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  • Raghav Sand

Abuse Isn’t Always Physical

Physical abuse is visible to others, while emotional or verbal abuse are not. The impact of both kinds of abuses on the mental health of the victim are indistinguishable. May was observed as mental health awareness month. Social media in particular and the internet in general tried to create awareness around this sensitive yet essential topic. The subject of abuse, both physical and emotional, is vast and an article may not be able to heal past wounds completely, but it can go a long way in creating alertness and empathy.

Hopefully, by the end of this article, you may be able to recognize the signs of emotional abuse. Some of you may be at the receiving end of verbal abuse, while others may be knowingly or unknowingly hurting others through harsh words and toxic behaviour. Wherever you may be at the abuse spectrum, acknowledgement is a good starting point. Also, a polite reminder for bystanders towards the end of the article. Men are also among the victims of emotional abuse, but women and non-binary people comprise the majority. Emotional abuse is one of the major reasons for gender inequality and all this originates from a sense of entitlement and superiority complex.

After hearing the word relationship, chances are, most of you think about the association between a married couple or a couple during courtship. Your chosen line of thought is directionally correct, but myopic in nature. What label would you assign to a relationship between parent and child, or between siblings and cousins? Broadly speaking, all these forms of relationships are nothing new for a majority of us. Then, there are other informal relationships like the one with neighbours. Employer-employee relationship is a formal affiliation and cannot be kept out of the purview of emotional abuse.

Verbal Abuse: Hidden in Plain Sight

Verbal abuse can basically be defined as any communication that results in emotional damage to at least one person. If the toxicity is allowed to continue, it can seriously damage the victim’s self-esteem and self-worth. They may even begin to accept what the abuser says about them is a true and fair assessment.

While verbal abuse is always upsetting, it’s not always obvious – like angry outbursts. Sometimes it is concealed such as making very subtle negative comments. Above all else, verbal abuse is meant to manipulate and control the victim. Now that you have an idea about verbal abuse, let’s take a look at some examples so you can recognize it if it happens to you or someone else you know.

  1. Name-calling: The use of offensive names especially to win an argument or to induce rejection or criticism (as of a person or project) without objective consideration of the facts. Whether it’s a romantic relationship, a parent-child relationship, or the bully, name-calling is unhealthy. Sometimes obvious, sometimes disguised, habitual name-calling is a method of belittling you.

  2. Degradation: Abusers want you to feel bad about yourself. They employ humiliation and shame to degrade you and eat away at your confidence. For example they say things such as : “Before I came along you were nothing. Without me you’ll be nothing again.”

  3. Constant criticism: If someone is always saying what you say or do is wrong, then that’s verbal abuse. For example, maybe you just completed household chores, and you’re proud of yourself. An abuser would come home and find something you missed, like dusting or a spot on the floor. Or perhaps they criticize how you look or how you act. This is meant to tear down your self-esteem so they can control you.

  4. Swearing: Sure, most people use swear words, and someone needs to politely remind them that it is not cool. Normal people don’t make a habit out of saying a ton of swearwords your way on a regular basis. If someone is constantly using swear words with you, especially when combined with anger, then that is verbal abuse.

There are few other ways in which someone might be emotionally abusing you or you may be knowingly or unknowingly trying to control someone else. Both the behaviours are counterproductive.

Workplace Harassment: Subtle yet Savage

You’re paid to work, not to endure verbal abuse. Don’t be intimidated. One reason it can be difficult to pin down what is abusive behaviour — and to get the bully punished — is because people with different personalities have different levels of tolerance for teasing, gossip or sexual jokes. One person might be OK with it while another one is ready to quit the job over the same situation.

You might begin to call the behaviour verbal abuse when it regularly affects your attitude and performance at work. If you are dreading work and obsessing about what might happen there in your off hours, that can be a sign. All the instances of relocation, demotion, adverse performance review are not emotional abuse if the employer has done it reasonably. To be on the safer side, every departmental and HR manager should have an oversight board. Such a system will establish accountability.

Gender equality in the workplace at all the levels of management will definitely help in creating a level playing field. Around 70 percent of the victims of workplace harassment are non-male. The workforce will feel safer when they are aware about a fair complaint redressal mechanism.

A Note for the Bystanders

As per the Cambridge Dictionary, a bystander is a person who is standing near and watching something that is happening but is not taking part in it. Research has shown that, even in an emergency, a bystander is less likely to extend help when he or she is in the real or imagined presence of others than when he or she is alone.

Investigations of the bystander effect in the 1960s and ’70s sparked a wealth of research on helping behaviour, which has expanded beyond emergency situations to include everyday forms of helping.

Social influence plays a significant role in determining how quickly individuals notice that something is wrong and define the situation as an emergency. Research has shown that the presence of others can cause diffusion of the responsibility to help. When we notice someone in emotional distress, we may internalise our thoughts regarding helping them, but eventually may stop short of taking any action. As an onlooker, it is possible to get overwhelmed by the perceived power of the abuser, but no relationship, either personal or professional, has any room for any sort of emotional or physical abuse.

Everyone Needs Help

If you are an abuser or bystander, do the right thing, not just what is right for your own good. As a victim of any sort of abuse, you have been experiencing hardship and should stand up or seek help. By helping someone in need, you can revive the victim’s faith in community, friendship and the institution of family. And, just like the victims, abusers also need counselling to correct their course of action.

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