The impact of emotional abuse on work

Leigh Spencer outlines how years of emotional abuse restricted her ability to work and whittled away her confidence in herself.

Woman leans on a table looking depressed


Emotional abuse is invisible, the scars are internal and the damage inflicted by the emotional abuser is long lasting.

My late husband emotionally abused me for almost 27 years. The Wales NHS website, under domestic violence, states: “Even if your partner has not physically assaulted you, it is abuse if you are controlled by them to the point of being afraid of doing the wrong thing.”

The NHS website, in its list of questions determining what constitutes emotional abuse, asks: Does your partner ever “stop you going to college or work?”

I was never physically harmed by my husband. Therefore, it didn’t occur to me he was abusing me. Within six weeks of our wedding, I was pregnant. He persuaded me to give up work. Against my better judgement, I did. Effectively I gave up my financial freedom and allowed him to control me.

Control and work

There was only one legitimate time when I couldn’t work and that was when we lived in the USA. For the first few years, our visa didn’t permit me to take paid employment, but when we obtained permanent residency I was able to.

He then became self-employed and he “allowed” me to assist him with some of the administration. Then, he came up with the idea that I, being a former nanny, should start a nanny placement agency. He didn’t help me financially, nor did he allow me to take any form of business financing. We lived in a rural area that didn’t require nannies and I had to use our bedroom and the computer in it as my office.

Moreover, I was expected to help with the admin of his business, do the cooking and cleaning and continue to homeschool the boys as well as run the agency, meaning I couldn’t get out to network or build the business. To this day, I believe my husband wanted me to fail at running a business, as he constantly berated me for its lack of success. When he decided he wanted to move back to the UK, I shut down the agency.

Upon our return to the UK, he again prevented me from working. He monitored my internet usage, making it impossible for me to search for jobs or update my skills. When he died unexpectedly of heart failure, due untreated high blood pressure, the first thing I did was check our finances. He had left them in a mess. I sorted out his affairs, kept a roof over my son’s and my head, and started job hunting. My landlord decided to sell our house, so we had to move. All this was while I was slowly facing the truth about the abuse my husband had subjected me to.

I learned about coercive control, emotional abuse, gaslightling and narcissistic abuse, all of which he had inflicted upon me without me realising it. That control included isolating us very successfully, both here in UK and the USA. I don’t have any contact with my own family as he used a situation to split me away from them. Likewise, as soon as I started to make friends, he would find a reason to break up the friendship. After a while, isolation becomes a way of life.

As I emerged from the relationship, it might have seemed to outsiders that I was coping, but inside I was hurting as I faced the truth about the abusive relationship I had with my husband. The effects of emotional abuse are devastating to one’s confidence and ability to move forward with one’s life. One thing that would help with rebuilding that confidence is for people to believe me when I say I have been emotionally abused.

Job searching

Lack of confidence has affected my ability to find a job.

It is incredibly hard to get back into the workforce when you have been out of it for so long. Instead of seeing all the positive aspects, I only saw the negatives and became hypercritical about myself. All the job applications I had submitted and never heard back from, the interviews I had and never was offered a position. How do I explain the huge gaps in my CV? I am the wrong side of fifty-five and don’t have GCSEs but CSEs and ‘O’ levels.

I don’t have the confidence to turn these negatives into positives. Why? Because I was treated as a failure by my husband, he drained my confidence in my abilities. Now, I too believe I am doomed to fail. This is what being emotionally abused does to you and how it affects your job hunting.

Emotional abuse has many layers. Emotional abusers are very charming and can tell a good story. Prior to meeting my husband I had spent time in New Zealand and had worked as a nanny for two years in Canada. I was pretty confident, loved meeting people and taking on new challenges. Somehow, I have to dig deep and find that person again. The one that slowly stopped existing from 1988 and had completely disappeared by the time he died in January 2015. There have been flashes of her since then, but it is not an easy path I am on.

Leigh Spencer is author of Do You Mind If I Buy Myself Some New Underwear?: A transatlantic tale of emotional abuse, discovery and recovery.

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