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Creating awareness around emotional abuse

For Mental Health Awareness Week, one of our Young Champions talks about what emotional abuse is and calls for more public awareness.

Falling out with friends or family members can be really difficult, and you can feel that it’s your fault. In my case, there were many instances that have led me to understand this differently now and as a form of emotional abuse.

It is hard to put into words how it felt. Realising that you, and your parents, have been emotionally abused is overwhelming. If I only knew that this even existed, that it happens to others too – perhaps not to our extent, but emotional abuse is probably the most common form of domestic abuse.   

But when we realised that, it was too late. We almost felt guilty for not realising it before, and for not being able to be there for each other. We felt blind, uneducated, dumb. However, when I thought about it a little more, I realised that most people would be in the same situation as us. You see, emotional abuse is not something that is talked about in society – and therefore, people are unable to see it, even when it is happening in front of them.

Everyone knows about physical and sexual abuse, and generally people know a little about neglect, but we hardly know anything about emotional abuse. Of the people I know, several would not even realise that emotional abuse exists. The truth is that emotional abuse can, and will, leave just as many scars as all the other forms of abuse.

Just so you know, all forms of domestic abuse can happen in romantic and non-romantic relationships – it can happen between parents and children, brothers, and sisters. Like physical abuse, sexual abuse and neglect, emotional abuse is illegal and can be punishable by a prison sentence, yet very few people are aware of this.

Anger is what I felt first. It was more than anger. Rage. I was in a rage for days, pacing up and down and then at the end, crying. An outcry. That is how it felt. I think I felt angry about why I wasn’t able to spot it; to realise that what was happening was emotional abuse. I felt angry that I let someone treat my family in this way. I felt angry that, for my late grandmother, I was unable to let her know that this was what she was going through. Sometimes I think perhaps that was for the best, but perhaps it wasn’t.

To me, emotional abuse is anything which someone does to manipulate your emotions, but other people may see it differently. Gaslighting was at the core of the emotional abuse which I faced. For us, gaslighting came in the form of a constant denial of the truth. It makes you doubt your own memory, looking for reassurance, apologising all the time. You start to think that you are ‘bonkers’, crazy, stupid. Realising that I am not ‘bonkers’, crazy, or stupid has, I think, helped my general confidence. But I shouldn’t have had to go through that.

It also came in the form of not ever feeling that I was good enough. For example, I would bake some cakes and, no matter how hard I tried, there would always be something wrong with them. There was no praise for anything, or to anyone. This makes you feel unworthy, pointless almost, and as a result you have an unwillingness to try anything new.

In reading this blog, if you think this happens in a friend’s relationship with someone, my best advice would be to talk to them. Share your understanding of what emotional abuse is, listen to them if they want to be open with you, and let them know you’re there for them always. It is really reassuring to know that someone is always at the end of a phone when you need them. They might not want to talk, but if they do, make sure you are there.

If you can see this happening in your own relationships, the best thing I would say is to reach out for help. Although this may be easier said than done, there are a number of ways in which you can get support. Also, try to keep yourself busy. For me, it was a mixture of exercise, reading and making mosaic tiles, which was incredibly fun! As you face these bigger challenges in your life, my advice would be to try new activities and do things you enjoy.

I hope that, from this blog, you now have an understanding of what emotional abuse is and how it affects people – whether it is happening to you, and you had not recognised it as abusive, or to someone you know.

If you are in need of help or support please visit our urgent help page which lists organisations that are available, including ones available 24/7.