Emotional wounds can be even more devastating than obvious blows to the physical body and can have much longer-term effects. These hidden injuries pose a grave threat, not just to our physical, but also to our emotional well-being, and even to our psychological survival.
A physical blow is understandable to the mind. When someone hits you, at least you can identify the source of the pain. But, when you are psychologically abused, you hurt and do not feel safe, but cannot comprehend why. The longer it goes on, the more likely you are to obsess about the situation, to feel unhinged and to lose your confidence and trust in yourself and in your perceptions.
Psychological abuse is virtually impossible to prove. Emotional abusers have an impressive arsenal of tools for subtle psychological control and torment. Abuse can range from constant put-downs and criticism to more subtle tactics, such as deception, manipulation, withdrawal, invalidating, stonewalling, triangulating, threats to leave, revising history, or refusal to ever be pleased. A steady stream of these corrosive insults can undermine your sense of self until you begin to question your reality.
We all engage in some of these behaviors at times when we are feeling especially powerless or frightened. But for some people, these defenses are more a way of life than a reaction to unusual life stresses.
If you are involved with an abuser, it is likely that he or she is highly focused on control. To keep you in line, they routinely alternate warmth and affection with withdrawal or insults. Should you begin to question their tactics or threaten to leave, they will pull out all the stops to draw you back in.
Often, they turn the tables to accuse you of precisely what they are doing to you, casting themselves as the victim of your unbearable behavior to justify their actions. Since we naturally tend to blame ourselves when we feel disoriented or are in pain, the finger-pointing adds fuel to the fire of deteriorating self-confidence.
Acknowledging Emotional Abuse
If you have been deceived, abandoned or betrayed in an intimate relationship, acknowledging the emotional abuse involved is central to understanding what has happened and to recovering. By unilaterally leaving or betraying you, the person you likely trusted most in the world has inflicted a life-changing, destructive blow to your well-being.
As sudden as the shock of discovery of their deceit or unfaithfulness may be, your undermining has probably been going on for some time. You likely have been living in an atmosphere of deception and manipulation. Mixed messages of caring and contempt have already short-circuited your neural wiring with conflicting, yet urgent, approach and avoid signals toward your partner.
When the final blow is administered, the trauma leaves you shattered and dazed, unsure who you are or who you were in relationship with. To your traumatized mind your former partner becomes both your executioner and your potential savior from the bewildering pain. The depth and elusiveness of the invisible emotional wounds makes them difficult to recognize and understand, and equally difficult to heal.
If this is your situation, please reach out for the help you need to family, friends, or a professional who is familiar with the many guises of emotional abuse and trained in dealing with psychological trauma.
Adapted from “Love and the Mystery of Betrayal” —now available in print and ebook.