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Emotional trauma can stay with a person and shape who they are.

Finding one’s self waist-deep in a toxic relationship, not knowing where to turn, how to talk about what’s going on or how exactly they got to this place is a common feeling among many trapped in emotionally abusive relationships. The causes and symptoms of psychological abuse can go unnoticed as it’s not commonly discussed in society but it remains a severe type of domestic violence. 

In order to combat domestic violence JMU has adopted the Green Dot program. According to JMU’s website, The University Health Center Green Dot is an evidence-based interactive program focused on building skills to intervene in and prevent power-based personal violence in one’s community. While sexual violence and rape culture are serious and prevalent issues that need awareness, psychological or emotional abuse might fall by the wayside in discussions of sexual violence prevention. Just because the bruises aren't visible doesn’t mean they aren’t real and dangerous. Domestic violence is a prevalent issues on college campuses since one in three adolescents in the U.S. is a victim of physical, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner, a figure that far exceeds rates of other types of youth violence, according to The National Council on Crime and Delinquency. 

According to A Voice for the Innocent, emotional trauma stays with a person and can shapes who they are. It can also leave its own scar — one that is not as visible, but physically affects brain development and the ability to process emotions and stress. A Voice for the Innocent also explains how psychological abuse is dangerous, as it can lead to clinical depression or anxiety disorders. It’s very difficult for a victim to leave their abuser because they’ve been brainwashed into staying. Those trapped might start putting other parts of their life on hold in order to keep up with and please their partner. This could result in them slowly removing themselves from friend groups or letting it affect their school work or job.

In an article focusing on coping with emotional abuse from Very Well Mind, abusive relationships often trap people in situations feel that they can’t or don’t want to get out of, no matter the emotional trauma it puts them through. Abusers can manipulate their partner into feeling like all the problems in their relationships are their fault and that no one else would want to be with them. People in these types of relationships may feel as if it's better to be unhappy than alone. Abusers don’t have to be violent or attack their partner for it to be considered psychological abuse. Abusers can threaten to physically harm themselves if their partner wants to end the relationship or make their partner feel responsible for the wellbeing of their mental health. Mental health issues should be addressed by a mental health professional; one’s significant other shouldn’t feel as if their presence keeps the other afloat. 

As incidents of physical sexual or domestic abuse, rape and stalking are more commonly talked about in the media and culture today as an important issue society needs to work to end, it’s important that psychological abuse is highlighted. The public can’t see it, and the victims might not understand the danger they’re in. As a community, people need to watch out for one another and know the signs of emotional abuse.

Andrea Mathews, a licensed professional counselor and certified counseling supervisor, defines emotional abuse in an article in Psychology Today as an attempt to control someone in just the same way that physical abuse is an attempt to control another person, though they use emotion as their weapon of choice. The most common red flags are tactics meant to undermine one’s self-esteem. Abusers also try to isolate their partner so they rely more on them. They might make backhanded comments about friends or family to try to manipulate how their partner views those people. Abusers put their emotional needs first and belittle the feelings of their partner, making them seem insignificant or meaningless. Victims often find themselves excusing their partner’s behavior to friends and family, saying things like, “He’s just going through a lot right now,” or “She’s just overprotective sometimes. It comes from love, don’t worry.” This is a dangerous trap to fall in. 

Everyone should know the signs and be willing to have a frank conversation with someone that may be in danger. It’s important to be an active member of the community and not a bystander. Referring someone to a relationship counselor or therapist is a great way to introduce professional help. Green Dot should seriously consider adding emotion abuse awareness to its curriculum and focus. Psychological abuse is real and just as important to combat as physical sexual violence or rape culture. 

Rebecca Cutsinger is a freshman Media Arts and Design major. Contact Rebecca at cutsinrj@dukes.jmu.edu.