We need to start actively challenging emotional abuse in society.
Emotional abuse is perhaps the form of abuse which is spoken about the least, but it can leave huge trauma which is difficult to leave behind. Statistics suggest that around 10% of children experience emotional abuse, up to 35% of women in relationships with men have been subjected to emotional abuse and a staggering 75% of workers have experienced some form of bullying.
The way we talk about bullying is often infantalising. While there are campaigns to protect children (and still more work needs to be done) the focus on younger people, can make adults and teens feel weak if they reveal that they too are being bullied. Emotional abuse can happen across the ages, and it is often the hardest form to decipher.
Emotional abuse can be so subtle that people can be gaslit by the abuser and made to feel like they’re making it up in their own head. This is a tactic by society, and while women have been coming forward to reveal sexual abuse, we must all question what we’re really doing to stop any and all forms of abuse. If the answer is nothing, then that isn’t good enough.
“Emotional abuse can be so subtle that people can be gaslit by the abuser and made to feel like they’re making it up in their own head”
Workplaces can be the perfect environments for abusers to operate. We work some of the longest hours in Europe, which means that abusers have exposure to their targets. Furthermore, a lot of people in the workplace understandably just want to do their job and go home, or are anxious about their careers and so will avoid making too many waves. That means that bullies and abusers can often operate knowing that nobody will ever call them out, but we can all change that.
Keep notes of any events you think may be unfair, or verging on emotional abuse of co-workers. It can be subtle so having documentation can help deduce whether there is a pattern. It can also be used if evidence is needed. Reach out too. Take the time to get to know people, and if someone is being emotionally abused, then give a subtle indication that you’re on their side. Not everyone will want or be able to talk openly. They may be ashamed. They may not accepted what might be happening yet, so validating someone’s idea or encouraging input from others can allow people to know that someone in the workplace wants to listen to them and appreciate them.
Get to know human resources too, and union representatives. Some may be atrocious but a good one can help give advice. Never reveal a victim’s name without consent but you can give a hint at who is causing you concern and how the behaviour could be a red flag signalling emotional abuse.
The chances are that right now someone you know is experiencing emotional abuse. It can be a horrendously traumatic time that can lead to mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety. In the UK, work often has to be our life just to pay the bills, which is exactly why we should make it as safe a place as possible.
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