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An Underestimated Form of Bullying: How Emotional Intimidation Can Affect You

An Underestimated Form of Bullying: How Emotional Intimidation Can Affect You

Emotional intimidation, an element of emotional abuse and bullying, involves methods an individual uses to get what they want by making another feel afraid, small, and helpless. Though the term “bullying” suggests this tactic is limited to the playground, emotional intimidation can occur in adult relationships as well.

Emotional intimidation robs the victim of their independence, and prolonged exposure to these situations can cause lasting psychological scars. Victims often don’t recognize what is occurring when it first starts, as the perpetrators create a “new normal” where the individual becomes used to this level of intimidation before it ramps up.

It’s essential to recognize what is considered emotional intimidation and the effects it can have, as well as understand how to stand up against this form of emotional abuse and bullying. This can help prevent further instances of emotional intimidation.

Emotional Abuse Vs. Emotional Bullying

Though these two acts share similarities, the difference lies in the goal of the individual perpetrating the act. An emotional abuser’s goal is to make an individual feel trapped so they are less likely to leave them, and this typically involves creating a false sense of security.

On the other hand, an emotional bully’s goal is to intimidate the other person, which makes it obvious what the perpetrator’s feelings are toward this individual. Although the desired outcome of the perpetrator differs, the methods used share some overlap.

In both emotional abuse and bullying, the perpetrator uses tactics such as gaslighting, isolation, insults, yelling, shifting the blame, and unpredictable outbursts to create a fearful environment where the victim is simultaneously afraid of the perpetrator and desperate for their approval.

Signs You Are Being Emotionally Abused or Bullied

Suppose you are constantly on edge, afraid to make even minor mistakes, or being extremely careful in interacting with an individual. In that case, you may be a victim of emotional abuse or bullying.

If you are frequently criticized, humiliated, or undermined by an individual, there is a high chance that they are engaging in emotional intimidation. This is also true if you’ve expressed concerns about their behavior only to be met with gaslighting–they try to tell you that you are overreacting, being dramatic, being too emotional, or can’t take a joke.

Prolonged exposure to this behavior can cause you to second-guess yourself constantly, so you may not realize you face emotional intimidation. Due to your desire to see the best in them, you may convince yourself that you’ve misinterpreted their actions or words or that they were simply having an off day. 

Recognizing the tactics of emotional intimidation can help you understand what you are going through and take steps to prevent it. Standing up for yourself or removing yourself from the relationship can allow you to heal from the detrimental effects of emotional intimidation.

Resources to Find Help

If you are experiencing emotional abuse or bullying, know that you are not alone. There are helplines and services out there that you can contact for guidance, emotional support, and strength to fight back.

If you are looking for assistance in leaving an emotionally abusive situation, the National Domestic Violence Hotline can help you create a plan to safely remove yourself from the relationship. The hotline also provides information on how to identify abuse and offers a safe, supportive environment to talk through your issues without fear of judgment or retribution.

If emotional intimidation has damaged your psyche to the point where you are experiencing suicidal ideation, contact the 988 LifeLine. This suicide and crisis lifeline provides 24/7 free and confidential support for individuals facing distress.

What Falls Under Emotional Intimidation? 

Emotional intimidation can be seen in intimate relationships or professional environments. The perpetrator often engages in subtle ways to undermine the victim and plant seeds of self-doubt. As the victim’s self-esteem falters, the perpetrator may begin to increase the tactics being used.

Emotional intimidation can include:

  • Name-calling, teasing, or mocking
  • Sarcastic remarks
  • Threats
  • Belittling an individual’s intelligence or other aspects of their personality
  • Ignoring or excluding an individual from a larger group
  • Lying and gaslighting
  • Ordering an individual around like they are subservient
  • Disrespecting boundaries
  • Exaggerating minor issues and placing blame on an individual
  • Public humiliation
  • Isolating an individual from more supportive peers
  • Guilt-tripping and manipulation

Why Individuals May Use Emotional Intimidation

The goal of emotional intimidation depends on the relationship between the perpetrator and the victim. In intimate relationships, emotional intimidation is often used to exert power over an individual and maintain control of the relationship.

