she expresses himself/herself. This could be the case of the car dealer we discussed before. The IQ of the cars salesman is not necessarily higher than that of the buyer; he is simply smarter or shrewder, or maybe unscrupulous, and makes the victim feel he/she knows nothing about cars (which may be untrue.) It can also happen in a couple, between parents and children, friends, a professional and his client. In all events, the abuser is simply smarter and needs to make the victim feel intellectually inferior. In order to avoid becoming a victim of an intellectual abuser we need to learn to see people for whom hey really are. This is without idealizing them. Just because a person speaks eloquently on a particular subject, doesn’t mean he/she is savvy or more intelligent than others. Maybe one of the most representative examples we see in our daily lives is some political speeches or religious preaches. Emotional Sexual Abuse (non physical) Sexual abuse can be physical, but also emotional. For instance, when a man treats a woman as a sexual object and “exhibits” here before others as a trophy, he is emotionally abusing her in a sexual way. It also occurs when some exhibitionists parents who claim to be very "open minded” walk around the house completely naked, making their children feel uncomfortable or uneasy. A clear case of emotional sexual abuse was that of a father who was a renowned professional and worked all day long. In the evening, when he got back home, his children wanted to share time with him, but instead he would lie in bed reading an adult magazine with explicit pictures of naked women. Since he was a very “open minded father”, he would let his school aged kids share that moment with him in bed, browsing the adult magazine. Not only he was ignoring his children’s need of attention, but also he was emotionally abusing his children from a sexual perspective, exposing them to a type of literature that was okay for adults but not for young children. 21 “Key Information to Understanding Emotional Abuse” © Mariana Barrancos 2008 – All Rights Reserved www.abusoemocional.com This is a typical case of egotism, emotional sexual abuse, and emotional neglect which was worsen by the fact that he also emotionally abused the mother, who was not allowed to give her opinion and if she spoke her mind, the father would belittle her. (For example, telling her in front of the children “you’re very narrow-minded”.) In turn, the mother was also emotionally abusing her children because she was not protecting them from this kind of exposure and was accepting to play the victim’s role letting the father disrespect her, instead of standing for her rights and her children’s rights. Children should never be exposed to this kind of scenarios or to explicit material intended only for adults. Children, handicapped people and, often times, the elderly are what we call involuntary victims. Cultural Abuse It is well known that within different cultures there may be significant differences. For example in the way people greet each other, or regarding the different accents within the same language, or the different lifestyles (a person who lives in the city has a completely different lifestyle than one who lives in the countryside.) Within some cultures, if we greet a person shaking hands or using another kind of physical contact it implies a sign of disrespect, while in other cultures “not doing so” is what is considered disrespectful. Therefore, it’s important to bear in mind that the cultural differences may affect people’s values. Last, physical abuse (physical mistreat) is also considered a form of emotional abuse. It may occur with or without verbal abuse or mind games, but not necessarily. Some people believe that if there are not being physically abused then they are not being emotionally abused, but as we have seen before, there are many different types of emotional abuse and not all of them are expressed through physical violence or aggression. Most countries have free community resources like hotlines for domestic violence cases and most institutions and companies have human resources policies that forbid abuse and discrimination in all its forms. XII Preventing and/or Solving the Problem of Emotional Abuse As we have mentioned above, the good news is that just like any other problem or “disorder”, emotional abuse has a solution or can be “solved”, it can be prevented or avoided, and/or it can be stopped. Once again we want to highlight that both the abuser and the victim will stop playing their roles if they can fully understand that abusive relationships are unhealthy and if they decided that they don’t want to play their roles any more. One person must not make a decision for another person, because it is not "healthy" to do so. Both the abuser and the victim have the option to choose to continue with an unhealthy way to interact with others or to look for alternative and more adequate ways to carry on their relationship. 