Healing from Emotional Abuse with Licensed Psychologist Signe M. Hegestand
Table of Contents
Psychological abuse – also often called mental or emotional abuse – is a topic that is often not taken seriously or easily overlooked by a lot of people. Yet, it can cut deeper than a knife and leave more severe wounds and bruises than physical abuse.
The difficulty of this type of abuse is that it is not easily seen by others, and therefore, it is up to the individual who is being emotionally abused to prove the seriousness of what is going on.
Emotional abuse is complex, making it vastly important for us to clearly understand and learn more about it.
Hegestand, as you will hear in the interview, comes from an abusive marriage, where she was emotionally abused for more than 23 years.
This experience makes her, in my opinion, the perfect person to talk about this topic.
Before you go on to the interview with Signe (or if you just came from listening to it), here is some information about emotional abuse to help make the topic as clear as possible.
What Is Emotional Abuse?
First, what exactly is emotional abuse? While Signe provides this information in the interview as well, here it is written out; once again, this is to truly let it register.
Emotional abuse is a way to control another person. This means using emotions to criticize, embarrass, shame, blame, or otherwise manipulate another person.
A relationship is emotionally abusive when there is a consistent pattern of abusive words and bullying behaviors that wear down a person’s self-esteem and undermine their mental health.
While emotional abuse is most common in dating and married relationships, it can occur in any relationship, including among friends, family members, and co-workers.
The hardest part about being emotionally abused is, as Signe said in her TEDx talk: “How do you prove a crime that you can’t see?”
And while you cannot exactly see the physical signs that someone is being emotionally abused, there are still red flags that you can take note of to determine if someone is in an abusive relationship or if you yourself are in one.
Signs and Red Flags of an Emotionally Abusive Relationship
Abusers are often excellent manipulators. They can be so good that you might not immediately notice you are being abused or that what they are doing to you is not normal.
Abusers can make you question your own sanity and make you believe that they are not the problem, but that you are. They make you feel that they do not need you, but that you need them.
Many abusers will also try to cut you off from your friends, family, and any other supportive person you may have in your life – all for the purpose of taking control of your life and making you dependent on them.
- – Verbal abuse: Yelling or swearing at you, insulting and humiliating you in public or private.
- – Rejection: Constantly rejecting your thoughts, ideas, and opinions.
- – Gaslighting: Gaslighting is a term that originated from the British play “Gas Light” (1938). Today, the term is used to describe a form of emotional abuse where a person or group makes someone question their sanity, perception of reality, or memories, by denying that an event took place or lying about it.
- – Unrealistic expectations: Expecting you to put everything aside and meet their needs; accusing you of being selfish, needy, or materialistic if you express any of your wants or needs; and continuously criticizing you for not completing tasks according to their standards, are all forms of emotional abuse.
- – Manipulation: Punishing you by withholding affection or giving you the silent treatment. The silent treatment is a refusal to communicate verbally with another person. It is a very painful form of emotional abuse. People who use the silent treatment may even completely refuse to acknowledge the presence of the other person. Other forms of manipulation are exaggerating your flaws or pointing them out in order to deflect attention or to avoid taking responsibility for their own poor choices or mistakes.
These are just some common signs and red flags that someone is being emotionally abusive. There are more that Signe talks about at length during the interview.
If you recognize a lot of the above-named signs and red flags, be aware, because you or someone you know could be in an abusive relationship with a friend, family member, coworker, or a romantic partner.
Mental Health Consequences of Long-Term Emotional Abuse
Verbal abuse, manipulation, gaslighting, imposing unrealistic expectations, etc.: If you have experienced any of these conditions over a long period of time, they will leave their mark on you.
Many people who suffered emotional abuse as children show feelings of hopelessness, poor self-esteem, reduced sense of social support, poor satisfaction with life, neurobiological changes in stress response systems, and structural and functional brain deficits.
They are also at a heightened risk of developing mental disorders.
Problems such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders, suicidal symptoms, psychosis, personality disorder, and substance misuse often emerge in childhood and last through adulthood to old age because of the wounds left by emotional abuse.
Even when it happens in later adulthood, such as in an intimate relationship, experiencing emotional abuse over a long period of time will result in low self-esteem, a core feeling of worthlessness, shame, guilt, and difficulty establishing trust with other people.
A growing body of literature from both high- and low-income countries indicates that emotional abuse might have the most wide-ranging negative mental health impact of all types of childhood maltreatment.
No, emotional abuse is no joke.
How to Break Free and Start Healing from Emotional Abuse
While it can be devastating and shocking to read the signs, see the wounds and impact that emotional abuse can inflict on a person, and recognize that this is happening to you or someone you know, we must understand that anyone can fall prey to the psychological games abusers play.
As mentioned earlier, people who emotionally abuse others are often particularly good manipulators and know how to play their game well.
Experiencing it does not make you a less intelligent person. It does not make you weak or worthless. It can happen to both female and male, rich or poor, and anyone from all walks of life.
What it does is make you human.
