Abuse. For most of us, the word conjures up pictures of women in pain who have been sexually or physically battered. Those are just the two main types that have received lots of media attention recently. However, the more insidious type, emotional abuse, is not on anyone’s radar.

Why? It’s because those of us who have experienced it, or are experiencing it, do not want you to know that we are being abused. We are educated, talented, respected at work and in society and among our friends, but we are too embarrassed to talk about being emotionally abused. That is why, in my mind, it is so insidious. I consider emotional abuse to be “the mental control of another by the systematic undermining of that person’s self-esteem, self-confidence and sense of self.”

It is far more widespread than society would like to admit. I would bet that some of your friends, family members or colleagues are being emotionally abused and you have no idea. An emotional abuser is often someone no one would ever believe is so despicable. He is often a well respected member of society and loved by everyone you know. Yes, I know that women can be abusers but the vast proportion of abusers are men.

As a way to try to understand and explain my own anger at myself for becoming involved with men who were emotionally abusive, I started to jot things down. Those musing were cathartic for me and eventually turned into my just published book on the topic.

No one knew I was being emotionally abused. If you had met me at the time, you would never have guessed. After all, I was well put together, assertive, often laughing, smart enough to have earned two degrees, a pleasant personality and I gave the impression that everything was right with my world. It was not so. I hid it well. I wore a mask, something we abused women do to hide our pain. We show one face to the world but behind closed doors we wear a very different face. We hide who we really are because we become desensitized to the abuse and we go into self-protection mode, which often means agreeing with the abuser simply to keep the peace.

So, how does emotional abuse show itself? There are so many symptoms that we ignore and gloss over because we accept the abuser’s behaviour as normal. We excuse bad behaviour and confuse love with control. However, there are two main and obvious symptoms; you being afraid and the abuser exerting power over you. That fear of someone you love, and who you thought loved you, is painful and having power over you is your abuser’s reason for existing, not love. As Tina Turner asked, “What’s love got to do with it? Absolutely nothing in an abusive relationship. It is all about power over, and control of, you. Love should not hurt and people in emotionally abusive relationship know that they are afraid and hurting.

It’s time for women to examine their intimate relationships, speak up and regain control of their own lives.

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