Emotional or mental abuse is one of the most difficult situations to deal with, both for the individual who has suffered the abuse and those around them who want to help. People can live with mental abuse for a long while and behaviours, however destructive, can become ingrained and be difficult to get rid of.
Mental abuse if often hidden from other family members and friends for a long time and controlling and potentially dangerous behaviour dismissed. People sometimes don’t want to get involved and say something when they notice something doesn’t seem quite right in a relationship. The person being mentally abused might not even consider anything is wrong, particularly if they have self-esteem problems.
Mental abuse may have started out with small things then built up over time and can seem inescapable. A person might have reasons for staying in a relationship despite the mental abuse they have to live with, including for their children, the financial situation and their own low self-esteem.
There are two ways in which family and friends are usually called upon to help in a mentally abusive relationship. The first is how to help the person get out of the relationship in the first place. The second, and sometimes more difficult, is how to repair the damage done by that relationship once separation has been achieved.
Spotting Mental Abuse
Mental abuse doesn’t carry the obvious scars that physical abuse does but can be just as damaging. An abuser might use a variety of methods to undermine and isolate a person and it can be difficult to know if something is actually going on. It can mean that they deny the abused person access to financial matters or restrict where they can go and who they can see. It can also include verbal abuse that gradually erodes a person’s self-confidence. Signs that someone is being mentally abused could include a partner being unusually quiet and withdrawn or the abuser taking all the decisions.
Raising the Issue of Mental Abuse
It’s no easy matter for friends or family members to raise the issue of mental abuse with a loved one. It can be a difficult conversation to have but, if you believe that something is going on, it needs to be tackled. Picking the right time and having a plan of what you want to say is vital and needs to be thought through.
The other thing you should expect is that the person being abused may disagree with you that there’s a problem which needs to be addressed. A lot depends on the person who is being helped and it may be that a family meeting can add power, especially when the amount of support available becomes apparent.
Others will benefit from a one to one discussion but don’t expect a switch to be flipped over and things to start to change immediately. It can take several attempts before a person who is in a mentally abusive relationship begins to want to do something about it. In the meantime, do all your research and make sure you can see things from their point of view.
Helping After a Mentally Abusive Relationship
It’s more than likely that once a person has decided to leave a mentally abusive relationship that the battle really begins. It can be a big step leaving someone – even if they have been manipulating you. Your friend or family member might be suffering from low self-esteem and have difficulty coping on their own.
The abuse may well continue while they are separated from their partner and there could be pressure for them to go back into the damaging relationship. This is when the most support is needed and a concerted plan of action put in place. Most local areas will have support groups that you might want to join and get help and advice from. The person may also need more professional counselling to help them get over the abuse and begin to live a more independent and fruitful life.
Non-judgemental support is vital at this time and it can be difficult for friends and family members who are trying to help. There may be times when you are taking more steps backward than forwards but keep at it. In the end, with your help the person who has experienced mental abuse will be able to get back on their feet and move on.