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Most people assume that if they're not being physically abused by their partner, they're not being abused. That's not necessarily true. You might be in a relationship that is draining something from you; you may not even be aware that your partner has eroded your self-esteem and happiness.
"Although physical abuse is thought to be the most obvious form of abuse, emotional abuse has
the potential to be even more devastating than physical abuse. This is because it is hard to prove
and, thus, difficult to stop," says psychologist Dr Vandana Mathur. Many people find that
emotional abuse is difficult to even talk about, as others seldom take it seriously.
Abuse is any behaviour that controls and subjugates another person by means of fear,
humiliation, intimidation, guilt, coercion, manipulation, etc. "Emotional abuse can include anything
from verbal abuse and constant criticism to more subtle tactics like repeated disapproval," says
Like other forms of violence in relationships, emotional abuse rests on the premise of power and
control. "It eventually brainwashes the victim. It systematically wears away at the victim's self-
confidence, self-worth and trust in their own perceptions," says Vijay Malhotra (name changed),
28, a software engineer at an IT firm in Delhi, Vijay says he experienced emotional abuse in his
marriage due to his wife's constant criticism and diatribes.
him/ her. Also, denying that certain events occurred or that certain things were said by saying, "I never said that," "I don't know what you're talking about," etc. The other person may deny your perceptions, memory and even question your sanity.
partner's responsibilty. Not assisting in any work relating to the household, family or children. Adding to the burden by making cutting remarks about how poorly you manage the children/ household.
Emotional abuse often follows a pattern.
In the first phase, there is a build-up of tension and a breakdown in communication.
The second phase involves the actual incident of verbal and emotional abuse.
The third phase involves reconciliation. The abuser apologises, offers excuses, blames the victim,
denies the abuse occurred, or says it wasn't as bad as the victim claims.
Finally, in the fourth phase, there is calm. The incident is 'forgotten' and no abuse is taking place.
Then, after some time, the cycle repeats itself.
"Repeated verbal abuse such as blaming, ridiculing, insulting, swearing, yelling and humiliation
has long-term negative effects on your self-esteem. It contributes to a perception of uselessness,
worthlessness and self-blame," says Geeta Singh (name changed), 27, a teacher who was a
victim of abuse in her first marriage but was fortunate enough to get out of it.
The one-up position the abuser assumes by judging or demeaning the recipient undermines the equality and autonomy that is the foundation of healthy adult relationships. This can result in what is known as 'learned helplessness'.
"By threatening to physically harm a partner, the abuser dominates him/ her and shows that he/ she is more powerful. The partner feels extremely terrorised, vulnerable and powerless within the relationship. This kind of emotional abuse makes an abused person feel helpless and isolated," says Dr Mathur.
"Jealousy, possessiveness and interrogation about a partner's whereabouts and activities are examples of controlling behaviours that restrict a partner's independence and freedom," says Geeta.
"Emotional abuse can have serious physical and psychological consequences, including severe
depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, isolation from others, increased alcohol or drug use,
emotional instability, sleep disturbances, physical complaints, extreme dependence and feelings
of shame and self-blame," says Dr Mathur.
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