counseling for emotional
Bill has been having some issues at work. He and his manager haven’t been getting along. Ever since Bill “corrected” his manager during a staff meeting, he feels like all of that manager’s focus has become on Bill’s alleged areas for improvement. Each conversation that they have leaves Bill feeling like he is incompetent and bad at his job, even though he also believes that there is objective proof he is doing good work. It’s frustrating to Bill and nothing he does to try to smooth things over with his manager seems to be enough. Their conflict is getting so terrible that Bill dreads going to work.
Fran has a history of being in relationships that have been physically abusive, a trend for which she sought counseling and attended 12-step meetings. Her recovery is going well!! However, she recently began dating. Although Fran has found a partner who she trusts will never hit her, she leaves many interactions with him feeling bad about herself. She can’t help but think that she is being overly sensitive and that she needs to work on not taking things so personally.
Amanda is generally thought to be skillful in her job as an x-ray tech at a local hospital. Doctors agree that her knowledge of anatomy and imaging are unparalled among her peers, and all things being equal, they prefer her as the x-ray tech of choice, especially for injuries for which x-raying may be difficult or require special expertise. However, they rarely choose Amanda even though she is objectively the most talented. To start, she complains non-stop about her work environment, and while everyone seems to acknowledge there are ways the hospital could improve, most of her colleagues agree that Amanda doesn’t seem to understand the lay of the land — other hospitals are much, much worse. On top of her complaining, she regularly lays into patients, other x-ray techs, and even doctors, who aren’t exactly known for backing down (but they do with her!). Amanda claims that her tendencies to berate others is just “calling a spade a spade,” but the other day she was called into HR for the third time in the past 6-months over allegations that she’d made one of the nurses cry.
What is emotional abuse?
Emotional abuse is psychological abuse that damages and harms your sense of self, sense of worth and/or sense of wellbeing. Emotional abuse can take the form of manipulation, control, criticism, or shaming.
Is emotional abuse really a big deal?
Emotional abuse can have long-term negative impacts on your mental health, which is why it is important to be able to recognize and stop emotional abuse. Emotional abuse can appear to be subtle and like a small thing but overtime the emotional abuse can add up and really affect the way you feel about yourself and your abilities in a negative way. Emotional abuse can also be very evident, but even in these situations it can be difficult to remove yourself from an emotionally abusive relationship because experiencing emotional abuse can shake your confidence. This is why it is so crucial to be able to recognize emotional abuse. You do not need to tolerate being belittled or dismissed for who you are and should be treated with respect.
What are the signs of emotional abuse?
If you are in an emotionally abusive relationship you might feel like:
- You aren’t heard. Your partner can make it feel like your opinion is wrong and not valid. They don’t respect what you have to say and can make you feel like you shouldn’t speak up and share your thoughts, opinions and feelings.
- You are put down regularly. These put downs might be direct and clear insults but they might also be hidden in, “teasing,” or, “jokes.” You can tease and joke around in an emotionally healthy relationship but making you the joke is not actually funny and can be degrading.
- Your behavior is being watched closely and is critiqued. An emotionally abusive partner will be quick to point out when you do something, “wrong.” If you find that you are feeling like you are walking on eggshells or under a microscope than you might be in an emotionally abusive relationship.
- You aren’t good enough. This is a classic feeling that can be the result of an emotionally abusive relationship. A healthy partner will be able to lift you up and highlight your strengths and capabilities. Feeling like you aren’t good enough can lead to unhealthy attempts to prove your worth. You shouldn’t have to work to prove your worth to your partner.
- Your boundaries are not respected. Crossing boundaries is a power struggle that can disorient and confuse you. Respecting boundaries is a way of showing respect for an individual.
- You experience emotional distance from the other person. It might seem like you are constantly working to get an emotional response or closeness from your partner and it never seems to happen. An emotionally abusive partner can be guarded and protective of their own emotions even while they are disruptive and manipulative of your emotions.
The tricky part.
To be intimate with another person or persons means quite naturally that we will hurt one another because most people experience vulnerability in relationships. In fact, this is so true that it is common for authors and speakers to praise vulnerability as a worthwhile goalfor relationship partners, and indeed, vulnerability is absolutely required for success in relationship. Trying to have relationships without vulnerability is like trying to have water without wet — it just doesn’t work that way!
So, the difficulty with calling something “emotional abuse” and/or looking at the list of “signs 0f emotional abuse” above is that across time, most relationships have elements of things like emotional distance, saying hurtful things, feeling guilty/not good enough, and violations of boundaries. And here we must remember that the origin of the root of the word “vulnerability” is the latin term “vulna,” which means, “to wound.” That is to say, in relationships, we really can be wounded.
But being occasionally wounded by a partner who acknowledges their failures, shows remorse, and makes improvements (even if slowly, over time) is not the same thing as emotional abuse. Similarly, having a boss who occasionally blows it and expresses something out of frustration or drives employees harder than they realize is also more than likely not emotional abuse — again, particularly not with acknowledgment, efforts to reconcile and improve, and a commitment to talk things through.
Emotional abuse is characterized by persistent, unreasonable, inequitable, unacknowledged, and under-appreciated conduct, particularly over time and without improvement.
Some ways to deal with emotional abuse
- Look for the signs we mentioned above, and consider the degree to which they occur across time and without acknowledgment or remorse. Don’t kid yourself if someone is treating you poorly!
- If you’re unsure, talk with an objective outsider (this may not be your BFF, btw!) — present the facts as objectively as you can and genuinely solicit feedback.
- Practice being assertive by setting boundaries and insisting that they be respected, while recognizing that when someone doesn’t respect a boundary you’ve created, sometimes the only step is to walk away from the relationship altogether.
- Understand that emotionally abusive relationships often have a codependent element, and thus your own behavior is often part of the cycle — i.e., while the abusiveness is not your fault, it is your responsibility to care for yourself and get whatever support you need to do so.
- Seek support from healthy relationships that value who you are and can provide a standard of comparison.
Need some guidance with all of these? We can help!
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