Abuse doesn't always have to be physical

The Shelbyville News/February 14, 2004
By Kelley Walker Perry

Love hurts - yet broken spirits are seldom taken as seriously as broken bones.

Abusive relationships are not always physical, according to Lisa Henricks, adult case manager at Gallahue Mental Health Services.

Emotional bruises and mental scars bring at least one victim to the center, 7 E. Hendricks St., for counseling daily - with the majority of those victims being women, Henricks said.

There has been increased public awareness of physical abuse in past years, but emotional abuse is harder to pinpoint.

In the book, "The Emotionally Abused Woman" Beverly Engel defines abuse as "any behavior that is designed to control and subjugate another human being through the use of fear, humiliation and verbal or physical assaults. Emotional abuse is any kind of abuse that is emotional rather than physical in nature. It can include anything from verbal abuse and constant criticism to more subtle tactics such as intimidation, manipulation and refusal to ever be pleased."

According to Engel, there are 10 behaviors that characterize emotional abuse: domination, verbal assaults, abusive expectations, emotional blackmail, unpredictable responses, constant criticism, character assassination, "gaslighting" (fostering an atmosphere of fear, intimidation, instability, unpredictability and irritation), constant chaos and sexual harassment.

Living with an abuser often results in the victim being brainwashed into accepting blame for the situation.

"A huge majority think it's their fault, and they have guilt feelings," Henricks said.

Many women stay in an emotionally abusive relationship because they think they will be able to change the other person, or they hold onto a hope that the person will see the problem and want to change themselves.

"There's always that hope," Henricks said.

That's why she, and others at the center, attempt to counsel couples and victims involved in emotionally abusive relationships.

Many of these women have become so encompassed by the situation that they don't have a plan should life with the abuser becomes unbearable or physically harmful, Henricks said.

Counseling helps them learn to cope - and to have a plan of action, should the need arise.

Emotional abuse sometimes, though not always, leads to physical violence.

But, "Some men just like to have control," she said.

No one can see the hurt. But living with long-term emotional abuse causes internal damage: stress, depression, hopelessness, helplessness and loss of self-esteem.

"(Victims) carry that around inside them every day," Henricks said.

Additionally, children who live with emotional abuse sometimes tend to repeat the pattern in their own lives.

"They don't know any different - that was their environment," Henricks said.

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