When Cathy met her boy friend, five years ago at the University, their relationship was in good shape.
But just like any relationship – with time the excitement faded. However her biggest challenge came when she discovered the man she loved was having an affair.
Armed with all the evidence to prove he was having an affair, she decided to confront him.
Instead her boyfriend “shot” back at her by deciding to remain silent about the issue. He neither denied nor accepted “the charges” against him.
For two months he avoided her, never picked or returned her calls.
“I was so heartbroken- I loved him so much that all I wanted was him to say he was sorry! But he never did and this hurt me so much,” she recalls.
And here is the kicker: She did not know he was doing it. Because no hitting was involved, she simply did not have a name for the behaviour that made her feel “diseased” in his presence: the subtle put-downs, the physical avoidance, the mocking.
Experts do, though. They call it emotional abuse, and it is as widespread in romantic relationships as it is misunderstood.
In the simplest terms, emotional abuse is defined as behaviour and language designed to degrade or humiliate someone by attacking their self-value or personality.
While a normal couple may disagree about how to spend money, for example, an emotional abuser will make his partner feel as though she is too stupid to understand the intricacies of finances.
It can range from verbal abuse—yelling, blaming, shaming, and name-calling—to isolation, intimidation, and threats. It also commonly shows up as stonewalling and dismissing, behaviours that make victims feel alone and unimportant.
Although there are few firm statistics on emotional abuse’s prevalence among couples, experts say as many as two-thirds experience it, one-third of them chronically.
Its effects can be devastating: depression, anxiety, and destroyed self-esteem. “It’s very erosive,” says Marti Loring, Ph.D., author of Emotional Abuse. “Whether it’s overt or covert, the abuse negates a woman’s very being.”
For some women, abuse soon becomes “a way of life” just because they have been socialized to settle for literally “anything” from a man including violence.
But this is a typical recipe for disaster in life. One can never be happy in their home, if they feel threatened or insecure.
Over time, this tiptoeing around can devastate a woman, making her anxious, fatigued, and depressed, experts say. What’s more, she thinks it’s all her fault, and the very thought of leaving the relationship can add a layer of guilt and shame to the pile of negative emotions.
Loring says, “Women will tell me, ‘I would rather he hit me, because at least I can heal from the strike.’ But the emotional abuse just rings out in their minds with cruelty.”
And as a matter of fact accepting any kind of abuse only makes it worse – your partner will keep abusing as long as you do not show resistance.
Never tolerate any form of abuse in a relationship – life is too short to let someone waste it before you. If somebody loves you, they should be in position to treat you with respect and not hurt you in any way.