Abusers often use this tactic because they aim to keep their partner dependent on them to prevent them from leaving the toxic relationship. After their sense of self-worth has been worn down, many victims will stay in emotionally abusive relationships because they believe what they’ve been told.

In workplace relationships, individuals may use emotional intimidation to create an unequal power dynamic between themselves and the victim. By using the specific methods listed above, the perpetrator can instill fear that allows them to control the victim.

The perpetrator uses tactics to make the victim feel confused, overwhelmed, and unsure of what to say. This creates unhealthy boundaries between the victim and the perpetrator, with the victim willing to fulfill unreasonable demands to try to meet the expectations of the perpetrator.

emotional intimidation

Effects of Emotional Intimidation on Mental Health

Eventually, emotional intimidation can cause the victim to lose all sense of self and feel incredibly vulnerable. This makes them more susceptible to feelings of depression, low self-esteem, and anxiety.

Emotional abuse and bullying can cut to the core of a person, creating scars that may be far deeper and more lasting than physical ones. They are also likely to develop lower self-confidence, abandonment issues, and unstable future relationships.

Short-Term Effects

Victims of emotional intimidation may experience immediate adverse mental health effects, manifesting as anxiety, shyness, and depression. These can lead to heightened fear and sadness, withdrawal from social interactions, and a noticeable academic or job performance decline. 

Long-Term Consequences

In the long term, victims may develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or experience suicidal ideation. There may also be consequences to their physical health, manifesting as sleep disturbances or somatic symptoms such as gastrointestinal concerns, headaches, heart palpitations, or chronic pain.

Repeated exposure to emotional intimidation can erode self-esteem, potentially resulting in lasting social anxiety and self-isolation. Social implications may involve difficulty forming new relationships.

For emotional abuse within child/caregiver relationships, children can face adverse developmental consequences equivalent to or more severe than with other forms of abuse or bullying. This can include personality issues, psychiatric conditions, fear of abandonment, and trust issues.

Strategies to Fight Back Against Emotional Intimidation

When dealing with emotional bullying, the advice is quite simple and is reminiscent of how to deal with schoolyard bullying. The best way to deal with an emotional bully is to stand up to or ignore them.

An emotional bully’s behavior is not about the victim but about the perpetrator. An emotional bully doesn’t bully just one person. They also attempt to dominate others in that way. With this in mind, it’s possible to see the behavior as an illness’s symptom rather than a personal attack.

This simple change in point of view may make it easier to ignore an emotional bully’s behavior. Standing up to the perpetrator is also a worthwhile technique. When they face confrontation for their actions, the perpetrator may realize their behavior is unacceptable, and they must change or face consequences. 

Depending on the relationship, this could entail breaking up with the perpetrator, filing an HR complaint, or cutting the perpetrator out of your life. Standing up for yourself is also the recommended method for dealing with an emotional abuser.

There are ways to stand up to an abuser without confronting them with words. First, you must accept that the abuse is not your responsibility. Do not try to reason with your abuser, as this pattern of behavior is for them to address.

Next, you should disengage and set personal boundaries. This means deciding that you will not respond to abuse and limit exposure to the abuser as much as possible. You may also choose to exit the relationship or situation completely, which involves cutting all ties with the abuser.

Finally, the most essential step is to give yourself time to heal. Reach out to supportive friends and family members who can help remind you of your self-worth and allow you to undo the damage to your confidence that the perpetrator inflicted.

It may also be beneficial to seek treatment after experiencing emotional abuse or bullying. A therapist can help you move forward by explaining that the emotional intimidation was not your fault, helping you develop coping strategies, and working through any negative mental health consequences caused by the perpetrator.

Finding Support to Overcome Negative Effects

The Summit Wellness Group can help you or a loved one overcome the impact of emotional intimidation. Contact our intake team today by calling (770) 692-1130 or filling out our contact form. Don’t hesitate to begin this process–healing can start today.

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