I once had an ex who never once laid a hand on me because he was taught that a gentleman would never do such a thing, and as such, he considered himself a gentleman. He did, however, emotionally abuse me. He had never learned not to emotionally abuse someone and although this was ultimately his failing and not his parents, it persisted in our relationship because I was also never taught to reject emotional abuse and recognize it for what it was. For me, I was always fiercely vocal about my opinions and let him know when he did something wrong like punch a hole in the wall or yell at me in front of strangers like I was a child. Because I thought I addressed the situation, I didn’t see myself as being emotionally abused and he had no idea that is what he was doing.
Emotional abuse can take many forms, and in my case, he was very verbal in telling me how I did things wrong, how I needed to conform to his liking, and isolated me from others who may have told me differently. I wanted the relationship to work so badly that I ignored all these signs and stayed, but advocated for myself as well. I developed a small gambling habit because it took my mind off my troubles and I realize now that if it starts up again, there is something else in my life that I’m avoiding. He was always unhappy with me, but I know now that it was because he was very unhappy with who he was and instead, projected it unto me and that he wanted to make me as miserable as he was so he could feel better about himself. The abuse is never about the victim. It’s about what is happening to the abuser, but they make the victim feel as if it is their fault.
I now have a son and know that this something I must teach him. First off, emotional abuse is abuse and just because you don’t hit a woman does not mean you’re a good man if you’re still berating them. Secondly, I think we need to teach our boys how to handle rejection, what self-reflection is, and most importantly, build their self-worth. The truth is, many boys may have a high self-esteem in that they see themselves worthy of more, but some of them feel as if they don’t deserve it and this causes them to lash out. They may be able to get the job or the girl because they see they are worthy of, but deep down, they may feel as if they don’t really deserve it, so they sabotage themselves by losing what they got. Of course, not all boys are like this, but I guarantee you that the ones who are abusive are and if we don’t address this issue when they are young, it will only grow larger as they do.