Emotional Abuse: The Hidden Attacker

My dream come true? I was married at age 21- naively excited and full of hope! “Life” had begun, right? This was the set schedule for my life: to go to college, get my Bachelors degree as well as my “Mrs.” degree. I was right on track. Unfortunately, that all came to an end, actually before it began! I started seeing some things in my engagement that I wasn’t too sure about. I had a feeling in my gut that this person wasn’t right for me but everyone else thought I was nuts! “He is so nice! You’ll never find anyone better than him. He’s the All-American guy! You’re just scared!” I didn’t listen to my internal feelings or my heart. 


Depression strikes! Shortly after we were married I became very depressed. I couldn’t understand why. I had almost successfully completed my BA in Psychology; I had my “Mrs.” degree, and was living among other college-married couples. I was having a great time. I started gaining weight quickly, about 20 pounds in the first 6 months of our marriage. I realize now I was eating to numb the pain of the abuse I was suffering. 


Dream over! My new husband began berating me for the amount of weight I had gained. He started with subtle comments that grew into insults and inappropriate comments about my weight. He then began hiding money from me, lying to me, staying out all night and drinking a lot. When I was upset about these things somehow he would twist it and I would end up feeling bad and apologizing for being upset! He would say things like “I didn’t come home because I knew you would nag me about where I had been!” I would then feel guilty for confronting him in the first place. He was a master at turning things on me and I would believe his reality rather than my own. He made extra efforts to be nice to my friends and family. That way when I talked to any of them they would either tell me I was over-reacting or “He’s just struggling with being married-he’ll come around.” It wasn’t until they started witnessing it first hand that they agreed there was a problem. 


Hope for me Because I grew up in a family with a strong denial system, I never believed in my own intuition or gut feelings when things felt bad or not right. That in combination with what lies he was feeding me caused me to believe there was something terribly wrong with me. So I sought counseling. Thank God for my therapist!! After seeing her, she helped me see what was actually going on. I was being emotionally abused! I had heard of physical and sexual abuse but I had never heard of emotional abuse before. So I started doing my own research and found it to be true. The lying, the twisting, berating, putting it all on me- that was his way of brainwashing me in order to get what he wanted and live life not conducive to being married. 


Time for change I began making drastic changes in myself. That obviously did not go over well with my husband. We really started having major problems. I begged him to go to marriage counseling with me and he refused. I continued working on our relationship and myself the best I could. He continued to pull away. Eventually the emotional abuse even started going away. The reason- he had found another person to do it to because I would no longer allow to participate in the abuse! Once I realized what was going on and that he had no intention of ending this new relationship, I had to leave the relationship. I couldn’t allow another person to be in our marriage. 


Freedom! I can’t tell you the freedom I experienced by leaving the bondage of emotional abuse. I continued in therapy and working on my issues and myself. I even decided to pursue my lifetime dream of becoming a therapist- something he had always told me I wasn’t smart enough to do. “You just need to accept that you’re not Graduate School material and not smart enough to be a therapist!” Well here I am-not only a therapist but a darn good one WITH my own practice! 


Love again? Life was good again… I began dating again; I had my eyes wide open! I knew I would not date or be in a relationship with an abuser ever again! I met a wonderful man and the poor guy had to pass vigorous “tests” just to be allowed a small portion of my heart! Luckily, he is very patient and we ended up marrying 6 years later! I thought I was home free. 


Depressed again?? I got a job that I felt was too good to be true. It was! After being there a year, I started really feeling depressed. I couldn’t figure out why I was depressed again! I was happily married, doing what I loved and living out my lifetime dream. In the meantime, I was having a lot of issues with my boss at my job. I kept trying to work on the issues but he constantly turned things around on me and convinced me that the problems were my issues. I constantly 2nd guessed myself and my own gut feelings (once again). He would minimize things that I felt were big issues in the practice. He would invalidate me by refusing to acknowledge the reality of inappropriate things that were happening at our practice. Once again, I was constantly questioning myself and my internal feelings about my experiences. 


Not again! After about 2 years of this, I realized what was happening. It literally hit me like a 2x4 across my head. I had been sucked in again! Here I was, educated and informed. I thought I had even fixed the problem by picking a wonderful, supportive partner. But I had just transferred it to another area of my life. 


Time for change, again Once again, I began working on boundaries and being strong. I listened to my gut when things weren’t right and tried setting appropriate boundaries with my boss. Once I did that in the work environment, things started heating up. As in the previous relationship with my ex-husband, my employer could not respect my boundaries or make the appropriate changes in his behavior to allow me to continue our relationship. He did apologize for some of his behaviors in the past but did not change those behaviors. I realized we were no longer compatible and it was my time to leave. 


Freedom again!! I cannot begin to tell you how truly blessed my life was for doing so. I really did feel freed, once again. I was no longer depressed and constantly questioning myself or my feelings. Being out of the situation opened my eyes to a lot: I realized I had to work on and manage what makes me attracted to these types of relationships and situations. I know for me it came down to boundaries, feelings of self worth, learning to listen to and validate myself, and valuing my OWN feelings and perceptions or viewpoints. I learned and practiced what my rights are in all my relationships. I had gotten this in my relationship with my present husband but this was new for me in relationships outside of my marriage. And people who like to emotionally abuse did not like being in a relationship with me anymore. It ruffled a lot of feathers and hurt relationships that were functioning because the person was able to act inappropriately in our relationship and not respect my boundaries. I no longer filled that need for them and they chose distance because of that. And I was finally ok with that. 


Do you see it in you? My goal in this article was to show how hidden emotional abuse is and the ways it can pop up in your life if you don’t realize why you are drawn to those types of relationships. Once you recognize those reasons, you can work on those core issues, usually of low self-esteem and boundaries. I also wanted to show that emotional abuse is not just someone yelling at you or calling you names. It can be sly and hidden, as was the case in my work environment. 


Hope for you, too! I hope this article has been helpful to you. If you identify to anything in this article, it may benefit you to talk with someone about emotional abuse. Feel free to drop us a line on a comment card to give us any feedback or questions you have about emotional abuse. A therapist at Imagine Hope would like to set an appointment and talk to you about possible emotional abuse. There are also several resources available to help you identify if you are being emotionally abused. Below are some links and resources to help you with your research.


www.thingsarelookinup.com (A test for emotional abuse)

www.studentaffairs.com (Describes emotional abuse and gives types of emotional abuse, gives rights in your relationships)

www.lilaclane.com (symptoms of emotional abuse) 


Engel, Beverly, MFCC. The Emotionally Abused Woman: Overcoming Destructive Patterns and Reclaiming Yourself. New York: Fawcett Columbine, 1990