When Abuse Becomes Emotional Torture

There are some people who think they would still rather be emotionally abused than physically abused. If someone has ever told you that your emotional abuse situation “could be worse,” we will apologize for that person. Emotional pain is just as serious as physical pain, not only because the victim often blames herself, but also because the abuser can manipulate the victim’s mind like it is weak putty. Furthermore, we can argue that the longest term effects of physical abuse are the psychological effects – the idea that the abuser can physically use and abuse the victim is the same “you are mine and you are nothing” mentality that the abuser tries to instill with emotional abuse.

With no inner sense of self or existence, life can be incredibly difficult. Healing from abuse thus means correcting the abuser’s attempt to banish you into a void of nothingness.

There is a point where abuse becomes torture. This point is spelled out by an emotional abuse blogger: “you decide to let yourself drown in mere curiosity of will you ever discover the bottom.” Emotional abuse is very much like an enormous sea; sometimes the struggle to stay afloat seems like too much to bear. When abuse becomes torture, you decide to just give in. That is called the death of hope, which is the end result that torture hopes to achieve.

It is as if you give up your own identity and your abuser sucks it in; leaving you an empty shell ready to be filled by his ideas. Through this surrender, you become a mere puppet, voicing his own points of view, and obliterating any original idea, perception or opinion you could have. In the end, you don’t have any more of your own ideas, and you become his mouth piece.

Perhaps you remember coming across such a couple at some point, where she repeats whatever he is saying, with admiration or even just emotionless resignation? This is not love, this is the total replacement of your individuality, achieved by torture.


Torture has two steps:

1. Obliterating your own personality by fear;

2. Telling you “what you should be thinking”

(Sounds like something we call brainwashing, right?)

In this second stage you don’t need more torture and the abuser can throw you the bone of appreciating what you think… because what you “think” are his own mindset and ideas. Now you are really a good wife, his ego is happy and things seem to go smoothly up until one of your old ideas pops up and you start to share it. Then you can see the resurgence of the torture method: intimidation, verbal violence, cold shoulder and isolation, even physical violence is a part of this package of marital torture.

Your abuser wants to make it clear that you have only one “choice,” and that choice is submit to his personality… If you are lucky, perhaps you have access to some religious framing that allows you to believe you are doing the “will of God” by submitting to your husband. But don’t cheat yourself: if it is done in God’s name, love and not torture should be the method to invite you to share his worldviews… if there is emotional violence and torture, the game is pathology and not love.

You must avoid this death of your hope for your future by focusing on the life that you can make for yourself out of the bits and pieces of yourself still left (and those pieces are still there, you just have to look a little harder). Up until now, you and your abuser have been fighting for air and the last piece of the wrecked ship that is your relationship. Stop fighting for control over that; he wants you to think that you have to stay with him in order to survive, and you don’t have to. Swim to cleaner waters on the pieces you choose to take with you: your family, your friends, your old loves and life goals. Break free of the emotional torture cycle by creating your own schedule and taking time for you and you alone, building up a life for yourself. Time alone can break the cycle of torture, and only after that cycle is broken can you begin to approach your struggling husband and repair your relationship (if you want to).

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About Neil Warner

Neil Warner is the CTO of Creative Conflict Resolutions. He offer strategies to heal difficult issues in a relationship such as anger, passive aggression. His latest program, Stop Your Passive Aggression, offer a plan for action to change your life by eliminating passive aggressive behaviors from your communication style.