When Does A Normal Fight Become Emotional Abuse?



Towards the end of last year, there seemed to be a considerable shift in gender dynamics, with more and more individuals (women in particular) being empowered enough to talk about their personal experiences with abuse. Aside from just talking about sexual abuse, however, there has also been a wave of brave young women who took to social media to talk about something that is more in the gray: verbal and emotional abuse.

Not as easy to pinpoint as physical abuse, there is still that stigma regarding this particular topic. Unfortunately, the lines are still blurred simply because the effects of emotional or verbal abuse aren’t as obvious as a physical scar or a bruise. But just because you don’t see something right away, doesn’t mean that one is less than the other. So for those of you who are still in need of some enlightenment, let us explore: what exactly is it?

“[Emotional or verbal] Abuse happens when a person demeans another individual using words or actions that are meant to hurt or destroy the other person’s dignity and self-esteem,” shares Katrine S. Bunagan, MA RP, Founding Partner and Consultant at Better Steps Psychology, adding that for the abuser, “There is that goal of demeaning or to inflict harm to the other person.”  

Verbal emotional abuse

To give us a clearer picture, Bunagan states that examples of this type of abuse include (but are not limited to) the following: verbal insults, mocking, yelling, threatening, continuous lying, slander, excessive criticism, ignoring, blackmailing, withholding affection and gaslighting, a pattern of behaviors which cause another person to question his or her own memory or sanity.

As I stumbled across these stories of abuse, I’d always find myself feeling so affected—angry even. In addition to this, there was also that sense of assurance, thinking to myself that what I had been experiencing then with an ex-boyfriend wasn’t just in my head, as he liked to say.

Things aren’t always as black and white when you’re blinded by your own emotions. Being the type to stand up for myself when I am wronged, I didn’t initially realize that what was happening to me was in fact emotional and/or verbal abuse. I used to think that simply defending myself was enough. But why did I always feel that I was being deliberately hurt? A simple argument that any couple could easily get over could just as easily turn into an episode wherein I was suddenly being yelled at and called hurtful, insulting things. When I upset him, I was often ignored for a good part of the day, as if he was holding his affection hostage. There were also times when he would get very mad over my reactions for mistakes he committed, as if he felt he had the authority to dictate how I felt. Over time, the relationship turned into a toxic cycle that I eventually grew tired of. It wasn’t easy—there were the hate messages, false accusations about me rolling off my ex’s own tongue and of course, the heartbreak that is bound to come after a break up—but once I made that decision, I eventually felt a lot lighter. “I can’t remember the last time I cried,” I told my mom once, months after I left a relationship where I found myself crying more often than I should.

“In emotional abuse, there are no physical marks, scars, or bruises, so it is easier for the abuser deny it, whether to themselves or to others,” starts Bunagan, “This adds another layer to the complexity of the experience of abuse. Part of the damage also comes from how a number of abusers blame their victim for making them do things. ‘Why did you have to do that,’ ‘Look what you made me do,’—these are some of the typical utterances abusers direct to their victims, especially in the context of intimate relationships.”

This can eventually lead to harrowing effects, which vary depending on the individual. Common short-term effects include fear over the source of abuse, markedly changed behavior, lack of sleep, and possibly nightmares. Long-term effects can turn more severe, with psychological symptoms of disorders such as anxiety or depression not too far off. “Additionally, the longer the abuse takes place, it can have major effects on the victim’s self-esteem and even their sense of self. If you think that you’re a good person but someone keeps berating you about how bad of a person you are, you might start to think the same thing yourself after some time,” adds Bunagan.

Verbal emotional abuse

I question Bunagan as to how one can deal with a partner who is emotionally or verbally abusive. “Leave the relationship,” she starts, “Our culture tends to be very forgiving of abuse, especially in the context of relationships. We must create an idea that abuse is not okay, and that when it happens, the priority is the safety and wellbeing of the party being abused. Trying to change the ways of the abuser comes second.”

I am not trying to play victim by sharing a mere snippet of my story; in fact, I never liked seeing myself as such. Like the many other individuals who are sharing their stories, I feel that it is important to change the dialogue regarding this topic. Emotional and verbal abuse can start subtly, especially when they are coming from someone you supposedly love. But like Bunagan says, “Abuse is abuse, no matter what type it is.”

Better Steps Psychology is located at Unit 301 Fortune Building, 144 Pasig Boulevard, Pasig City. For more information, you may visit their website BetterSteps.org, or contact them through [email protected].

As seen on MEGA Magazine January 2018.

Conversation by Simon Glucklich | Oil painting on Canvas