December 2, 2021

Five Steps for Responding to Emotional Abuse

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We have all found ourselves in a situation where someone who feels entirely justified goes off at us. They might have yelled, accused us of things we didn’t do, perhaps even called us names or threatened us, making us feel uncomfortable, angry, frightened, or all of these at once. The circumstances may differ; it might be a stranger screaming awful things at you in traffic, or it might be a friend or a co-worker you’ve known for years, losing their temper. It could have happened seemingly out of nowhere, or it could have been escalating for a long time. 

Stating the Fact

Few of us call this what it is: emotional and verbal abuse, a volatile one-sided confrontation that can create lasting trauma. While this may not have the same physiological impact of more intimate emotional abuse (coming from family or spouses), the mistreatment can still cause damage. 

Prevalence of emotional abuse is higher than ever because of Covid-19. Tensions run higher, principles clash. Many of us have been face to face with an indignant individual who is confident that we are the reason their rights or safety is jeopardised. What can we do in these intimidating situations? 

Remaining Gracious

Christians are called to show love and grace toward others. However, this does not mean that we accept abuse. How do we respond with love and grace without adding to the tension or allowing ourselves to be further mistreated? 

Tips for responding to emotional abuse:

1. Respond calmly, clearly and with grace. Screaming in return, while tempting, only escalates the anger in the room. Instead, let them know that you are listening and that you hear them. Calmly explain your situation if they will listen. 

2. Keep it objective. As difficult as this is, try not to take it personally! There could be many reasons this person’s anger is so intense. However, it almost always has more to do with them than with you. 

3. Refer them to someone else. This is especially helpful in professional settings. If you cannot get someone to calm down, try involving a third party or giving them someone with more authority to contact. This may allow them time to calm down before the following conversation and let someone else reinforce what you have already said. 

4. Remove yourself (or the person) from the situation. Some people cannot be reasoned with, and when it becomes clear they will not back down, it becomes a more severe and threatening situation. At this point, it can be wise to either ask the person to leave or remove yourself. 

5. Involve the authorities. There may come a time when the situation becomes dangerous. Suppose the person is refusing to leave or threatening violence. In that case, the best option is to hand the situation off to the authorities rather than remaining in a situation that could potentially escalate to physical violence. 

* This post concerns a specific type of emotional abuse but does not address many serious forms of emotional abuse, such as domestic violence. DV is a serious and dangerous issue that we do not have the bandwidth to cover in this particular blog. PLEASE, if you are dealing with domestic violence, reach out for help. 

If You Need Help: For help lines and links to support in Australia. or the National Domestic Abuse Hotline with highly trained experts, accepting calls 24/7.

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