Sadie Bingham, MSW, LICSW
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    Emotional & Psychological Abuse – Physical Abuses’ Savvier Cousin

    Each time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it possibly, without claiming it, she stands up for all women. – Maya Angelou

    Due to COVID-19 & our shelter-in-place orders, I began to notice my female clients & patients disclosing painful realities about their home life. They weren’t discussing fear that their physical safety was in jeopardy. Instead, they were on the brink of a “breakdown” as they felt harassed, terrorized, belittled & insulted by their male partners.  Emotional & psychological abuse is a mental health issue as this has been linked to depression, chronic pain, post-traumatic stress & anxiety disorders.

    One woman mentioned she “wished” her partner would just leave a physical mark. That way when the abuse was discussed there was something tangible to point out. A clear line in the sand. Compared to those conversations where you declare your feelings are hurt, only to be mansplained or gaslighted.

    For every person who has experienced psychological & emotional abuse, trying to point out the intricacies & nuances of the abuse can leave you desperate & generally defeated.

    This is the genius of breaking down someone’s soul. It’s subtle & covert. It sneaks its way in. I imagine the frog initially placed in cold water that slowly makes its way to a boil. By the time the water is too hot, it’s become fatal – the frog is scorched to death. This is in contrast to the frog who immediately responds when the water is fully boiled. Case in point: most abusive partners, don’t come out of the gate degrading you. There is a grooming process that I argue starts from the time little girls enter this world.

    Because these narratives were relayed anecdotally to me, I can only see this through the lens of gender, but the stats speak for themselves. The more I develop my own sense of feminism & explore the nuances of sexism; I view emotional & psychological abuse as this sneaky form of control, power & oppression against women. This abuse works perfectly with a society that grooms our young girls to constantly care for others, to be obsessed with our looks, to be disconnected from our intuition, & to be competitive with other women.

    A quick break down on why this affects women & how these mechanisms keep women in emotionally abusive relationships:

    By giving young girls a toy doll to nurture – their sponge-like brain interprets this as a positive experience. When their parents participate in this type of play, this is further reinforced. Thus creating a more refined muscle-memory that caring for others reaps the reward. If women are receiving this message on repeat as they grow, they will begin to value having a family over other dreams. One of the biggest economic disparities between genders is the monies lost during the unpaid caregiving process. This takes women out of the professional market, as men continue to accrue more financial gains & stature plugging away at their careers with no gap in their work history.

    When a woman can’t financially leave a partner, she is stuck choosing the basic need of security over her emotional wellbeing.

    Similarly, by keeping women obsessed with their looks they aren’t using their brainpower to be creative, to take risks, to make money, & to build skills. All of our energy is spent hating ourselves, fine-tuning our appearance, & spending copious amounts of money refining our looks. To be bold in your defiance of placating this social norm means social ostracization & judgment. I personally experienced this when I chose to reclaim my own look.

    Hillary Rodham Clinton calculated all the hours she spent in hair, makeup, or discussing her wardrobe compared to her male opponents (Bernie & Donald).

    This amounted to 600 hours (!) & approximately 25 days (!) of her time that was not spent on the campaign trail, not spent communicating her message & not meeting with voters. Clearly, sexism is setting women back from the highest forms of leadership in this country as women must seek outside approval to validate our worthiness. Emotional & psychological abuse exploits a woman’s’ already fragile sense of self.

    Furthermore, I argue as women are told to be “good” & “nice” they are groomed not to follow their instincts when they want to rage & misbehave. Young girls are socialized at an impressionable age to be disconnected with our own anger & rage thus wreaking havoc on our adult lives as we become bitter & resentful – unable to healthily process this energy.

    By objectifying & disconnecting women’s bodies, we have hindered access to the most powerful tool a woman has: our intuition.

    An adult woman without any connection to her body is confused about every decision she makes, doubts all her moves, & shoves all emotional disturbance somewhere else in her body. This foundation keeps women especially vulnerable to their oppressors as their own internal compass is nowhere to be found.

    And lastly, young girls are socialized to see other women as threats & fellow competitors. Women are swept away in this narrative & women continue to lose because of it. Another inherent & sacred function of femininity is our connection to our sisters. When women come together this is & historically has been a political act. When a woman is no longer worried about her physical & financial security, she isn’t dependent on her male counterparts. Especially if that counterpart uses all types of controlling & manipulating mechanisms to keep that spirit down. One of the biggest hindrances of emotional abuse is isolation. Keeping this dynamic under wraps & sealed by shame. Feeling safe & secure in sisterhood could be the ticket out but this isn’t possible without connection to this vital community.

    If any of the points I mentioned resonate with you, I implore the following:

    • Start to challenge yourself: Do you need or want to have children? Or has this value been programmed into your psyche? If you have children, can you be defiant in your acts of self-love & self-care? Are you willing/able to deny the tendency to be self-sacrificial & instead reclaim your selfishness?
    • Give fewer shits about how you look & more shits about how you feel. Become defiant in your inherent grace & beauty that transcends the physical. Look in the mirror & create a new narrative, that is supportive, loving & nurturing towards yourself. Use the time that you aren’t using to analyze your appearance & begin to be curious about what your body is communicating with you on the daily. I believe, that if you can tap into your body, you will develop your intuition & start to speak directly to the wisdom that Mother Nature bestowed upon you.
    • Make mistakes. Let me say this again: Make Mistakes. Get messy. Take risks. Be adventurous. Misbehave. Be loud. Continue to explore what it means to be expansive in your emotions & identity. Over time you can reign this in but you won’t know what is on the other side unless you allow yourself to go there.
    • And please, I beg of you, make friends with other women. Support women’s voices, narratives, music, story-telling, businesses, etc. Become so in love with what the female has to offer that your own value changes. Your mind begins to expand as you realize, you are more powerful & fearless with the support of your sisters. That it is the sisterhood that will hold sacred space with you, the sisterhood that will open their doors on a dark night & the sisterhood that will keep you going.

    Be well, tap into yourself & remember that you already have it all. Everything you seek is already within you.

    If you or a loved one is in an abusive relationship & are interested in exploring treatment options, please be in touch. I would be more than happy to discuss how I may help.