Emotional abuse ruins self-esteem and health

Emotional abuse ruins self-esteem and health
Tuesday, December 02, 2003 @02:00AM (The Link, Concordia University Newspaper)
by Caroline Fernandez

“Where the fuck are you?”, his gruff voice demands. “You were supposed to be home at six o’clock.”

I’m on my way home from the gym, it’s only 7:30, you beg.

The phone clicks as he hangs up.

When you walk through the door, all you see is him standing at the entrance, staring at you with those menacing eyes. You know he’s not going to hit you, but you also know that the words he says are going to feel worse than any slap against your cheek or any vase thrown at your back.

He quickly pounces. “You little whore, I know you weren’t at the gym. Who was that guy who left a message on your pager about work? You think I don’t know what you’re up to? Didn’t I tell you that only I could have that number? How could you do this to me? I’ve given you so much, and this is how you repay me?” and he continues. You rush up to him and in hopes of mollifying his anger, you smother him
in kisses. For now, it has passed. You breathe a sigh of relief as you both slowly move to the bedroom.

This is emotional abuse, the form that is usually pushed aside and considered most easily escapable. What most don’t know is that it doesn’t only happen to married couples who’ve sworn their lives to one another. It’s becoming more and more apparent in high school and university relationships. Like other forms of relationship abuse, women and men can be victims, though it is more common to see women experiencing it.

A male Concordia journalism student remembers the severity of being abused by his ex-girlfriend. “We used to get wrecked and argue a lot,” he said. “She’d constantly tell me how her mom and her friends hated me so much and how I didn’t really love her but how she really loved me.” He adds, “We were together for about five months, and she shredded my soul.”

Such are the signs of being emotionally abused. They include being criticized constantly for one’s actions, size, abilities and appearance. Acting overly jealous, as exhibited in the first scenario, is also typical. Though it starts off feeling like love and attention, it’s really possessiveness and accusations. There’s a sense of shame which results in a reluctance to tell people about the situation, said Dr. Jeffrey Levitt,
a coordinator at Concordia’s Counseling and Development. “They exist in this bubble. It’s a very isolated feeling.”

Separation from family, friends, community, faith and education also prevent the abused partner from living an independent life. The abuser can also be intimidating by controlling, withholding finances or making important decisions for the couple and its dependents, if there are any.

“He would remind me of every mistake I’d ever made, especially when he would do things wrong,” one first-year Concordia student said. “Every time I’d try to break loose and move on, he’d threaten to hurt people I love and even expose our intimate secrets. He’d say just about anything to keep me there.”

Emotional abuse is brought about both verbally and mentally. It eats away at the victim, perhaps not with black eyes and swollen lips, but it leaves scars, nonetheless. It is damaging to one’s self-image and health. You find yourself unable to make decisions and doing everything you can to please your partner before all else. Such relationships result in depression and a loss of interest in hobbies. Changes in sleeping pattern, energy levels, concentration and health are also signs of an unhealthy relationship.

One 19-year-old woman from Toronto labeled her type of emotional abuse as “guilt trips.” She said, “I’d try to go out with my girlfriends, and he’d try to make me feel bad about it by saying things like, ‘Here I am sitting at home thinking about you while you’re out with your friends. You don’t care about me or anything in this relationship. Here I am missing you while you’re having fun. Here I am writing stuff for you, taking time away from my family and friends while you’re not even devoted to me.'” She continued, “He ruined my relationship with my parents by causing fights between them and me. Everyone knew he wasn’t good for me, except me. I’d have to lie to my parents to get out, and then I was feeling like I was getting further and further away from them.”

Although there is no hard and fast rule on how to leave an abusive relationship, Levitt suggested that people in this situation “try to have a secure social network” of friends and family.

A friend or family member wanting to help should first and foremost be an “active, good listener,” he said. “Shy away from initially offering help.” Levitt explained that, although friends are “naturally inclined to fix the situation” of a loved one, the person should be allowed to let off some steam first. “They want to be heard,” he said.