Millions of men and women simultaneously broke the dam of silence in the wake of Tarana Burke’s viral #MeToo movement against sexual assault. Decades of inappropriate behavior in personal and professional relationships are now illuminated under the light of scrutiny, identifying sexually obscene behavior as not only intolerable but finally, punishable.
#MeToo has forced masculinity to take a look at its ugly toxicity in the mirror, and revisit “where it has failed,” throughout history and “where it can do better.” For women, #MeToo asks, “Where has it hurt?” and, “Where does it continue to hurt?” And in this reflection, other forms of long-held acceptable forms of abuse are getting attention.
If the crusade against sexual assault represents the first wave of #MeToo, the stage is now set for the truth surrounding emotional abuse in relationships to surface.
But before we heal the toxic root, in the words of our foremothers, “We have to call a thing, a thing.”
Markers of emotional abuse include stalking, name-calling, criticizing appearance, threats, intimidation, belittling, withholding love, communication, undermining, gaslighting, and denying, to name a few. To make things more difficult, a lot of these tactics can be veiled in humor, or a soft voice, making it even harder to identify.
According to Psychology Today, 3,000,000 cases of domestic abuse are reported every year, but emotional abuse, often undetectable, slides under the radar.
“A lot of people don’t identify emotional abuse as a set form of abuse. They look more at physical abuse or domestic violence and record all of that research, but they never have really looked at and separated out emotional abuse or mental abuse. They state it, but they just have not done a lot of research on it,” Dr. Shantel Thomas of Sound Mind Counseling told HelloBeautiful.
“We accept more heartache, not always consciously, but subconsciously based on what we were taught.” -Dr. Shantel Thomas
“Boys are taught to be rough and ‘take what’s theirs.’ Whereas, little girls we are taught to be nice, share and ultimately, to accept a little more pain. So as adults, we are already socialized to minimize the signs, dismissing this behavior by saying, ‘This isn’t that bad,’ or, ‘He didn’t mean it that way.’”
“We accept more heartache, not always consciously, but subconsciously based on what we were taught.”
Dr. Thomas identified certain repetitive comments from partners such as “you’re crazy,” as a red flag marker of emotional abuse.
“Mentally you’re doubting your own judgment, which is how women end up in these relationships. Not her fault, but again I believe it’s how we are socialized to behave as women. I also believe that wanting to be in a relationship, and actually putting so much time and energy into it, you want it to work. So you’re more likely to accept behavior three years in, that you wouldn’t have accepted at six months. So you’re willing to take a little more pain, a little more heartache and a little more hurt in hopes that this will turn around.”
Thus, the silent poison of emotional abuse continues to circulate throughout the body of the relationship until it bleeds, literally and figuratively. Some emotional abuse escalates to physical abuse, with Black women experiencing intimate partner and domestic violence at a rate of 35% higher than white women, according to the American Bar Association.
In the aftermath of what seems like generations of normalization of physical and emotional violence in relationships, many women have decided to opt out the cycle, saying, “Enough is enough,” to reclaim the standard of healthy communication between romantic partners.
This awakening was recently amplified with this viral tweet, beseeching women to leave “emotionally disconnected” partners behind in the new year.
“Emotionally disconnected men are being left in the dust 1/1/2018,” Twitter user @Charlieelovesu wrote on Christmas Eve. “Nobody cared anymore that you didn’t learn how to love, you’re 26. Seek a damn therapist for those demons.”
The post has received 25K retweets and 61k likes in the course of a few days.
Black women have long carried the mantle and responsibility of healing and fixing men, much at our expense, but the tide is changing. If memes and tweets are a cultural indicator of our current times, the days of being emotional punching bags to our partners will prayerfully, soon be behind us.
While we wade in the gap between identification and healing, Dr. Thomas urges us to be patient with friends who may be in emotionally abusive relationships, because differing pain thresholds may make her resistant to the truth.
“Ask your loved one, ‘Are you happy?’ And have them define what happiness is. Ask, ‘How do you feel about the relationship?’ and if they are unsure, then you have a door in to have that conversation,” Dr. Thomas explained.
“If they aren’t aware, they will reject what you’re saying, 90% of the time. If they say, ‘Yes I’m happy, and I feel good about this relationship,’ then you might want to take a step back, because you don’t want to lose that relationship you have with your loved one. You might have to wait.”
For women who are reading this, and think they are in an emotionally abusive situation, Dr. Thomas advises, “Don’t deny your thoughts, be self-aware and be okay with what you feel and what your gut is saying is true. And don’t minimize or justify it. Be okay with saying, ‘I’ve been in this relationship and it’s causing me more pain than pleasure. And knowing, ‘Hey, I can love someone, but I love myself more, and I need to leave.’”
She also says to seek the help of a therapist or spiritual adviser.
For resources on how to identify emotional abuse, please visit Psychology Today.
You can reach Dr. Shantel Thomas through her website here.