Recently, actress and model Chloe Dykstra posted an unlisted article on Medium that recounted her experience of an emotionally and sexually abusive relationship. She didn’t name her abuser, but many have speculated that she is referring to ex-boyfriend Chris Hardwick, a popular podcaster and stand-up comedian. She noted that his position of power within her industry left her afraid to speak up for years, and the story resides firmly in the vein of other women who spoke out in solidarity with the #MeToo movement. Dykstra prefaces the post by saying: “Emotional abuse is a very common thing. More common than you’d think.”
In the wake of #MeToo, we should not only scrutinize and reprimand those who engage in physical abuse or sexual misconduct, but also those who emotionally abuse — the most common form of abuse within relationships, (romantic or otherwise). Spreading awareness of the issue and bolstering individuals’ ability to identify and discuss emotional abuse needs to be the first step. Due to its often private and complex nature, emotional abuse can be difficult to identify, and therefore challenging to point out concrete instances of abuse. Not only is it often hard for onlookers to identify an emotionally abusive relationship, but even victims of emotional abuse can feel powerless and misguided in their attempts to identify abusive behaviors in their partner. Especially if the abusive party is actively attempting to make the victim feel deluded or dependent on external validation.
So, the conversation around emotional abuse crucially needs to be brought into the limelight, in the same way the #MeToo movement spotlighted sexual abuse and misconduct. Everyone should be equipped to understand what kind of behavior and emotional feedback is and isn’t acceptable. It’s perhaps assumed that people should know what they deserve and know how to stand up for themselves, but this simply isn’t the case. Being able to recognize the signs of emotional abuse and, perhaps most importantly, to trust your own judgment, are lessons that need to be instilled in the minds of young people early on in their lives. This knowledge is crucial, because emotional abuse isn’t limited to romantic relationships.
In her post, Dykstra writes: “I knew it was unlikely people would choose to believe me over a cheery-sounding famous guy. All it would do to properly come forward was hurt me. And guess what? It will probably hurt me now too, despite the #MeToo movement. We’ve come a long way, but we still have a ways to go.” Since it is so difficult to identify emotional abuse as a victim, let alone as an outsider, the conversation around emotional abuse will come down to believing victims’ experiences without dismissal, scorn or misplaced blame. Open, frank dialogue about the realities of emotional abuse are essential at this moment. As we’re beginning to loudly and vehemently reject inappropriate sexual behaviors, we should also reject more insidious and covert abusive behaviors that often support comparable power imbalances. And as we continue to see increased visibility around issues of mental health, a focus on promoting healthy relationship practices would be a valuable addition to our cultural conception of holistic wellness, especially because mental wellness is so dependent on healthy relationships. Dykstra is correct in saying that we have a ways to go, but that means we do, in fact, have to keep going.