Emotional bullying in relationships, like physical or sexual abuse, is still one of those subjects which is taboo and rarely talked about openly. Along with physical and sexual abuse, it comes under the umbrella of domestic violence. Although it is extremely damaging and destructive, those experiencing it often don’t recognise it for what it is. Another term which describes emotional bullying is psychological abuse. Perpetrators can be male or female and are often very insecure themselves, with low self esteem. So how do you know if your partner/family member is emotionally bullying you? Here are some examples:
- Constantly putting you down/belittling you.
- Criticism of the way you do things or what you say
- Temper tantrums if you challenge their behaviour
- Manipulative behaviour eg nasty one minute, nice the next.
- Emotional blackmail – i.e threatening to leave or worse.
- Inability to empathise with yours or other people’s feelings
- Narcissistic personality
- Controlling behaviour i.e. taking control of household finances
- Complete inability to recognise or acknowledge their own faults
If you recognise three or more of the above in your relationship, then you may be experiencing psychological abuse.
People will tolerate emotional bullying in relationships for years without taking any action. As time goes on, they come to accept it as being part of their relationship and will often try to minimise the abusive behaviour, by making allowances for their partner, or maybe hoping that they will realise the error of their ways and change. Looking at someone’s situation from the outside, you might wonder how they could stay in such a damaging relationship. However, it is never black and white.
Emotional blackmail can make it very difficult for someone to take action, because as soon as they mention leaving or separation, their partner will often play the self-pity card, “How will I manage without you?” or worse still, threaten to harm themselves or the other person. If there are children involved in the equation, this makes it all the more complex. Research has shown that no matter how bad their parents’ relationship is, children nearly always want their parents to stay together.
Recognising that the relationship is not normal or healthy, is the first step in taking positive action. It often takes a lot of courage to acknowledge that you are in an abusive relationship and talk to someone about it. Counselling can help you to explore your relationship and enable you to accept that you are not to blame, nor are you the cause of the bullying/abuse. Shame is often one of the strongest and most damaging emotions in people who have been abused, because they feel, not that they have done something wrong, but that they are something wrong. It is important to remind yourself that the responsibility always lies with the perpetrator.
Through talking to a counsellor or therapist, you can gradually begin to work through your conflicting emotions and explore how the relationship has impacted on you. Emotional bullying is extremely corrosive over time and can result in anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, feelings of worthlessness and even suicidal thoughts. The aim of counselling is to help you re-build your confidence and find solutions which are right for you.
If you feel that you are in danger of physical harm from your partner/family member at any time, dial 999. The police treat domestic violence as a serious crime and have specially trained officers who are able to deal with these specific situations.
Women’s Aid National Domestic Violence 24 Hour Helpline 0800 2000 247
Manchester WA Helpline 0161 839 8574
Samaritans – 08457 909090