Emotional Abuse in Relationships
While most of us, from time to time, say things in the heat of the moment that we later regret, in some relationships angry words rise to the level of abuse. It can be difficult to recognize abuse in relationships because we often confuse the abuse with the abuser. What I mean by that is: when we have gotten to know and become close to our relationship partner, we see the different sides of them, including the good side. An abuser can be a caring and compassionate person on many occasions, they may have a good heart, and most of the time be a wonderful companion. So, when the abuser happens to have many good qualities, its more difficult to recognize and label their bad behavior as abuse. After all, how can this person, whom you know is a good person with a good heart, be committing abuse? “It’s surely not abuse”, we tell ourselves, “he/she just lost control because I’m always making such stupid mistakes. I should be more careful.”
In this very subtle way, the cycle of abuse can begin. The abuser becomes verbally and emotionally abusive to their partner, the partner does not recognize it as abuse and begins to blame themselves. Before you know it, a cycle is established and you find yourself in a relationship where there isn’t enough respect or kindness.
In other cases, the abuse is more direct, sometimes even deliberate, and the abuser systematically over time makes their partner believe that he/she is not enough: not smart enough, not attractive enough, not good enough in bed, not worthy of unconditional love … the list goes on. Often in these relationships, the person on the receiving end of the abuse has had a similar experience in childhood: an abusive parent, and overly-critical parent, parents who made them feel unimportant or unwanted in some way. They may not believe they deserve any better, or simply don’t notice that this way of interacting is unhealthy because it feels familiar. Or they may be afraid to speak up or leave for a variety of reasons.
The saddest part of abusive relationships, in my opinion, is that both partners have made the choice to lower their standards for themselves and their families. The abuser makes that choice by not holding himself/herself to a higher standard of conduct, and the partner being abused makes the choice by not insisting on a more loving and kind communication pattern in the relationship.
Find Your Courage
If you find yourself in a verbally or emotionally abusive relationship, I hope you can believe in yourself, your partner, and your family enough to begin seeking help in learning how to interact in ways that will enhance your self-esteem, your partner’s self-esteem and the satisfaction you both get from your relationship.
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Dr. Chantal Gagnon
Dr. Chantal Marie Gagnon, Ph.D., LMHC is a licensed psychotherapist, relationship counselor, and life coach in Plantation, Florida. Dr. Gagnon provides individual therapy, family counseling services, and couples therapy in her Plantation, FL office. Coaching services are available nationwide.
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