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Emotional Abuse (emotionalen Missbrauch / maltrato emocional) is much more difficult to identify and accept than physical abuse, and when it happens within a friendship, things turn into a huge mess and everyone goes ballistic. This blog entry is both difficult and painful to write, since it is from a very personal and vulnerable perspective, and not just pulled out of the hat for the sake of a topic. The wound is raw, the tears have not dried yet, and the fear has not vanished.
It takes two to tango, and for any relationship to disintegrate, there are at least two people involved, both sharing the burden of responsibility and guilt. However, in emotional abuse there are additional factors that make this an multifaceted nightmare and both the losses and damage are almost impossible to quantify.
Let me be very clear, the emotional abuse I write about here is also referred to as friendship bullying in layman´s terms. Parents of small children and teachers will be familiar with the concept, as it is common in the playground or school. Less common, however, is friendship bullying among adults, and adult bullies are far more difficult to expose.
The Offender (the Bully):
An adult bully (traditionally identified as male, although a female is just as common) is an egocentric narcissist full of insecurities nurtured since early childhood. The intimidating behaviour is manifested through verbal abuse, deliberate cruelty in word and deed, acting superior and entitled, will not hesitate to criticise and humiliate in public or in private, and always has to have the last word. The emotional bully is a control and boundaries freak to the point of obsession, and will do the walking out / away, never allowing or admitting that they were walked out on. Because they never knew kindness, compassion and generosity as children, emotional bullies have a one-track-minded perspective of the emotional world and values. Gentleness is not in their nature and they harbour no sense of loyalty (to partner, friend or employer). Infatuation is mistaken for love, and unconditional friendship is such an alien concept that it is branded as possessiveness.
Recipients of emotional abuse have several character flaws that make them the perfect victims. They were raised in fear and taught that their primary duty in life is to please others at all costs. Obedience and subservience are fuel to the fear of making a mistake, of appearing vulnerable, of being unable to meet the standards of the bully. If something goes wrong, they will take the blame entirely, try to fix things silently and behind the bully’s back for fear of another tirade, and are not likely to assert themselves, simply because they never learned how to. These people will mistake control for protection, misinterpret approval for kindness, and will live with the eternal hope that the bully will change in due time. The constant abuse leads to a fragile self-esteem and a false sense of resilience that is projected to the public. Ironically, fear will also drive them to continuously defend the bully before others. They may not be able to assert themselves, but are willing to throw down their lives for the bully.
The Warning Signs:
As I wrote yesterday, I have been down this road before (2017), and stupidly allowed myself to be drawn back into the viciousness. What are the warning signs I missed or ignored (a HUGE mistake on my part, for which I paid a high price emotionally and psychologically)?
* Never feeling my best with this person: being put down for my cultural heritage, emotional and behavioural limitations, and body shaming.
* Feeling like a doormat: being trampled on verbally and emotionally, appointments cancelled, shouldering expenses for preparation or cancellation without complaining.
* My own weaknesses used against me: being made to feel that I never measure up to their standards, and made to believe that whatever criticism was thrown my way was Gospel truth.
* Lies, half truths, and withheld information.
* Won’t admit to their own faults, especially on being a bully.
* Don’t listen to logic.
* Hipocresy: say one thing and do another.
In an emotionally abusive friendship there are no painless options. Regardless of whether you choose to stay and remain a victim, or like me, chose to walk away, you stand to lose the good with the bad. I think this is one of the reasons I held on for so long, the good moments, the treasured memories, and the false sense of security. As I am quickly learning, emotional abuse is no laughing matter. Do not ignore your own feelings or consider them less of a priority than the other person’s.
Four golden rules to take to heart:
1. Stand up for yourself.
2. Walk away.
3. Get professional help.
4. Talk about the experience.
This morning I was gently reminded of some of my fundamental human rights:
- You have the right to be treated with respect.
- You have the right to express your feelings, opinions and wants.
- You have the right to set your own priorities.
- You have the right to say “no” without feeling guilty.
- You have the right to have opinions different than others.
- You have the right to take care of and protect yourself from being threatened physically, mentally or emotionally.
- You have the right to create your own happy and healthy life.
So here I am, mourning the loss, standing up for myself, celebrating the fact that I sought professional help, above all, have found the courage and the anger to talk about the experience.