Every day the media brings us stories of violence, pain and tragedy. A lot of this news is domestic abuse, sex slavery, trafficking, rape, and murder. There is no guarantee that your gender, social standing, race, religion, or family can protect you from violence. It is a part of our world. However there is good news. Much of what we hear, read, and see is preventable. Keeping out of dangerous situations is the number one way to stay safe and prevent violence. Being aware, looking for warning signs, and knowledge can protect you. You may think that a lot of the warning signs below are something we all do or have done at one point. While that may be true, these are still signs that someone has a problem with abusing others. I encourage you to memorize these actions and pay more attention to people who act in any of these ways.
Overly Charming. Generally people are nice and we think that nice is always a sign that someone is good. However if someone is too nice they may be trying to coerce you into doing something you don’t want. They want you to drop your guard so they can get you alone and hurt you. Don’t trust someone just because they tell you to or because everyone else says they are so nice. Trust is something that must be earned.
Funny Disrespect. Does your partner, date, friend, coworker or employer make disparaging remarks about your gender, race, sexuality, or beliefs? Do they make it sound like a joke? If you say “That isn’t funny”, do they tell you to not be such a baby? Do they put down your opinions? If so, they probably won’t respect you saying “no” or “stop” later on. This person is acting like a jerk. Let them know that behavior does not fly with you. Do not follow these people to isolated locations. Spend as little time as possible with them. If you cannot escape their company, let someone close to you know how they act. Stand up to them if you must spend time with them.
Flares of Anger. Do you know someone who cannot control their angry outbursts? Do they regularly get angry over every little annoyance? Do they put you or others down? Next time, it might be you that they lash out at. Emotional abuse is no joke. People who cannot control their anger are unsafe to be alone with so limit your time with them or kick them out of your life completely. If they are allowed to get away with this behavior it only intensifies. Emotional scars can last a lifetime and eventually they will hurt someone physically.
Shift the Blame. Abusers insist it is never their fault. They are control freaks or whiny brats who search out victims to take the blame for their bad attitude. A common theme in abuse is saying that “So and so made me so angry, and that is why I hurt them.” This is a huge warning sign. We cannot make other people angry. Anger is an internal emotion. That means, we as individuals, allow things to piss us off, not other people. We decide how to react to everything that comes our way. Don’t be a victim.
Stupid Clause. Abusers hand out insults like Santa on Christmas eve. Everything you do and say is wrong to them. They have no respect for you at all. They will call you stupid, set you up to fail, remark on your weight, criticize every decision you make and generally make you feel worthless. They publicly humiliate you so you are ashamed to go anywhere. It’s hard to fight back against such cruel immaturity. It’s easy to call them names back and even easier to ignore them and walk away. Block your chimney from this charlatan.
Just The Way It Is. There is a prevailing stereotype about people being certain ways and this is the easiest ways to excuse abuse. Men and boys are rough and solve problems with their fists. Women and girls are fragile and solve problems with words. Mean girls and rough boys. This attitude allows anyone to get away with physical and emotional abuse. It is not “normal” for women to use hurtful words or gossip to fight or prove a point just like it is not okay for men to use their fists to solve a problem. Both genders are capable of clear communication and solving problems without violence. Our brains work the same, we are taught how to act and react by parents and society. Abuse is not “understandable” because your current abuser was abused as a child. Unless you are a small child, you have the capacity to change your behavior.
Culture or Religion. More excuses for abuse come from cultural or religious traditions than anywhere else. Does your abuser insist that their god approves of beating your self-esteem down to the lowest lows possible? Does this god also say that you are not as worthy as others? Is it traditional for the men in your family to be control of finances and rules? Are women supposed to control children no matter what it takes? Counterexamples are a great way to fight back against these attitudes. Do you have an aunt or cousin that supports her family while her husband cares for the children or has a lower paying job? What resources in your religion show women are equal to men? Fight back with examples of why exactly this attitude against you doesn’t work in every situation and therefore cannot be true.
Passive Aggressive. Do you know someone who acts like everything is okay ALL the time? Do they refuse to argue with you or anyone and then retaliate in sneaky ways? Do they pout, ignore your opinion, act stubborn, or purposely procrastinate? They may hide important things, conveniently “forget” meetings or dates, and talk about you behind your back. They hide hostility with smiles and a refusal to communicate. Passive people don’t deal with problems, because they don’t know how or are too scared. This is one of the hardest signs to see because it is often not noticeable until you spend a lot of time with someone. It can be hard to leave someone who is passive if they are otherwise kind. Counseling may be the best route. Passive people must learn to communicate their emotions instead of hiding them. Communication is a must for any relationship.
My Fault. Self blame is an easy way to deal with abuse. It turns you from victim to criminal. If all your life you have been abused and put down, it is easy to believe negative remarks from others. Victims of abuse have been taught to feel shame and guilt. They are told that everything is their fault and they believe it. Do you berate yourself for not keeping your partner happy? Did you forget to clean the house, buy the wrong kind of beer or spend money on yourself instead of them? You deserve to be treated well. It is not your job to make people happy. Happiness is an internal emotion. Just like anger, that means we decide whether or not to be happy. We each have the capacity to be happy even in the worst conditions. It is our individual decision. Karma is not an excuse to abuse.
You need to take control of your surroundings.
An abuser will be demanding and cruel. They will use guilt, shame and intimidation to control you. They control your schedule, tell you how to dress, take away your independence, tell you who to be friends with, keep you away from family, control your finances, and make you feel stupid. If you have to deal with people like this at work or school than report them to a supervisor or authority. One reason emotional violence continues to be brushed aside as not important is that it never is reported. We worry about coming across as a tattle-tale, overly sensitive, a kill-joy or that nobody will take us seriously. If you are in a relationship with someone like this then you can leave. If you do not want to leave find a counselor. People who hurt you will not stop unless you decide to stop them. Communicate your feelings, wants, and needs. People are not mind readers. Don’t be a victim. Stand up for yourself and others. Speak up.
Leaving is usually the best choice. However if you decide to stay with your abuser they must seek counseling services. Promises of change are not enough. Often these promises are broken with the abuse continuing or the abused being killed. For resources call the national Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-787-3284.
What has been your experience with emotional abuse and what have you done to stop it?
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