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Alcoholic Emotional Abuse

Alcoholism and Emotional Abuse

When we hear that someone is being abused, we think of someone who's being physically beaten or sexually exploited. Emotional abuse doesn't get the same amount of attention, but its effects can be just as devastating. Also known as verbal or psychological abuse, emotional abuse refers to any nonphysical behavior that may diminish a person's sense of identity, dignity and self-worth. While it can go hand-in-hand with physical or sexual abuse, emotional abuse also happens on its own. Abusers can torment their victims for years without ever laying a hand on them, but the lifelong consequences are just as pervasive.

Like other abusive relationships, emotionally abusive relationships can lead to low self-esteem, violent behavior, the inability to form healthy relationships, and alcohol and substance abuse. In fact, it's not uncommon for someone to have a history of overconsumption of alcohol, emotional abuse and other destructive behaviors. That's why any alcohol abuse test or attempt to recover from alcohol abuse needs to address emotional abuse as well.

What is Emotional Abuse?

Emotional abuse doesn't leave visible scars, but it can do just as much to damage a person's self-worth. It manifests itself in a wide range of behaviors, most of which fall into one of two categories.

Some signs of emotional abuse are active, with the abuser making deliberate attempts to intimidate and degrade his or her victims. Some examples of active emotional abuse include:

  • Insults, name-calling, public humiliation or ridicule, making fun of a disability or other issue, or treating the victim worse than others

  • Harassment at work, threatening to harm the victims or their loved ones, or isolating the victim from family, friends and the world in general

Forcing the victim into dangerous or illegal behavior, including drug and alcohol use and sexual exploitation. In some cases, the abuse comes from passive behavior, and the victim is in physical or emotional danger because the abuser does not take action. This includes:

  • Not taking care of basic needs such as food, heat, shelter or medicine

  • Ignoring emotional needs by withholding affection or not talking to the person, i.e. shutting them out

  • Not providing or supporting opportunities for personal growth and development

Statistics on emotional abuse are hard to find, since it continues to be underreported and often co-exists with other types of abuse. However, we know that it isn't unique to one particular race, gender or socioeconomic group, and recent studies have started to shed light on how widespread it is.

  • Among Canadian women, 36 percent were emotionally abused as children, while 39 percent had experienced abuse in an intimate relationship.

  • A 2012 study showed 28 percent of children from England and Wales had suffered emotional abuse.

The factors surrounding emotional abuse vary from one situation to another. However, other studies have identified some of the most common causes, including:

Mental Illness: Nearly 20 percent of adults from abusive homes were living with a parent who was depressed, mentally ill or suicidal. Those suffering from emotional abuse are likely suffering at the hand of someone with bipolar, narcissistic, borderline or some other personality disorder.

Past Abuse: Unfortunately, one emotionally abusive relationship can lead to another. According to the Office of Child Abuse and Neglect, one-third of abused children will go on to abuse their own children physically, sexually or emotionally. What's more, children who suffered repeated abuse are five times more likely to become alcoholics as adults. Both patterns contribute to perpetuating the cycle.

Other Stresses: We all have stress in our lives, but some people deal with it by taking it out on other people. Problems at work, financial issues, family conflict or the demands of caring for a loved one with special needs increase stress dramatically. Without a proper place to vent, an overly stressed person can take it out on the nearest target available: a child or partner.

Substance Abuse: Though they aren't usually discussed in the same context, alcohol and emotional abuse go together more often than you might realize. Approximately 29 percent of abused adults grew up in a home where at least one member was abusing alcohol or drugs. That means when one of the people in a relationship is an alcoholic, emotional abuse may be part of the relationship as well.

Regardless of what caused it or how it manifests itself, emotional abuse can leave just as many scars as a punch in the face. That's why it's so important to identify it and put an end to it as quickly as possible. This is especially true when trying to deal with alcohol dependence. If you or your partner is an alcoholic, emotional abuse has to be addressed along with the drinking itself, or both dysfunctional patterns will continue.

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Is It Emotional Abuse?

Like other types of abuse, emotional abuse can start with an incident here and there and gradually escalate into full-fledged abuse. Of course, by the time it reaches this level, many victims are so used to being mistreated that they often can't see how bad it is.

The Web is full of emotional abuse tests to help you determine if your relationship is unhealthy. Most of them ask you to remember specific examples or behavior patterns, but the other consequence of emotional abuse is how you feel about yourself and your relationship.

If you still wonder, "What is emotional abuse?"" here are 10 indicators that you're experiencing it:

  1. You're Constantly Insulted and Ridiculed

    Your husband calls you fat. Your mother says you're stupid. It's bad enough to hear that one time from a random stranger, but hearing it day after day from someone who's supposed to love you can cause irreparable damage to your self-esteem.

  2. You Feel Like Your Needs and Desires Don't Matter

    Maybe your partner has shrugged off your desire to go back to school. You have to leave that important meeting at work because she wants to talk right now. Or maybe your abuser has stopped talking to you altogether, even when you need help. In an emotionally abusive relationship, your needs, no matter how big, will never be as important as your abuser's, no matter how small.

  3. You Have to Meet Unrealistic Demands

    The bed has to be made just so. You need to check in every hour and account for your actions. If you don't look just right, it'll be a bad scene. When a parent or partner puts unreasonable expectations on you, the pressure to meet them becomes overwhelming.

