Emotional abuse: The silent killer
By Rimli Bhattacharya
“It is not the bruises on the body that hurt. It is the wounds of the heart and the scars on the mind.” – Aisha Mirza
I was a little girl of eleven when our Geography teacher, Mrs Aditi Chaudhuri yelled in front of the entire class that I have no brains. It was a sort of bullying which I did not understand back then. No, she never had raised her hands on me; yet her words were enough to shatter my self esteem. By the time I had reached standard ten, some of my classmates (Mrs Chaudhuri’s pet) would call me “Miss Brainless Bhattacharya”. The impact of these bullying/abuse was so grave that in the later years I severed all the ties with those school friends of mine who called me names and grew up as an anxious adolescent individual with low self-esteem.
Nisha Sharma, a friend of mine who worked for twenty years with the corporate, took a voluntary retirement due to ill health. Little did she know her ordeal had just begun. Her marriage was on rocky waters with Nisha becoming financially dependent on her husband. Though the husband handed over the money to her, his gesture was accompanied with hard glares, rude remarks and also rising suspicion if she was really unwell to let go of that high-paying job. Then came a time when Nisha became a patient of depression and the person responsible for it was none than her husband.
In the above two cases I spoke about anxiety, low self-esteem and depression. Yes they are the outcome of emotional abuse. Abuse is control, overt disrespect of one’s dignity and use of hurtful words to wound an individual emotionally, physically and psychologically.
We classify abuse in two categories – physical and emotional. While physical abuse indicates control over others using physical tool as a means of manipulation, emotional abuse, which is also known as psychological abuse or verbal abuse, is controlling another person’s actions and behaviors through verbal and psychosomatic manipulation.
One Love Foundation defines emotional abuse as any abusive behavior that isn’t physical, which may include verbal aggression, intimidation, manipulation, and humiliation, which most often unfolds as a pattern of behavior over time that aims to diminish another person’s sense of identity, dignity and self worth, and which often results in anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts or behaviors, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
While physical abuse can be identified by a bruised arm, cut eye, broken nose, etc., emotional abuse have far reaching psychological consequences. It directly affects mental health.
We classify emotional abuse by several ways. Some of which are listed below:
- Verbal abuse – yelling, insulting, swearing and use of cuss words
- Bullying – deliberately and constantly saying things that are hurtful
- Isolation – restricting one from mixing/contacting with other people (example family or friends).
- Rejection – Ignoring one’s presence or be oblivious to your conversations
- Mockery – calling one names that one is inane, stupid; publicly humiliating one and blaming one for everything that goes wrong
- Anxiety attack/fear – making one feel nervous, subdued or scared.
- Financial control – controlling one’s finances, stealing from one or not allowing one to earn independently
- Comparison – comparing one with others resulting in lower self-confidence and self-worth
- Gaslighting – causingthe victim to question his/her rationality, evocation, or sentiments
Though emotional abuse is not gender specific but I stress on the fact that women are vulnerable and hence are easy victims to emotional abuse. Studies say that the percentages of women who are victims of emotional abuse are more compared to men. Women enter into abusive relationships thinking it is s okay. However, it’s not. Emotional abuse in the absence of physical abuse is often unrecognized. Although the literature identifies the insidious nature of this type of abuse and the physiological, psychological and emotional harm it often causes, knowledge of how women come to recognize they are being emotionally abused is underdeveloped. Though physical violence is generally seen weightier than emotional abuse, I once again reiterate it’s simply not true. Emotional abuse can be deadly.
In his book, Why Does He Do That?: inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men, Lundy Bancroft writes:
Your abusive partner doesn’t have a problem with his anger; he has a problem with your anger. One of the basic human rights he takes away from you is the right to be angry with him. No matter how badly he treats you, he believes that your voice shouldn’t rise and your blood shouldn’t boil. The privilege of rage is reserved for him alone. When your anger does jump out of you – as will happen to any abused woman from time to time – he is likely to try to jam it back down your throat as quickly as he can. Then he uses your anger against you to prove what an irrational person you are. Abuse can make you feel straitjacketed. You may develop physical or emotional reactions to swallowing your anger, such as depression, nightmares, emotional numbing, or eating and sleeping problems, which your partner may use as an excuse to belittle you further or make you feel crazy.
In the west people have dealt with this subject very sternly, while we in India we think it is quite normal to endure emotional tortures though we also know how dangerous it can be.
Some of the ill effects of emotional abuse include insecurity, fear, depression, anxiety, isolation from relationships, feeling of guilt, shame and loneliness, post-traumatic stress disorder, difficulty in concentration, nightmares and tension, low self-esteem and self-worth, suicidal thoughts, Stockholm Syndrome (where the victim supports the abuser), sleep disturbances, substance abuse.
It’s time we break the cycle of abuse. Let’s unite, reach out to the victims of emotional abuse, study their cases, and take help of professionals to deal with the sufferer. Do not spare the abuser. If required one must take recourse to legal remedies. Emotional abuse is no less than a murder; it is murder of the mind. It can make you insane. Sometimes it is the abuser who needs psychiatric treatment. The abuser may be insecure and hence retort to maltreatment to his/her victims.
I started the narration citing my example. My teacher was successful in crushing my self-esteem, confidence, worth whatever you might say but there came a time when I faced her and also gave her a piece of my mind. She had to apologize. Scars from mental cruelty can be deeper and everlasting as wounds from punches or slaps. It’s the psychological invalidation which is the most lethal form of emotional abuse, for it kills confidence, creativity and individuality. You see, it’s the scars you cannot see that are the hardest to heal. I am in my early forties now but memories of Mrs. Aditi Chaudhuri and her emotional torture are afresh.
To conclude, I say emotional abuse is the synonym of silent killer.
Author’s note: The identities mentioned in the above essay remain unchanged.
Rimli Bhattacharya completed Mechanical Engineering from National Institute of Technology. After obtaining an MBA, she worked in the corporate sector. Rimli is a trained Indian classical dancer, based out of Mumbai, India. She tweets at: @rimli76
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