Emotional abuse is the primary tactic used by a narcissist. There may be instances of physical, sexual and verbal abuse but emotional abuse is often the reason victims stay attached for so long.
So what is emotional abuse?
One definition of emotional abuse is: "any act including confinement, isolation, verbal assault, humiliation, intimidation, infantilization, or any other treatment which may diminish the sense of identity, dignity, and self-worth."1
Emotional abuse is also known as psychological abuse or as "chronic verbal aggression" by researchers. People who suffer from emotional abuse tend to have very low self-esteem, show personality changes (such as becoming withdrawn) and may even become depressed, anxious or suicidal.
(From: Healthy Place)
In relationships it can present as any of the following behaviours:
- Neglect (emotional and physical)
- Harassment or malicious tricks
- Being screamed at or shouted at
- Unfair punishment
- Cruel or degrading tasks
- Cruel confinement
- Touch deprivation
- No privacy
- Having to hide injuries or wounds from others
- Forced to keep secrets
- Having to take on adult responsibilities as a child
- Having to watch family members being hurt
- Being caught in the middle of parent's fights
- Being blamed for family problems
- Other forms of emotional abuse
(From: Betrayal Bonds)
These experiences are traumatic and have a lasting impact upon our mind, body and soul.
Although emotional abuse is not physical, the connection between the mind and the body has long been established. Our bodies respond physically to abuse. The old adage "sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me" is sadly false. Words hurt. In fact there is substantial evidence that the long term impact of chronic emotional abuse is significantly worse than physical abuse. I am not by any means dismissing physical abuse, I am just stating that it is important not to underestimate the impact of emotional abuse.
When we are verbally attacked or feel threatened or scared, our body goes into a stress response. This triggers adrenaline and our fight/flight/freeze response. The above graphic shows how this impacts our bodies. Long term exposure to this is trauma and can cause PTSD and Complex PTSD.
Our emotions are our innate guidance system. They tell us whether we are in a good place or a bad one. Safe or not. They also connect us to other people and form the basis of relationships. When they are abused they impact both our cognitive and emotional processing skills.
This brain scan shows the impact it has on the brain and the areas most affected by abuse.
Victims of emotional abuse often describe the "fog" they live in. This is due to the damage abuse does to the frontal lobe. It numbs the emotions and slows responses. It is why trauma bonds occur. The victim seeks extremes to feel anything. Boundaries get pushed to achieve that emotional high. It is why victims can become co-narcissistic or unrecognisable to themselves and others. They are addicted to the abuser and behave out of character to keep that bond. Also known as Stockholm Syndrome.
Breaking that bond is like giving up heroin
Your emotions are your indicator of your connection to your true self. When you feel good, excited, happy, loving, flowing you are living your soul purpose. When you feel angry, sad, frustrated, hateful you are ego and fear based. Not only does emotional abuse separate you from your soul, it ruptures your navigation system. Victims struggle with knowing who they are and what they want. They can get stuck in those negative emotional states.
But it us do important to know that your true self never separates from you. Your alignment is available to you at all times. You just need to learn to listen and feel again. Take a moment to connect to your body. What are you feeling? Where are you feeling it? How can you move up that scale? So if you're angry, what is a slightly better emotion? Determined? Focused? Keep going until you feel more positive. Don't try to jump from anger to happiness. It's too much of a leap. Small steps.
If you want to reconnect to your soul, book your Moving Forward session today.