Beverly Engel is a marriage and family therapist. She joined us to discuss the emotional abuse of women, how to stand up to an abusive partner, get out of an abusive relationship, and even deal with emotional abuse in the workplace.
David Roberts: HealthyPlace.com moderator.
The people in blue are audience members.
Beginning of Chat Transcript
David: Good Evening. I'm David Roberts. I'm the moderator for tonight's conference. I want to welcome everyone to HealthyPlace.com. Our topic tonight is "Emotionally Abused Women." Our guest is author and marriage and family therapist, Beverly Engel. Beverly has been in practice for about 25 years. She has also authored about a dozen self-help books, focusing mainly on women's issues. The one that may interest you tonight is entitled: Emotionally Abused Women.
Good Evening, Beverly, and welcome to HealthyPlace.com. We appreciate you being our guest tonight. So we're all on the same track, can you please define "emotional abuse" for us?
Beverly Engel: Emotional abuse is any type of abuse that is not physical in nature. It can include everything from verbal abuse to the silent treatment, domination to subtle manipulation.
There are many types of emotional abuse but most is done in an attempt to control or subjugate another person. Emotional abuse is like brainwashing in that it systematically wears away at the victim's self-confidence, sense of self, trust in her perceptions and self-concept.
David: Sometimes, we all take "jabs" at another person. At what point is it classified as "abuse?"
Beverly Engel: Emotional abuse occurs over time. It is a pattern of behavior rather than a one time incident.
David: Some people have difficulty determining if they are being abused. How does one know if they are being emotionally abused? Are there signs or symptoms we should look for?
Beverly Engel: Whenever you begin to doubt your perceptions or your sanity, when you become increasingly depressed, when you begin to isolate yourself from those who are close to you - all these are signs of emotional abuse.
David: What is it within ourselves that allows us to be emotionally abused?
Beverly Engel: Most often it is low self-esteem. Victims of emotional abuse usually come from abusive families where they either witnessed one parent abusing another or where they were emotionally, physically or sexually abused by a parent.
David: Let's say, for instance, that a person is being emotionally abused. What can they do about it?
Beverly Engel: The first step, as in most things, is to acknowledge the abuse. Then I recommend people go back into their childhood to discover who their original abuser was. This information will help the victim understand why she chose to be with an abusive partner in the first place.
She will also need to begin setting clearer limits and boundaries. More than likely, since she has not trusted her perceptions, she has been allowing her partner to walk all over her in many ways. Once she recognizes she is being abused she will need to let her partner know she will no longer allow such behavior. This does not mean he will necessarily stop but it will alert him to the fact that she is now aware of what is going on.
A woman who is being emotionally abused also needs to reach out for help. More than likely she has become isolated from others, perhaps because her partner is threatened by her friends and family. She needs to end this isolation in order to gain more strength and clarity, either by joining a support group, a chat room such as this one, or by seeking therapy.
David: You know, Beverly, many women are afraid to "stand up" for themselves and say, "please don't say or do those types of things to me anymore." One of the things they are afraid of is that the abuse might escalate or, on the other end of the spectrum, they might end up all alone without their spouse or partner.
Beverly Engel: Yes, these are real concerns. Sometimes emotional abuse can escalate into physical abuse. And sometimes standing up to an abuser will make him leave the relationship, but the price of staying silent is too big a price to pay.
When emotional abuse escalates into physical abuse, there are usually signs along the way that the other person is violent. If this is the case, it can be too risky to stand up to this kind of person. So I wouldn't recommend it. But a woman can still take a stand by leaving the relationship, by insisting they seek therapy, etc. If there have been no signs of violence, most women are safe in taking a stand. Emotional abusers push their limits. They will go as far as their partner will allow.
When they learn their partner will no longer allow it, some will back off. Others may try different tactics. Still, it is worth the risk. Many emotional abusers don't even know they are being abusive. They are merely continuing a pattern they themselves learned in their childhood, most likely from their family of origin.
Some emotional abusers are shocked to realize they are acting like their parents and some are willing to get help in order to stop the behavior, especially if they feel they will lose their partner if they continue to be abusive.
David: Here are a few audience questions on this subject:
Maera: My boyfriend just left me and I know consciously he is an abuser, but I want to call him so bad. It is like an addiction. How can I break that?
Beverly Engel: I suggest you take this time to focus on yourself if you can. Work on revisiting your family of origin to discover why you chose an abusive partner. Try to reconnect with old friends and make new ones. Try to keep yourself occupied in positive ways instead of allowing yourself to obsess about him.