Men often describe in detail their marriage and what led to its demise during their consultations. I’m often surprised by how long they have dealt with a spouse who emotionally abused them for long periods. Sadly, they will turn to me and ask if what they are describing is considered abuse since they’ve been convinced to believe that men are not emotionally abused.

The world is full of emotionally abusive people, and that’s something we need to talk about. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), emotional abuse occurs when one person controls another through fear and intimidation. Those outbursts your wife has when you bring up particular subjects, yep, that’s a tactic used to deflect and intimidate you.

Emotional mistreatment and abuse can take many forms. Sometimes, it can sneak up on you and hide in sweet words or gestures.  Other times, it comes in waves of complete silence. It can be difficult to know when you’re experiencing emotional abuse. You may not recognize some of the signs. Maybe you’ve been led to believe you’re too sensitive, or all relationships are like this. While this can happen in any relationship, certain elements make a healthy one from an unhealthy one.

This scenario is an example of what emotional abuse could look like:

At the last minute, something came up at work and you’re running late to get home for dinner. When you call your wife to let her know, she replies, “It’s fine. You always have something more important than me, anyway. Work is the priority and not your family.”You’re hurt by her comment but convince yourself her words are justified because you’re the one running late. When you arrive home, she gives you the “silent treatment” throughout dinner. When you asked the kids if you could help them with their homework, she states “Don’t worry about it, I’ve taken care of it already since I make the family a priority.”

Let’s look at a few examples of what to look for with emotional abuse:

  • Blaming is one way the abuser removes any responsibility from themselves, hence, placing it on someone else. In essence, it’s a form of “flipping the switch.”
  • Ridiculing often looks like a joke at YOUR expense, sarcasm, and “put-downs.”
  • Dismissing is incredibly frustrating. You’re made to feel unimportant by your opinions, thoughts, or values. This tends to affect people’s confidence in expressing their input, due to believing it lacks any merit.
  • Shaming is a form of degrading an individual. Parents who do this to their children are often heard saying humiliating phrases in public to make their children feel ashamed. It makes the person feel “wrong” or ashamed of who they are and what they do. This will eat away at a person’s self-worth over time.
  • Accusing is one of the most common ways people will emotionally abuse a person. This is manipulation 101! This tactic is used to have someone adopt people-pleasing behaviors. For example, if you’re being accused of having an affair, you may go out of your way to make sure your spouse has access to your phone, or you don’t go out with your friends for fear you’ll be suspected of cheating.
  • You’re told that you’re crazy! Ok, this is something you can expect from most emotional abusers. They want you to question your sanity. They will tell you how the things you’re saying make no sense, have no merit, etc. just so you’ll begin to ask yourself if you’re losing your mind. When they tell you how a conversation/argument occurred, they will change many parts of it, just so you doubt how you heard or saw things.

Another way to spot emotional abuse is by looking inward to see if certain feelings and behaviors of yours are occurring.  Here are a few key indicators to look for:

  • Experiencing fear. Taking precautions before expressing yourself. In essence, this is “walking on eggshells.” You experience fear when you approach discussions you know they will be upset about.
  • You’re always questioning/doubting yourself. You may be constantly told you are “being too sensitive” or “making a big deal out of nothing,” which leads to not having the objectivity needed when examining your relationship. You may find yourself constantly apologizing since you’ve been made to feel guilty. Over time, your self-esteem may likely be affected by causing depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. If you’re always getting the feeling that something is wrong, it most likely is.
  • Feelings of isolation. Your spouse is jealous of your friends and/or family. Each time you made plans to see your family or friends, you’re met with comments about how you spend too much time with them. They want you to cancel your plans, therefore, in an attempt to isolate you from others. This is another form of trying to control you through jealousy. They get jealous of seeing pictures of you with them and will resort to criticizing the people in your life, to prevent you from spending time with them.
  • Shame and embarrassment. When you’ve become embarrassed by the behaviors, you begin to make excuses to others for your partner. When you find yourself saying this such as “She’s been stressed at work” or “She didn’t mean to say that” this is your way of trying your best to have others’ see this person in a positive light.
  • Physical and psychological symptoms. Have you lost or gained weight, are no longer taking care of yourself, are depressed, anxious, sleeping more, etc.? These are signs that emotional abuse is affecting your physical and mental health.
  • Your self-esteem has decreased. You cannot understand why this person would be treating you the way they do you start to believe you must be causing the abuse. However, if you look at how these people treat others in their lives, you will see it’s not just you they treat this way. It’s most likely their family, co-workers, and the few friends they may have.

Emotional abuse can sneak up on you and hide in sweet words and apologies.  If you begin feeling isolated, powerless, or worthless in your relationships, you might want to pay closer attention. Over time, emotional abuse can damage your mental health, career, relationships with your family and friends and so much more. It’s important to act and seek a mental health professional before things become worse.

Hayley Lisa, The Divorce Coach For Men