Not all relationships are perfect, and people say or do things in anger that they regret later. But if those things are a pattern, and if they are used to degrade and control, no matter how subtle they may seem or how much the other person tells you they are really for “your own good,” in truth they are abuse . You may be asking yourself, “Where does constructive criticism end and abuse take over?”
Emotional abuse by itself or used in conjunction with physical or sexual abuse is easily recognizable if you know what to look for. Many types of emotional abuse will take the form of a message – the spoken and unspoken messages of your self-identity and self-esteem. These messages, either positive or negative, have become incorporated into how you feel about yourself.
Whether you were emotionally abused as a child or an adult, the messages were meant to belittle, devalue, shame, and ultimately control. Additionally, if those messages were given by the very people you looked to for love and guidance, the very one whose opinions you trusted, they have been given the appearance of validity and have added weight.
Emotional abusers have very select ways they use to control those they are abusing. The messages may differ slightly, but the ultimate goal of emotional abuse is control. By controlling those around them, abusers are attempting to control their circumstances and situations. By belittling those around them, abusers are attempting to make themselves feel better
The tragedy is that while sometimes these abusers are aware of what they are doing, often they are not. A habit of abuse has become a life pattern that is so comfortable, so normal for them, that they have stopped questioning the reasons behind their words and actions. As is so often the case in abuse, many abusers have a history of abuse in their own past and are acting out behavior that seems normal to them.
Whether it is a long-term abusive relationship or a onetime traumatic event of rejection that created a later resentment and unresolved anger, it is still damaging. It is vital that you identify it and learn how to deal with its consequences.
Acknowledging and becoming aware of abusive patterns in your life will lead to healing and the recovery process.
The above is excerpted from Chapter 1 in Healing the Scars of Emotional Abuse by Dr. Gregory Jantz.