Someone who commits emotional abuse often scoffs at the idea that he's hurting anyone because he never raises a fist. But his behavior can be just as debilitating to his victim as physical violence. It's not a matter of speaking without thinking first or not meaning what he says. Verbal and emotional abuse is deliberate. Abusers choose to attack and when to attack to mostly demoralize and mortify victims, says Helpguide.org.
Emotional abuse is caused by an abuser's need to exert control over you. After a steady stream of verbal taunts and slurs, your sense of self-value can erode. An abuser often encourages this by telling you repeatedly that you can't handle things on your own and you'll make a mess of it if you try. Or he may threaten you, your loved ones, even your pet, if you take certain actions that he doesn't like. The result is that he dictates nearly your every move. This is his goal.
Control feeds into a sense of power. When your abuser is hurting you, your complete attention is on her and what she's doing to you. You can't think of anything else. This makes her feel stronger, especially when her words draw blood and you let it show. An innate need to feel superior to her victim often drives a verbal and emotional abuser. Not only can she control your actions, she can make you cringe whenever she chooses to.
Generally, a lack of his own self-worth lies underneath an abuser's need for power and control. Deep down, he doesn't think much of himself. When he convinces you that you can't do anything for yourself and you need him to do everything for you, this tells him that he is not as worthless as he fears he is. If he makes you need him, in his eyes he has value.
Abusive tendencies are not genetic or inherited, but the behavior is often learned. When a child witnesses emotional abuse between his own parents and the abusing parent suffers no repercussions for her behavior, the child learns that abuse is normal and OK. A parent who emotionally abuses her spouse is 1,500 times more likely to abuse her child as well, according to the Agape Foundation Against Domestic Violence. Child trauma can lead to issues in adulthood involving lack of self-worth, and child victims can grow up to become abusers themselves.
What Doesn't Cause Abuse
Your abuser may claim that he lashed out at you because he was drunk, high or stressed out. These are not causes of verbal or emotional abuse. You also cannot drive him to behavior that has its roots in his own mind.
- HelpGuide.org; Domestic Violence and Abuse; Melinda Smith, M.A. and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D.; March 2011
- Turtle Island Center Family Services; Verbal Abuse -- Frequently Asked Questions; Suzette Haden Elgin; 2003
- Focus on the Family; FAQs About Emotional Abuse; Mary J. Yerkes; 2007
- Agape Foundation Against Domestic Violence: What is Domestic Violence?
- Domesticviolence.org; Who Are the Abusers?; 2009
- Photo Credit BananaStock/BananaStock/Getty Images