There are many different kinds of abuse such as emotional (psychological); sexual; physical, and financial. Experiencing any of these can be highly traumatic, leaving us feeling powerless with little sense of control. Sometimes the impact is not so clear and obvious as many people are unaware they are on the receiving end of abusive behaviour. Alternatively, many people are not aware that their behaviour is abusive towards others. The point about whether the behaviour is abusive, is how it makes you feel. If someone’s behaviour makes you feel small, controlled or as if you’re unable to express yourself, it’s abusive.
This leads onto another kind of trauma which is not often publicised (although can still have long-lasting effects) known as cumulative trauma. This kind of trauma happens on a more ‘little and often’ basis whereby a series of negative events and / or repetitive psychological and relational failures occur over time. Frequent criticism; neglect; being undermined or manipulated; frequent blaming known as ‘gas-lighting’; being made to feel guilty (emotional blackmail); embarrassed or humiliated; witnessing domestic abuse; lack of emotional support or comfort following a stressful event are all examples of this kind of trauma.
Sometimes it is not necessarily the traumatic event(s) but the lack of resolution, support and care afterwards that is most damaging. Therefore, the nature of how these events impact you will vary as everyone is different and will have had varying degrees of exposure to these traumatic events. Difficulty managing your own impulses such as anger and self-destructiveness; overwhelming sadness; dissociative episodes; long-lasting guilt or sense of responsibility; difficulty trusting people or being intimate; hopelessness or despair; and other somatic or medical problems are all ways in which these events can impact on the quality of your life.
If you feel you’re in an abusive relationship it is to speak to someone outside of it who isn’t involved as they may be able to offer you some perspective. This can be particularly useful if you’re finding it difficult to make sense of things. The behaviour we’ve become used to can seem quite clearly unreasonable to an objective outsider.
Counselling can be a helpful way to begin to understand where any abusive behaviour might be coming from and how you can work together to move towards a more mutually respectful and healthy relationship. Alternatively, it may be a way to find support whilst dealing with an abusive situation, or to process what has happened.