Emotional Abuse: The Crushing of the Human Spirit

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“The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life, but a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit.” (Proverbs 15:4)

Individuals who have experienced emotional abuse often suffer from “a crushed spirit.” The wounds caused by emotional abuse may not be visible to the human eye, but they leave an indelible mark on the human heart.

What is emotional abuse? According to “Emotional Abuse: What You Should Know,” emotional abuse takes place “when a person uses words, silence, or actions to threaten, belittle, or humiliate another person.” The ultimate goal of emotional abuse is to control someone through fear or intimidation.

Over time, emotional abuse wears away at a person's self esteem, contributing to feelings of helplessness and depression. Helplessness creates dependency, which in turn gives the abuser even more control. It’s a vicious cycle.

Who might be a victim of emotional abuse?
Emotional abuse is not the exclusive domain of any gender, age group or demographic. Emotional abuse affects children, teens, adults and seniors. It is experienced by individuals of every ethnic and religious group. It does not discriminate by social class or educational achievement.

What does emotional abuse look like?
In her article, Emotional and Verbal Abuse on the website Focushelps.ca, Beth J. Lueders identifies the following as recognizable signs of emotional abuse:

  • Rejecting or denying a person's value
  • Degrading someone through ridicule, insults or name-calling
  • Terrorizing, intimidating, coercing or threatening physical harm
  • Isolating, physically confining or limiting someone’s freedoms
  • Exploiting another’s personal rights and social needs
  • Detaching and denying emotional care or affection

“All forms of abuse follow a pattern that, left unchecked, will only increase over time,” explains Lueders. “Injuries from verbal and emotional abuse can run deep and leave lasting scars. Many emotionally and verbally abused people reason that, because there are no bruises or broken bones, their abuse must not be serious.”

What can the church do about emotional abuse?
Emotional abuse occurs alone and alongside other forms of abuse such as physical and sexual abuse. Therefore, it occurs even more frequently than other forms of abuse. The CRC publication, Emotional Abuse: What You Should Know  suggests a number of ways in which churches can support the victims of emotional abuse and help prevent this form of abuse. They include:

  • Declaring that emotional abuse is harmful to God's people and that it violates God’s intentions for our relationships with one another.
  • Acknowledge that emotional abuse occurs and should not be kept a secret.
  • Recognize that children, adults, or seniors need advocates to speak out against emotional abuse or arrange for their protection.
  • Take emotional abuse seriously. Use spiritual authority to speak out against abuse and call abusers to confession and repentance.
     
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