When you hear the term “abuse,” what images come to mind? Bruises? Shouting? It’s important to realize that abuse doesn’t always involve physical harm, nor does it have to be loud. In fact, it frequently happens with little to no noise at all – and leaves no visible wounds.
Sometimes Silence Can Be Deafening
Quiet abuse takes on many forms. Some are more subtle than others. And because victims show no exterior scars, this type of abuse is easy to miss. Those who suffer from it might not even realize they’re being mistreated. At times, those inflicting the abuse might not realize the harm they’re causing. That’s why it’s essential to identify and acknowledge all forms of quiet abuse.
Here’s what you need to know:
- Criticism: This often occurs under a misconception that the abuser must keep the victim humble. Making sure the victim “isn’t too full of himself” is used an excuse for cruel behavior. The abuser magnifies every mistake and finds fault in nearly every action. This hypercriticality leaves the victim feeling worthless. Convinced they can do nothing right, they start to believe they are unworthy of attention and love.
- Absence of Support: This type of abuse reveals the impact of what isn’t said. Every human being needs praise, support, and love to thrive. Children especially need to know they’re worthy of love and attention. Take this away completely, and they starve emotionally.
- Gaslighting: This term refers to manipulating someone in a way that makes them doubt their own sanity or reality. The abuser provides false information or withholds facts. With repeated gaslighting, the victim becomes anxious, confused, and distrusting of their own memory and perceptions. They’re filled with self-doubt and always worried about being “crazy.”
- Emotional Detachment: Essentially, this is the cruel act of ignoring someone. The victim doesn’t know why they are being ignored. The abuser doesn’t respond to cues and sends the message that the victim is not worthy of attention. This damages the victim’s self-esteem, as they start to believe they really aren’t worthy of attention.
- Stonewalling: At times, this may feel like being ignored, but it is slightly different. With stonewalling, the abuser refuses to answer questions or gives evasive replies. The victim’s attempts at communication get shot down. A constant lack of answers causes frustration and anger in the victim. With no way to work things (since the abuser won’t talk to them) they feel defenseless, hurt and angry.
If you recognize these behaviors in yourself or someone you love, you might be tempted to excuse or rationalize these actions. Ignore that temptation; it will only fuel the unhealthy patterns. Instead, admit there’s an issue to work through and make use of available resources to get the help you need.
Additional Reading: 6 Traits of an Addictive Personality
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