When you hear the term “domestic violence” what comes to mind? Who do you imagine are the people involved? Do they come from a certain socioeconomic status? Do you assume a certain race is involved? Who do you picture when you hear the term “victim of domestic violence”? What feelings arise? Do you assume they are a certain gender? What image do you see when you hear the word “abuser”? These are all important questions to ask ourselves and to be brave enough to answer honestly. We cannot truly address domestic violence or help those most in need without first understanding those cultural stereotypes or individual prejudices that block our understanding and prevent us from responding in a compassionate manner that is most likely to bring healing.
The truth is that intimate partner violence takes place in all sectors of our society. Any gender can be harmed by abuse. One’s socioeconomic status or level of intellect does not make them immune to abuse. And frequently abuse is not obvious – it does not always take the form of sexual assault or physical abuse the effects of which might be more obvious to those on the outside. It can be hidden to the point where people in close community to the victim, such as family or friends, do not recognize any signs of abuse, and victims suffer in silence. In fact, oftentimes the person harming their partner is highly adept at hiding the abuse and protecting their public image successfully making us doubt when victims are being harmed.
As we continue the conversations supporting Domestic Violence Awareness Month, it’s essential to shine a light into the shadows of secret abuse, known as Covert Emotional Abuse, so that its victims can be seen by those willing to come alongside them and to offer a hand to help lift them up. Awareness of the issue of domestic violence requires us to dig deeper than the general statistics telling us 1 in 4 women are abused or 1 in 9 men. Awareness of statistics by itself will not put an end to domestic violence; it only reminds us that it exists in a prolific way. Ending domestic violence requires us to educate ourselves about the forms of abuse and to become equipped to respond in a manner that is safe and most likely to bring healing. It also compels us to hold abusers accountable to the harm they cause or we risk colluding in the abuse.
Singer Mariah Carey is a true testament to the fact that someone can be in an abusive relationship without having physical scars, and that just because a marriage may seem perfect from the outside, happy pictures do not tell the whole story. One article from Women Working aptly describes the hope for marriage as well as the reality of it when Covert Emotional Abuse is present, “A marriage is supposed to have respect, compassion, trust, and love. It is meant to bind together two independent people in passion. But for singer Mariah Carey, her first marriage to Tommy Mottola, it was anything but.” A relationship which involves Covert Emotional Abuse is devoid of these traits.
Ms. Carey goes on to describe an experience that many abuse victims can certainly relate to. She divulged that her ex-husband, who was 20 years her senior, would not let her out of the house unless he granted her specific permission. He exercised so much power and control over her and treated her with such little trust and respect that she constantly fantasized about being kidnapped. It’s telling that, although her husband strictly controlled all their assets, she took her purse with her everywhere just in case she had an opportunity to escape from him.
Those who have yet to fully grasp the severity of Covert Emotional Abuse may hesitate to agree that Carey’s situation was “abusive,” as there is a widespread misconception that abuse must be overt and directly impactful, such as name calling or hitting for instance. However, even just one covert emotionally abusive behavior that is repeated again and again in a relationship can completely dismantle trust, often leading the victim to experience extreme psychological and physiological consequences which include depression, anxiety, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or possibly Complex PTSD. Most often, many more than one tactic is being used to power and control over their partner with the effects running deep and lasting a significant length of time. Withholding from one’s partner, whether that is withholding needed resources such as money, food, or access to a car or time in the outside world as Carey endured, or emotional withholding, blame shifting, deflections, minimization are all types of covert abuse that would break down any relationship over time.
Covert Emotional Abuse is considered one of the most destructive forms of domestic violence because it significantly harms one’s perceptions, memories, thinking, and ultimately, one’s sanity. It is difficult to identify and difficult to confront, whereas with overt emotional abuse, the verbal assaults and concrete manipulations are much more obvious to the victim. By its nature, Covert Emotional Abuse is manipulative and confusing, causing one to experience profound self-doubt, often questioning their own reality or sanity. Being alone as a recipient of the abuse, the only true witness of it, causes a bewildering inability to sort out one’s traumatic experience oftentimes not even recognizing they are in an abusive relationship.
For those who are unsure whether they are in an emotionally abusive relationship, some valuable questions to consider are:
Do you feel loved, trusted, and heard by your partner more often than not?
Are you and your partner able to resolve conflict in a healthy way?
Do your conversations with your partner reach a mutual level of understanding where both parties feel validated?
Do you feel that you can trust your own thoughts, feelings, or perceptions about the relationship?
Do you know in your gut that your partner has your emotional and physical best interests at heart?
If you find yourself answering “no” to one or more of any of these questions, it is possible that you are in an emotionally abusive relationship. If so, we strongly encourage you to seek help right away by telling someone trustworthy in your life about what you are going through, whether that is a friend, parent, mentor, pastor, therapist, etc. Secondly, keeping a journal or some kind of log of the events and conversations in your relationship that don’t feel right is an extremely valuable way to organize your own thoughts and to collect proof if it is ever needed. Familiarize yourself with the terms and definitions describing specific covert emotionally abusive behaviors on our website. Clarity is the first necessary step towards healing.
Finally, it is important to know that healing from an emotionally abusive relationship is completely possible. After years of fantasizing about leaving her marriage, Carey was able to get out and start a new family with a man who she loved and truly loved her back. Our founder, Annette, who suffered from an emotionally abusive relationship for many years, was able to reunite with her husband following a three-year separation where he worked intensely to spot, stop, and eradicate the abusive cycles he had fallen into and imposed on his wife. We strongly urge you to read her whole story to see another perspective of how CEA can look and how victims can go on to live happy, healthy lives.
You can become more equipped to help hurting victims by learning more about CEA and how and how to correctly respond by referring to our Healing Model of Compassion (insert link)In honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we are offering our introductory training for a reduced price of $25/person. The training consists of two separate 1.5hr Zoom sessions over consecutive days with day one addressing emotional abuse and Double Abuse® and day two tackling how to respond to those who are experiencing harm and those who cause harm. You won’t want to miss Founder Annette Oltmans share the research and her experience with these issues as well as to provide you with meaningful tools and resources for responding to Covert Emotional Abuse in your community.
For more information or to sign up:
Sign up here for the 10/22-10/23 Training being held from 10-11:30 a.m. PST each day: https://lfm.pub/3jV7an1
Sign up here for the 10/28-10/29 Training being held from 5-6:30 p.m. PSTeach day: https://lfm.pub/34RkVgd