  4. You're Unable (or Afraid) to Make Your Own Decisions

    Your girlfriend handles the money because, according to her, she's the only one who spends it wisely. Your husband decides where you'll spend the weekend, how you clean the house and where (or whether) you'll work. If you can't make any decisions for yourself, you're in an abusive relationship.

  5. You've Given Up Family, Friends and Outside Interests

    You used to go out with friends and see your family, but you haven't seen or spoken to any of them in months, or even years. You used to have a lot of hobbies, but you've given them all up to focus on the relationship. A healthy relationship is only possible with two well-rounded people, not two codependent partners.

  6. You Think Everything Is Your Fault

    When you get upset at yet another put-down, you're accused of being overly sensitive. If you try to respond in kind, you're a witch or a jerk. If you didn't want to get yelled at, you should have done a better job. Being blamed for someone else's behavior is one of the classic signs of emotional abuse.

  7. You Feel Unloved or Worthless

    Over time, the demeaning behavior or lack of positive attention will take its toll. Have you started to believe you don't deserve to be loved? Have you started to agree with the person who regularly calls you stupid, unattractive or worthless? If so, you've been in your abusive relationship for far too long.

  8. You've Been Threatened

    Do it right now or you're out on the street. If you leave me, I'll find you and kill you. If I can do that to your pet, imagine what I'll do to you. Emotional abuse is about manipulation and control, and few things are more effective than an abuser threatening violence if you don't do what he or she wants.

  9. You're Scared

    You wake up every morning and wonder what he's going to say to you today. You're terrified of her reaction every time you call your friend or your mother. You shake when fixing dinner because he'll yell if it's not perfect. When you feel safer away from your abuser than you do with him or her, it's time to make a change.

  10. You're Abusing Drugs or Alcohol to Cope

    If you have an alcoholic husband, emotional abuse might be part of your marriage. Then again, he might not be the one drinking. When it comes to alcohol, emotional abuse can be a consequence, or it can be a leading factor. Maybe you started drinking to keep pace with an alcoholic partner, or you need alcohol or some other substance to take the pressure off of your relationship. Either way, it's unhealthy.

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What to Do If You're in an Emotionally Abusive Relationship

You might be scared to ask, "Is it emotional abuse?", but it's essential if you want to change the way you're treated in your relationship. The most important thing to realize is that you're not responsible for your mistreatment.

A healthy relationship requires mutual respect and support, not one partner always denying his or her needs for the sake of the other. Here are some things you can do if you feel like your relationship is one-sided.

Realize That You Can't Change the Behavior

In many emotionally abusive relationships, one partner thinks he or she can fix the other and make things better. This never works. Where there's alcoholism, emotional abuse sometimes follows, but it's because the drinker is being abusive, not because the nondrinker made a mistake. You can't change your partner's abusive behavior. All you can do is decide you're not going to accept it.

Set Boundaries

Despite what your abuser might say, you don't deserve to be yelled at or called names. Again, you can't change his or her behavior, but you can decide not to take it anymore. If you feel like you aren't being treated the way you want to, say so.

Talk to the abuser about what you want and don't want. You can talk generally about your mistreatment or be specific about what bothers you. After that, though, you need to enforce it. An abuser doesn't change overnight, so you need to speak up when it occurs and remind him or her that it's no longer OK to say or do those things. Hopefully, things will change. If they don't, it's time to get professional help and reconsider the relationship.

Be Ready to Leave

Unfortunately, not every abusive partner takes the hint, and some continue with the abusive behavior. At that point, you might realize the only healthy thing to do is to leave the relationship. Make sure you have a plan in place if it comes to that.

End things as calmly as possible. Don't get angry or place blame, just explain that the relationship is no longer working and you need to move on. If you're worried your abuser will get violent during the split or start following you after you leave, have a safety plan in place, like the ones outlined by the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

Start Rebuilding Your Life

Once you've left an emotionally abusive relationship, you'll probably have to rebuild some parts of your life. In fact, the longer you were in it, the more adjustments you'll have to make. Start taking care of yourself right away and you'll start regaining your strength every day.

Reconnect with friends and family, especially those who will fully encourage you. Find a job if you've been kept financially dependent, or get back into your old hobbies. If you create a full life for yourself, you'll be less likely to go back to the life that wasn't working for you.

Seek Counseling

Even after leaving your alcoholic spouse, emotional abuse doesn't reverse itself overnight. You probably won't even heal on your own. You'll need the support of a professional along with friends and family to help you understand, and overcome, what you endured in your relationship. Find one in your area that's trained to deal with this kind of abuse.

If drugs or alcohol were part of your abusive relationship, seek treatment for that as well. A trained counselor at a reputable facility may give you an alcohol abuse test or an emotional abuse test to better determine the relationship between the two. Whatever the balance, time in a treatment program helps both victims and abusers address their addiction, which helps everyone learn to reset their relationships.


When it comes to alcoholism, emotional abuse is both a cause and an effect. Whether you're the abuser or the one being abused, alcohol abuse will only exacerbate the problem. If you're dealing with both alcohol use and an emotionally abusive relationship, call 12 Keys Rehab to overcome your addiction and find your way into a healthy relationship.

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