Let's begin with taking a look at what emotional abuse is not. Emotional abuse is not a feeling reaction to being hurt. Emotional abuse is not a disagreement with our partner. Blunt honesty is not emotional abuse, despite other's reaction to it.
What emotional abuse is...Emotional Abuse is an attempt to control, impacting the mind and creating the potential for life long scars. As a military spouse we are often isolated from our support system due to frequent PCS moves. Deployments may create an insecurity about whether or not our partner truly loves us, so we/they feel compelled to make accusations of cheating, blame the spouse for our/their unhappiness, or constantly check voice and text messages, etc. The accusations, the blame, and the constant checking up are forms of emotional abuse.
Gaslighting is a tactic used to make a person literally question their own sanity. Perpetrators use this technique to convince others that their perception of reality is wrong. A gaslighter may try to convince you that your memories are incorrect, that you overreact to situations, or that something is “all in your head.” They may then try to convince you that their version of events is the truth. Emotional Abuse often escalate to name calling, yelling, and shaming. After you're brought to an incredible low in self-worth, a perpetrator may bring you back in with sudden and needed affection that you’ll immerse yourself in, thinking no one else could possibly love you like they do.
The military spouse may quietly blame undesirable behavior on stress that the weight of the uniform brings, Or things like a bad mood. But despite their commendable role in the Armed Forces and their very real challenges, breaking their spouse emotionally is still domestic abuse. It can also be punishable through the Uniform Code of Military Justice if violence is threatened.(Military Spouse Magazine: Jessica Manfre, LMSW)
Emotional abuse may also look like refusing to show affection, giving affection only when the abuser gets what they want. An abuser may become cold, even nonverbal, when they are mad at their partner. Sometimes they may go days or even weeks without speaking to their partner. Lying, deflection, trivializing, and denying may also be emotional techniques.
The aftermath of emotional abuse may result in an array of symptoms including low self esteem. Many symptoms may look similar to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder including:
Painful memories and/or flashbacks
Experiencing feelings of helplessness, worthlessness, and loneliness
A hard time concentrating on the task at hand
Unstable or fluctuating mood
Tension (you didn’t used to have) in your muscles, like in your shoulders that can lead to hypertension.
You may feel that your heart is beating more quickly than it should
Unexplained aches and pains
Hypervigilance & strong startle response
There is hope to heal from the pain emotional abuse creates.
You are not alone in your journey. Like you, many military spouses have experienced emotional abuse and have found healing and meaningful connections in healthy relationships.
To learn more about the healing journey read more from MindWell Psychology.
If you or someone you know is suffering from the effects of Emotional Abuse, contact Operation Foxhole and one of our Advocates will assist in resourcing a trauma recovery program near you.