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Emotional abuse. Oh, just those words can make your heart hurt. Let’s learn all about emotional abuse including the signs and symptoms. Learn how to set clear boundaries with the emotionally abusive people in your life. Get clarity about your relationships with others as you learn more about this topic.

Confronting the emotional abuse you are experiencing is one huge step forward in changing patterns and healing from trauma. I honor your bravery in your pursuit of a healthier life.

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What Is Emotional Abuse

Most of us have been taught from an early age that words don’t hurt. We all know that’s a load of poop because words do hurt and can cause lots of damage not only emotionally but psychologically. Emotional abuse is one tool used by psychological abusers.

We know there are different levels of emotional abuse. Some people don’t realize what they are doing and others use it as a tool to intentionally manipulate and control you.

Anyone can use emotional abuse against someone else. It is common for parents and children to use “guilt trips” on each other. Family members, friends, teachers, and pretty much anyone can use emotional abuse on someone else at any moment. Today, we are focusing on a pattern of emotional abuse that is used intentionally to hurt and control you.

The good news is that when you respond to emotional abuse those who love and care for you may realize this toxic pattern of behavior and choose to change so they can have a stronger relationship with you. Becoming more aware of emotional abuse will also show you if you need to make some changes in how you treat others.

For those who are intentionally abusive your response to their behavior can give you the information you need to end or drastically change the relationship.

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Signs of Emotional Abuse

What are the symptoms that you are experiencing emotional abuse?

You may have a hard time trusting others. You don’t believe the compliments they give you or believe they love you no matter how often they say it.

Feelings of shame when you are around someone who is emotionally abusive. You are walking on eggshells around them waiting for the next verbal jab and doing your best not to give them a reason to say something abusive.

Emotional pain. You may feel depressed or lost. Maybe you are slowly giving up on your life. Nothing you do is good enough anyway so why bother?

Coercive control. You are afraid to ask to be treated with love and respect. You are afraid to do many things that you know the abuser would not approve of. You stop dreaming of your future.

Low self-esteem. You lose your self-esteem when you are criticized for everything you do, say, and even the expression on your face. Nothing is good enough for the abuser so you think you aren’t good enough either.

Types of Emotional Abuse

Constant criticism. Even when the abusive person compliments you it feels like an insult.

Verbal aggression. If you stand up for yourself in any way the abusive person is likely to become louder and more aggressive with their comments. This is the type of behavior that grinds people to dust over years of abuse.

Silent treatment. The silent treatment is behavior that says you are dead to the person who is angry at you. You cease to exist when you don’t go along with their abuse.

Guilt trip/manipulation. If you won’t comply with an emotional abuser they will make you feel guilty for it. You are not allowed to make decisions that aren’t in line with their desires.

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The Effect of Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse steals your confidence. After you have been emotionally abused by a parent or partner you doubt that you are lovable. If someone who was supposed to love you more than anyone else in your life abused you then maybe no one can love you.

Emotional abuse makes it difficult for you to trust others. You have a hard time believing anything they say. You have been conditioned to doubt everything anyone says to you. You have been taught that words hurt.

If you were emotionally abused as a child you may find it difficult to be open with your children. You may hold back part of yourself in every relationship to stay safe. Emotional abuse keeps you from forming a close bond with your children and other loved ones.

How to Respond to Emotional Abuse

Your first step is to set up a safety plan. Any time you make changes to a well-worn pattern of behavior in a relationship with an abusive person you need to be prepared for them to become angry. You may have to slowly test the waters to see if this person will even hear your concerns about their abuse. It is good to have a safety plan ready before you begin to change the balance in the relationship.

Your safety plan can look like leaving the room or house if the person becomes more abusive. In extreme cases, you may have to leave the relationship. You may need to block them on your phone and social media. If they are likely to become physically dangerous you need a plan to leave. Please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline if you are in physical danger.

Call the behavior what it is. If you can safely tell the other person that their response was emotionally abusive they may begin to recognize their patterns of behavior and change. If they are making rude comments, judgments, or manipulative statements you can tell them you don’t like when they say that and ask them to stop. They may act shocked and hurt but if you call them out often enough they may stop doing it.

If your children are being manipulative you can talk about their behavior and what they are doing. Use it as a learning moment and discuss what they can do or say instead. Also, teach them how to handle situations where others are emotionally abusive or manipulative to them. Teach them to call you out if you guilt trip them.

There is a lot of power in being able to learn to change patterns together. It also helps you build a stronger relationship with your children. If their other parent is a narcissist it helps them learn healthy behavior and to see unhealthy patterns. They may not be able to confront their other parent while they are young but when they are older they will know how if they choose to.

From a co-parent. If you can’t call out their behavior you can at least label it for yourself. Did your co-parent send you a manipulative response when you wouldn’t let them take your parenting time? Mentally label the response emotional abuse, specifically guilt, and manipulation. If you keep a parenting log you can list the date and specifics of the email. Dissecting the situation and what happened can help you take it from an emotionally painful situation to an observation instead.

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Set Clear Boundaries

Setting clear boundaries for your behavior is one way to respond to emotional abuse. The idea behind boundaries is to change your behavior not force change on others. You can set new boundaries and change them as needed. Let’s walk through the process together.

To set boundaries list the emotional abuse you are facing. Write down how you can respond to that behavior. For example:

Your mom likes to make rude comments about your appearance. You can set a boundary that you will not accept her comments anymore. This boundary will rely on the response you choose to give her when she makes rude comments. Responses could be a statement that her comment is rude and you don’t want to be spoken to that way. You could also choose to leave the room or end the visit.

When you set a boundary with someone expect that they won’t like the changes you are making. It may make your relationship worse or end it altogether. The new boundary can help you understand the relationship and decide if it is worth your emotional health to continue it. On the other hand, it may improve the relationship if the other person is willing to understand how their behavior impacts others and decides to change.

Another aspect of setting boundaries is knowing your worth. When you know how you want to be treated and what you will do to protect yourself from bad behavior you gain self-confidence and your life will begin to change. You expect better treatment and others will see that in how you communicate and through your body language.

Setting a code of conduct for yourself will help to clarify the boundaries you want to set with others. Your code of conduct can include how you will handle your anger, what you do when triggered, how you parent your children and the moral code you live by. Getting clarity around how you handle difficult life experiences helps you expect more from others.

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The Healing Process

The healing process from emotional abuse can be long and slow. Taking time to care for your needs shows you that you are worthy of love and care. Breaking the false messages you have been given through self-care is an important way of getting the healing process going.

Turn to trustworthy friends to help you learn what it feels like to be loved. You begin to build trust with safe people which helps you learn to be vulnerable with others. When you can trust that what they say about you is the truth you can learn to accept compliments and rebuild emotional trust with others.

Getting Help In a Professional Setting

Seeing a therapist or trauma recovery coach can help you rebuild your self-worth. They can help you learn to set strong boundaries and teach you how to deal with an emotionally abusive person. They will affirm your value and your right to live an abuse-free life.

Support groups of people who have been through a similar experience can give you the peer support you need to do the hard work of regaining your sense of self. Being affirmed by others that you are a valuable person who never deserved to be abused can go a long way toward healing emotional abuse.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline is a good resource for survivors. If you are in danger call them first. They can help you assess your situation, help you set up a safety plan, and get you out if you need to flee for your life.

Learning how to respond to emotional abuse is one step forward in learning to live in freedom and peace.

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