Book Review by Zinta Aistars
Paperback: 244 pages
Publisher: Ballantine Books (January 21, 1992)
It can take years, even a lifetime, to heal from emotional abuse. The author, Beverly Engel, lets us know within the first pages that she has endured a history of abuse, and from this background, she has made her career choices, mainly, to become a therapist helping others in similar circumstances.
The abused person is often taken by surprise, emotionally involved before the abuse fully takes hold. The abuser often has a two-sided personality, referred to as Jekyll and Hyde - one charming and intelligent and likeable, the other a cruel and perverse tormentor.
Engel writes: "It is often difficult for a woman to admit that she is indeed being emotionally abused, particularly if she is competent and successful in other respects... many women who are being emotionally abused do not even realize what is happening to them. Many suffer from the effects of emotional abuse - depression, lack of motivation, confusion, difficulty concentrating or making decisions, low self-esteem, feelings of failure, worthlessness, and hopelessness, self-blame, and self-destructiveness - but do not understand what is causing these symptoms."
The process seeps into the psyche like a slow poison, rearranging our ability to cope. "She has become so beaten down emotionally that she blames herself for the abuse. Her self-esteem is so low that she clings to her abuser."
Which is perhaps the hardest to understand, by the woman herself as well as family and friends who keep asking - "Why do you stay? Why do you put up with it?" - and never find a rational answer. There is none. Engel explains, "Emotional-abuse victims become so convinced they are worthless that they believe no one else could possibly want them. They stay in abusive situations because they believe they have nowhere else to go."
Engel takes us through the ways that emotional abuse expresses itself and how it works. "Emotionally abusive lovers and mates cause tremendous damage to a woman's ego. They have our trust, our vulnerability, our hearts, and our bodies. Using a variety of tactics, an abusive husband or lover can damage a woman's self-esteem, make her doubt her desirability and hate her body, and break her heart... When we love someone we tend to make excuses for his behavior; we always want to give him the benefit of the doubt. This is especially true when the other person is good to us in other ways." The abuser, Engel writes, makes his partner believe "she was so stupid, ugly, and unlovable that she was lucky to have him... told her she wasn't as pretty as the other girls he had dated, that she wasn't good in bed, and that his friends didn't think she was good enough for him."
And who is he? Often, Engel says, he is an addict of some kind, whether to alcohol or drugs or sex, and his own self-esteem is so low that he can keep a partner only by causing her self-esteem to be even lower than his own. He is frequently the product of abuse himself, often taking on the traits of his own abusers. He tends to be socially isolated, unable to maintain any healthy friendships or other relationships.
Once Engel has helped us understand the process and the damage done by it, she encourages and instructs on how to release years of pent-up rage in constructive manner, while rebuilding confidence. There are no shortcuts to healing. Finally, she helps us to understand how to stop repeating the cycle by finishing unfinished business, how to recognize the red flags of an abusive person when we first meet him. If we have not allowed the time to release our anger and heal the damage, we are doomed to repeat the pattern.
For this reason above all, this is an important book to read for anyone who has felt the lash of such abuse. Take the time to understand. Take the time to work through the damage. Take the time to heal. Take the time to nurture yourself back to health and rebuild your ability to love and to know real love when you meet it.