David: You mentioned a moment ago, that some men don't even realize they are being emotionally abusive. I'm wondering if you would categorize "emotional abuse" as being a "lesser" evil than physical or sexual abuse?
I ask that because some women just say "well at least he doesn't hit me."
Beverly Engel: Not at all. Emotional abuse can be just as damaging as physical or sexual abuse and sometimes even more so because the damage is so deep and all encompassing.
When you are hit, the pain will subside a lot faster than emotional abuse, which continues to go around and around in your head endlessly. There is nothing worse you can do to a person than make them doubt their sanity or their perceptions.
Emotional abuse damages your self-esteem and sense of self to such a degree that many women are unable to leave the situation for fear they cannot make it on their own. If you are told every day that you are stupid, that no one else will ever want you, that you are making things up you will not have the strength and courage to believe in yourself. Soon you'll feel like the only option you have is to stay with this abusive person.
David: Here's an audience comment that speaks directly to what you are saying Beverly:
alfisher46: My husband will never leave me. He wouldn't have anyone to control. He's never hit me, but he has gotten violent and scared me. Yes, he refuses to believe he is abusive, then he is nice, then it starts all over again. He has my head spinning in circles. These bruises don't heal.
Beverly Engel: Yes, some women find comfort in the fact that a man will never leave them. These are usually women who were abandoned in some way when they were growing up - emotionally or physically. But again, the price you pay for knowing he will never leave you can be your very sanity.
paprika: If a person feels like they are walking on eggshells around their partner, are they most likely in a mentally abusive relationship?
Beverly Engel: Paprika - yes, this is exactly how women in an emotionally abusive relationship feel. They are afraid to say anything for fear of angering their partner. They are constantly blamed for anything that goes wrong. They feel like they have to be careful about everything they say and do.
oiou40: I was emotionally abused when I was an adolescent by my father. I have been in counseling three different times and the feelings go away for a bit but always come back. What can I do to really deal with them to the point that they no longer interfere with my life?
Beverly Engel: oiou40 - My first question to you is why have you been in therapy 3 times? Why did you stop therapy each time? Sometimes the answer to your question is simply that you need to stay in therapy longer and keep working on the issues with your father. It takes time to overcome emotional abuse, especially if you were a child when the abuse first began.
beth2020: How can you overcome the fear to take the first step? To stand up to someone is my biggest fear.
Beverly Engel: beth 2020 - I understand. Fear can be crippling. Perhaps you aren't quite ready to stand up to someone yet. Perhaps you need more time to heal from the emotional abuse from your past and to gain more self-confidence by surrounding yourself with supportive people.
Keep trying Beth. It takes time to gain the courage and confidence to stand up for yourself. You can start by leaving a room or your home when the abuse begins. That way you won't be adding more abuse to your already wounded soul.
David: I think that's a good point, Beverly. You don't have to stand up to anyone to get help for yourself. You can still get therapy, attend a support group, and see supportive friends without confronting the abuser.
Beverly Engel: Yes, standing up for yourself may be the last step, especially if you've tried in the past and were knocked down (emotionally or physically).
David: Here's a comment from another audience member facing a difficult situation:
alfisher46: I'm still in denial about being abused because it doesn't happen all the time, but he has threatened me and threatened to take my daughter. He's got me right where he wants me. I'm scared to come home. I never know if he will be happy or mad. I have learned how NOT to set him off - by keeping my mouth shut. I keep telling myself I need more time also, but I keep getting depressed.
Beverly Engel: Alfisher46 - Yes, when an abuser threatens to take your children they do have you where they want you, but in most cases, that is all it is - a threat. Legally, he more than likely will be unable to gain full custody of your child.
The longer you stay in the relationship the less strength and courage you'll have to leave. And you do need to consider your daughter's welfare. She is being emotionally abused by being in his presence as he abuses you. She is learning very bad lessons about relationships by watching you and your husband interact.
I know it is difficult but you do need to continue working on coming out of denial and you need to seek some help. A good therapist will help you gain the strength to leave. I am concerned about the fact that you say you are depressed. This is not a good sign at all. Please seek some help.
David: I remember at the start of the conference, you said emotional abuse can really wear the victim down. I'm getting a lot of comments from people who are "too emotionally worn down" to do anything positive to help themselves. What would you suggest to those people?
Beverly Engel: I suggest they seek professional help or join a support group. You may not be able to do this on your own. There is no shame in saying that you need help.
I am not trying to drum up business, but I do offer e-mail counseling and I am willing to help anyone who has more questions after the conference is over.