WE grew up hearing phrases like “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”, as well as the complete opposite, “it better you did lick me than say that to me”. But while we have failed in developing an accurate scale to measure which of the statements bares the most truth, relationship counsellor Wayne Powell, a man who has dealt with victims of both physical and emotional abuse, said both are equally damaging.
“Imagine being told every day that you are stupid, you serve no useful purpose on earth, that you are hideous, and can't do anything right. Surely, after continuous badgering you are going to believe what you hear and behave likewise. On the other hand, physical blows to the body may heal after a while,” Powell reasoned.
Powell said that while without thinking many people might consider physical abuse to be more damaging because it leaves behind a visual reminder of the occurrence, the fact is, even when scars remain after physical altercations, chances are that they will fade, but the emotional wounds remain even after counselling.
“Emotional wounds penetrate deeply and result in permanent psychological damage. The effects of emotional abuse are also much greater because when we are hurt emotionally little is done to immediately treat with this blow to our self-esteem that is likely to fester and trigger other mental challenges such as anxiety, panic disorders and depression. However, the moment we get a cut or a bruise, if we can't treat it at home with over-the-counter ointments, we make a trip to the doctor to have it treated,” Powell underscored.
He noted that in his years of experience, he has seen where physical and emotional abuse have become weapons to manage challenges in relationships and while individuals of both sexes perform physical as well as emotional abuse, men are more likely to become physical while women clutch closely to emotional abuse.
“In many relationships, emotional abuse is the preferred tactic by women to get at their partners because they are aware that they can't physically match up to them. So the tongue becomes the weapon of choice. A man who is vilified and emasculated by his partner can suffer deeply from such emotional abuse,” Powell explained.
He said that the suffering of an emotionally abused person is further compounded by the fact that no one but you knows that your scars exist. Unless the repercussions of emotional abuse manifest in extreme ways such as mental disturbance in the person, then people tend to undermine and trivialise the magnitude of being told hurtful words. People, including close family, are more likely to tell you to get over it when the abuse is emotional. When they see the scars, however, you are more likely to receive support and empathy which can help you to heal.
“One other reason why the gravity of emotional abuse surpasses that of physical abuse is that fact that it can significantly affect the victim's ability to engage in future relationships. Many times, even if they move on to another relationship, they will go into it carrying the unhealthy seeds planted into their minds by their partners—so they might have little or no confidence, feel worthless, insecure, undeserving— and even with therapy will take years to return to a healthy state of mind,” Powell advised.
The relationship counsellor said that no form of abuse should ever be tolerated and the moment a partner begins to become abusive, you should insist that he/she get help to manage their anger and learn better conflict resolution mechanisms before someone becomes a casualty.
'I remember wishing he would just go mute and that he would hit me instead'
Do you believe that an emotionally abusive partner is worse than a physically abusive one?
All Woman also asked a few readers to weigh in on the above.
Latoya, 28, teacher:
This is a sticky one, especially because you often see them overlapping. I would say, however, that an emotionally abusive partner is worse than a partner who is physically abusive because physical pain heals much sooner than emotional hurt.
Jason, 25, teacher:
I guess the lesser of both evils is the physical abuser. If love exists, I can't see how you can be physically or emotionally abusive. Emotional abuse runs deep and can seriously affect a person over the years. It messes with their head and their ability to lead a normal, happy life and nobody should have to deal with that.
Sanny, 35, beautician:
Honestly, even when you walk away from painful words from a person who claims to love or had loved you, that hurt far more than any ass whooping that he could have ever given you.
Shanique, 32, career counsellor:
Emotional pain is forever, I know, because I have lived it. No matter the amount a therapy you receive, in the back of your mind you still wonder if there was truth to all that he said. I remember wishing he would just go mute and that he would hit me instead. Thank God, I am over that and reclaiming my life.