People ask me regularly whether emotional or physical abuse is worse. As someone who is abused sexually, emotionally, physically and financially I ought to have an opinion about this. From what I see, most people believe that physical abuse is the worst. Maybe because it is so visible? The pain easier to understand?
I believe that physical abuse contains aspects of emotional abuse, because the emotional and psychological effects of abuse are also present in this type of abuse. I remember the first time my ex choked me. That’s an emotional experience that never goes away. True, the bruises faded. My body healed on it’s own. But it took a long time before I healed the emotions coming from that physical experience. Even now, I don’t like it when a scarf touches my neck very tightly. I don’t wear turtlenecks and if I do it is often to challenge myself because I don’t want to connect my past experiences with the feeling of having something around my neck. I want to be free of that burden and don’t give in to negative associations my mind has made from that experience.
The thing with emotional abuse is this: it is harder to recognise and to comprehend especially because it is so vindictive, often hidden and not very obvious. It is harder to understand and to recover from it. Healing emotions, in particular in situations of child and partnerabuse is very difficult. The effect abuse has in your life, both short and long term is enormous. The path to healing is a difficult rocky one that needs constant awareness.
If you look strictly; with physical abuse it is your body and the body does the job itself (NOTE: if someone is not abused to the extent that he or she has broken something or in pain for the rest of his/her life of course).
With emotional abuse YOU are the one who has to work. Most likely there are patterns of emotional abuse that have existed for a long time, maybe a feeling of dependence, lack of self-confidence and you might have given control to the other person for so long that you don’t know who you are and what you want anymore or now afraid of making choices. Maybe you don’t dare to say no to the other person and always give in by doing what the other person expects you to do and you probably don’t know why exactly. It is probably hard to accept that you are the victim of abuse and to understand how and in what kinds of ways you have been abused. Next to that you might have to deal with the controlling and manipulating behaviour of an ex-partner or parent that can linger on for years after breaking up the relationship making it hard to create new healthy patterns.
Physical abuse contains aspects of emotional abuse. Physical and emotional abuse can be equally difficult to heal. The difficulty of healing depends on the type of abusive situations and the thoughts you created around that experience.
How do you interpretate the abuse?
I believe that both emotional and physical abuse have in common that emotional abuse is involved. And where emotional abuse is involved there is work to be done to recover from it. Change won’t happen automatically. Although I am known for my opinions I cannot say what is worse; emotional or physical abuse. Because that depends from one person to another.
The way you interpretate your experience with abuse will determine how you feel, not the experience itself.
None of these two options can be a “winner”. Both are hard to recover from. There is no price to be given. There is only compassion from your fellow survivor who has felt a lot of emotions like you do.