October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. (In this post, I’ll be talking about abuse in pretty good detail, so if you would prefer not to read about it I suggest you go here to listen to the rain instead.)
This month, I’d like to talk about emotional abuse.
A lot of people don’t think of emotional abuse as “real” abuse. It’s not as dramatic as hitting or rape or any of the things that “count” as abuse. But to my mind emotional abuse can be the worst– physical abuse hurts your body, but emotional abuse fucks up your mind. And behind all those stories of “real” abuse, there’s these tendrils of emotional abuse curling through, often years before the physical or sexual abuse started. Ever wondered why they don’t just leave? That’s why. Because abusers make people dependent on them and unable to function about them. Abusers make people believe the abuse is their fault.
What is emotional abuse? Controlling all the money so you get no input into family finances. “Are you cheating on me with them? You are, aren’t you? I don’t want you to talk to them again!” Punching the wall near your head. “I never said that. You’re making things up. You’re crazy.” Isolating you from your friends and family. “I’m sorry, honey, but if you didn’t make me angry…” Making all or many of your decisions for you. “If you leave me I just don’t know what I’ll do. I might end up doing something we both regret.” Calling you stupid or ugly or fat or other insults.
Most of all, emotional abuse is a consistent pattern within the relationship of disrespect, degradation, fear, anger, lack of accountability, and control. If you are in a relationship characterized by those traits, it is not a healthy relationship. If your relationship is making you unhappy and your partner is not interested in long-term, sustainable change to make you happy, it is not a healthy relationship. “My partner makes me happy” is not some great expectation. It is literally the basic minimum requirement for entry.
You notice I didn’t use gendered pronouns up there? I didn’t use them for a reason. Men and women are, in fact, equally likely to be survivors of emotional abuse.
For male victims, the tendency of our culture to downplay emotional abuse as merely a “bad relationship” comes out in full force. People don’t believe that emotional abuse is abuse, and they don’t believe that men can be abused, and when the two combine it releases a storm of victim-blaming bullshit. They should just get over it. They should stop being upset. They’re whiny pussies for caring about this so much. God, why does this bother you, are you a fag or something?
I’d also like to take a moment to point out the ways our culture considers behavior that is objectively emotionally abusive, particularly early-stage and more subtle emotional abuse, to be romantic. After all, your partner’s passionate! She cares about you! What does it matter that she’s jealous of every other girl in your life to the point that you can’t really hang out with them, or that she reads your email without your permission and then screams at you about what she finds, or that she breaks down crying and threatens self-harm when you try to leave her? That just shows how much she loves you!