22 “Key Information to Understanding Emotional Abuse” © Mariana Barrancos 2008 – All Rights Reserved www.abusoemocional.com Sometimes, both parties come to understand how emotional abusive relationships work. Hence, they agree to stop playing their roles and commit to change. Other times, one of the parties understands this and the other doesn’t. Maybe this happens because this party does not wish to “see” or understand or simply does not agree with the information available on emotional abuse, or maybe because he/she cannot really understand it at all. Decisions are personal. Usually, the victim tends to make the abuser understand his/her point of view and believe the root of the problem is that the abuser does not understand or does not accept what the victim is trying to explain. But the victim needs to be aware that he/she cannot "convince the stones". If he/she tries to force another person to accept his/her point of view, is making the wrong move. Sometimes, victims of abuse do not wish to lose the abuser. They want the abuser to “change” and keep being part of their lives. The victim needs to understand that the abuser will only “change" if he/she decides to do so, and not just because the victim needs him/her to change. We are all free to choose (provided we live in a place where our right to choose is not suppressed or restricted.) We can choose to stand for our rights and be treated with the respect we deserved or we can choose to be content with an unhealthy relationship and agree to pay the price of being mistreated in order not to lose the abuser. When we are part of the problem, it’s hard to have enough objectivity to find a solution. This is why therapies can help a great deal. Also, ideally solutions should be found jointly. Finding a solution to a problem that involves two participants does not mean only one of them is responsible of finding such solution. Hence, since emotional abuse occurs between two people, basically, both participants are equally responsible of finding a solution jointly. This is why we say it’s wrong for one person to try to change or save another. Sometimes, it is not possible to find a solution. Thus, it’s important to “stop participating” in an emotionally abusive relationship. This means we need to stop playing or let go of the victim's role or the abuser’s role and start working on our personal issues in order to find better ways to interact with and relate to others. Ultimately, this will help prevent future situations of emotional abuse. 23 “Key Information to Understanding Emotional Abuse” © Mariana Barrancos 2008 – All Rights Reserved www.abusoemocional.com Emotional abuse can also be prevented or stopped by using the “Ideas” we mentioned before, which will let us learn to read between the lines and spot beforehand when we meet a person with the typical profile of an abuser or a victim. At any time, we can all turn our backs on abuse. We can stop it by setting boundaries and standing for our right to be respected as human beings. However, we need to remember that our rights end where other people’s rights start. In sum, in order to prevent and/or stop emotional abuse we need to bear in mind the following: Become aware. Awareness is the very first step. Avoid self-deception. Inform ourselves properly on emotional abuse. Stop participating in abusive relationships. Use community resources. Seek help, share your case with others who can help with solutions or provide their points of view and seek professional case whenever needed. To Keep In Mind In order to avoid abusing others it’s important to develop a sound perception and a healthy understanding of the feelings and emotions of other people. Also, it is crucial to be empathetic and keep an open mind about other people’s values. Abuse can be stopped and solved, and we can also help abusers and victims of abuse to find healthier ways to interact. XIII What Does It Take To Reach True Happiness? In order to live a happy and peaceful life, we need to learn ways to achieve and meet our needs and goals in an ethical and healthy manner; we need to receive sound affection, we need to be accepted and respected for who we are, we need to be able to meet our basic needs (material, emotional, spiritual, professional, etc.), we need to feel we can reach our goals in life successfully, and achieve every task we carry on (study, work, career, etc.) without feeling threatened by others. 24 “Key Information to Understanding Emotional Abuse” © Mariana Barrancos 2008 – All Rights Reserved www.abusoemocional.com We can live a happy and fulfilling life without “paying a high price” for it. We can live a happy life without “manipulating other or letting others manipulate us”. “Living a Happy Life is a Personal Decision”. Life is a series of ongoing choices and options. Sometimes, we have more choices than other times. Each choice we make, each decision we make, has consequences. Some are more favorable than others and some may be rather unfavorable. Hence, it’s important to learn to find some balance and understand that when our expectations and ambitions are realistic, we have fewer chances to feel frustrated and manipulate others or let others manipulate us. All of us are capable to choose not to get involved in or be part of emotional abuse. Visit our Website On our website at www.abusoemocional.com, you will find more reference materials, free videos, free downloadable PowerPoint presentations, as well as some links to other relevant websites with useful information on emotional abuse. We hope that you have found this information useful to you. Questions and Inquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org Our Forum: http://abusoemocional.myfastforum.org/ Our Blog: http://abusoemocional.wordpress.com/ Free on-line course in English: http://english.abusoemocional.com/ All the materials and information on Emotional Abuse are available at no cost. If you wish, you can donate $8 US dollars through PayPal. To donate go to: http://english.abusoemocional.com/donations.html We appreciate your time and involvement and we wish you the best. The Emotional Abuse Team 25 “Key Information to Understanding Emotional Abuse” © Mariana Barrancos 2008 – All Rights Reserved www.abusoemocional.com
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