A recent study found that the number of adult children who are cutting off their parents has increased to record-breaking levels. 1 in 4 American adults has now made the conscious choice to cease having a relationship with their mother or father. And 77 percent of these people say that emotional abuse was a key factor driving their decision to say ‘no more’ to Mom and Dad.
Emotional abuse is a topic that isn’t very well understood. On my latest episode of “The Language of Love,” I talk about emotional abuse and how it can play out in our romantic relationships and in our family systems.
Emotional abuse is much harder to define or even notice when compared to physical abuse. Since emotional abuse doesn’t leave bruises or broken bones, it can often feel inconsequential in comparison. But emotional abuse can be incredibly destructive. It can create wounds that take a lifetime to repair. It can forever alter the way a person experiences their reality and their beliefs about their worth and their abilities.
How do you know if you are being emotionally abused? Here are some key warning signs:
1. You have the feeling that you are ‘walking on eggshells’: You work very carefully to manage the other person’s moods and to ensure that nothing upsets them or sets them off. Keeping them happy is paramount because otherwise the fallout is catastrophic.
2. You have to apologize all the time: If you find yourself saying “I’m sorry” reflexively throughout the day, it is a red flag that you are being emotionally abused or that you were emotionally abused in the past. While it’s good to say “I’m sorry” if you hurt someone’s feelings or bump into them, people with a history of emotional abuse will often say “I’m sorry” all of the time as if they have to apologize for existing and having needs or boundaries.
3. You are always being criticized. If your partner or family member is always nitpicking the way you look or belittling your achievements or making you feel ‘less than,’ this is emotional abuse. Your partner doesn’t have to be a ‘yes man’ who never sees any flaws in you, but they shouldn’t make you feel like you are the flaw.
4. Your partner diminishes or denies your reality. Often called gaslighting, if your partner has a way of turning everything around on you and making you feel like you can’t trust your own judgment or perception, you may be experiencing emotional abuse. If your partner calls you ‘crazy’ or ‘hysterical’ or ‘over-emotional,’ beware that these are words intended to make you stop trusting your own emotions and intuition and instead take on your partner’s beliefs instead. It is a very insidious form of control that can leave you struggling to believe your own thoughts or believe in your own capable mind.
5. They love bomb you. Lovebombing is when a partner senses that they are losing control of their mate. Just like a physically abusive partner might buy roses for their spouse after they give them a black eye, an emotionally abusive partner will also sense when they have ‘gone too far’ and they will immediately try to correct their mistakes in order to re-secure their control of you. This might look like showering you with praise, telling you that no one else in the world is like you, that your relationship is so unique and earth-shattering that no other human being has ever felt love like this. It’s love that doesn’t feel like love deep down, and you can often sense it as it’s happening. You will have often trepidation or misgivings in your gut even as your mind is thinking “Well, what’s wrong with being showered with praise?”
There is, of course, nothing wrong with praise and presents, but your intuition can sense when that love is coming from a place of ego and control, rather than a place of true adoration and unconditional love.
Healing from emotional abuse requires conscious and intentional soulwork. On episode 90 “The Language of Love’ (entitled “The Invisible Pain of Emotional Abuse: When Your Partner Makes You Feel Unworthy”), I help a caller who is struggling to heal from past emotional abuse and make different choices in her romantic relationships moving forward. Give it a listen to hear my best tips for how you can heal from your own emotional trauma. Remember, love should feel like a bridge, not a bomb.