And let’s face it: It is a difficult and confusing thing to be human. The circumstances are always far more complex as to why someone stays in an emotionally abusive relationship, and it can start even from your childhood, depending on the attachment style you formed with your parents. (Signe provides more info about the attachment style theory in the interview.)
Know, however, this one thing: There truly is a way to heal from emotional abuse and to live a life free from the claws of abuse where someone has entrapped you.
Educating yourself about this topic – any topic – is a great first move to slowly but steadily move away from such a life. In the interview, Signe provides many more details about how to break free from an abusive relationship and start healing from emotional abuse.
One fundamental piece of advice that I’d like to emphasize here as well is that it is immensely helpful to seek the help of a therapist who specializes in the topic of emotional abuse.
I know this is often the recommendation that you will find, but there is a good reason for that.
And it is because therapy works.
Yes, it might cost money. Yes, it might take time. But you need to view this as a long-term investment to a better life.
I highly recommend you check out the video we made on the YouTube channel of The IPS Project, “How to Find a Good Therapist and Know You Are Making Progress”. This will help you to learn in-depth, as the title suggests, how to find a good therapist.
Also, if you are hesitant to go to a therapist for the first time, then check out the other video we made, titled “Going to Therapy for the First Time? Top 3 Reasons People Don’t Go to Therapy”, which clarifies and breaks down any barriers you might feel about therapy.
Having someone with you who has professional knowledge of what this topic is about and how to best move through it is not only extremely helpful but also makes the whole process less lonely and confusing.
While the people around you might want the best for you, talking about emotional abuse could lead to a conversation where they might underestimate the abuse you are experiencing, leading you to not take further action or making you feel more alone as you do not feel understood.
If you are going to talk to one person, let that someone be a therapist – someone who specializes in emotional abuse might very well be one of the best people to understand your situation.
That is not to say that you should not reach out to a loved one who you know might understand you or would be willing at least to listen. However, a therapist will most certainly know and understand your feelings and be able to guide you on how to best free yourself from the abusive relationship and work with you through the wounds it has left in your life.
The most important thing is that you do not face this alone. Be there for yourself, as difficult as it may be, and allow others to help you.
Psychological Abuse - How to Move On
Finally, while this article and the interview with Signe will provide a clear look at what emotional abuse is and how to break free from it, you can learn even more about the topic with a step-by-step guidebook.
Signe’s book, entitled “Psychological Abuse – How to Move On”, is an incredible addition and worth checking out.
In the book, she guides you through the whole process, from understanding to breaking free, drawn from her own life experiences and from the many years she spent working as a psychologist and helping clients.
If you are about to listen to the interview, I truly hope you will find meaningful information in it that would help you or someone deal with this topic and find freedom from it.
EP 027 - A Life Free from Emotional Abuse | Psychologist Signe M. Hegestand
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Some of the Questions:
What You Will Learn from this Episode:
- – Psychological Abuse – How to move on (In the book, Danish psychologist Signe M. Hegestand invites you on a journey through your life and into your future. Hegestand provides her own backpack chuck-full of first-hand experience with psychological abuse, as well as her professional insights and stories from women who, like yourself, are caught in a twisted tango.)
- – Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents: How to Heal from Distant, Rejecting, or Self-Involved Parents (In this breakthrough book, clinical psychologist Lindsay Gibson exposes the destructive nature of parents who are emotionally immature or unavailable. You will see how these parents create a sense of neglect, and discover ways to heal from the pain and confusion caused by your childhood.)
- – Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love (In Hold me Tight, Dr. Sue Johnson presents Emotionally Focused Therapy to the general public for the first time. Johnson teaches that the way to save and enrich a relationship is to reestablish safe emotional connection and preserve the attachment bond.)
- – The Book of Forgiving: The Four-fold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World (Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize winner, Chair of The Elders, and Chair of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, along with his daughter, the Reverend Mpho Tutu, offer a manual on the art of forgiveness—helping us to realize that we are all capable of healing and transformation.)
- – Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself (Dr. Neff’s extraordinary book offers exercises and action plans for dealing with every emotionally debilitating struggle, be it parenting, weight loss, or any of the numerous trials of everyday living.)
- – Psychological abuse – caught in harmful relationships | Signe M. Hegestand | TEDxAarhus (What makes people stay in psychologically abusive relations? Watch this personal talk from TEDxAarhus, 2019, where psychologist, Signe M. Hegestand talks about the unconscious patterns that shape our behaviour.)
- – The Attachment Theory: How Childhood Affects Life (The attachment theory argues that a strong emotional and physical bond to one primary caregiver in our first years of life is critical to our development.)
- – Going to Therapy for the First Time? – Top 3 Reasons People Don’t go to Therapy (Therapy is often the fastest, most effective route to overcome the emotional and behavioral issues that can keep you from living the life you want.)
- – How to Find a Good Therapist and Know You Are Making Progress
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Question about this episode: Was this episode helpful to you in understanding psychological abuse better? What new things did you learn about psychological abuse? You are always welcome to share your story in the comments if you’d like to empty your heart or help others with your experience of emotional abuse.
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