You remember how it was. Compliments, excitement, adoration, gifts, trips and fun. Now those are fewer and fewer and the anger is more often. You brace yourself when you go home. You never know what to expect.
Your partner tells you their goal in arguing is understanding, resolution or compromise, but their words are shaming, blaming and said with the express intention of changing your perception to theirs. The conversation becomes circular always coming back to what you did wrong. You’re probably in an emotionally abusive relationship.
The goal of verbal abuse is one-upmanship, control and humiliation not real compromise or understanding. Often an abused partner will spend inordinate energy and time trying to explain their ideas and motives to the abuser, only to be met with disqualifications and humiliation. If someone is scolding you for not loving them correctly or telling you that you are responsible for their anger, loneliness, rage, or behavior you are experiencing emotional abuse.
No one can shame another person into loving them or feeling emotionally safe. An abuser is not after intimacy or transparency, they are trying to get undivided emotionally charged attention from you. They want your undivided attention, control and for you to subjugate yourself to their perceptions.
Abusers accuse and shame. They don’t take responsibility for their own feelings, outbursts or threats.
They don’t exhibit real curiosity for others’ emotions or hopes. They do not show respect for ideas differing from their own.
They are unable to clam themselves down when upset and take their frustrations about life out on those close to them. Their own reality and perceptions are the only “right” ones. Black and white thinking is a sign of low psychological sophistication and immaturity. This all or none approach to life is often targeted at those nearest the abuser.
Situations (things that happen, things others do) reveal a person (expose their motives/feelings, what they are capable of, etc.) circumstances don’t make a person (mad, sad, retaliatory, aggressive, blaming, etc.). Circumstances do not dictate how a person will respond, they are opportunities that expose what is really inside a person. An abuser will tell a partner that he/she is responsible (or work, finances, relatives or other drivers are responsible) for the abuser’s reactions, feelings and acting out behaviors. This is as mature as a child telling a sibling across the table, “You looked at me and made me spill my milk!”
Adults are responsible to develop self-soothing activities (hobbies, friends, creative outlets, physical exercises, relaxation techniques, etc.) to handle uncomfortable feelings. Abusers do not take responsibility for their uncomfortable feelings, they blame the person closest to them who is often trying to make the relationship work by acquiescing and not making waves.
Victims of abuse often become depressed and/or anxious. They try over and over to use compromise, explanations and avoidance to please the abuser. This only leads to the abuse victim feeling invisible, alienated, helpless and often out of touch with what they feel, want and believe. The victim’s attention becomes more and more focused on what the abuser feels, what the abuser wants or the beliefs held by the emotionally abusive partner.
Once this painful pattern is recognized it can take a lot of time and effort to reclaim the lost aspects of oneself. If you feel you may be the victim of emotional abuse begin by being gentle with yourself. Say kind things to yourself. You didn’t get into this situation over night and it may take some time to change it.
Begin by learning to identify abuse.
Abusers say things like:
“If you were really sorry you wouldn’t have done it in the first place.”
“Your apology wasn’t sincere.”
“I do everything for you, what do you do for me?”
“You’re so gullible/naive.”
“I didn’t mean anything by it. Why can’t you just take a joke?”
“That’s not what I meant. Can’t you ever listen? I love you more than anyone ever will.”
“You don’t understand love, you came from a dysfunctional family.”
“Your’e going to wear that!?”
“If you don’t understand (behave) I’m just going to leave.”
“You’re just trying to make me mad, aren’t you?”
“Women are to subjugate themselves to their husband in all ways.”
“Husbands have to love their wives.”
“Your friends wouldn’t talk to you if they knew how you really are.”
“Why are you so defensive all the time? You always think I’m mad when I’m not.”
“You’re always making excuses. I don’t care what you meant to do, it’s what you do that matters.”
“No one else is going to love you/do for you what I do.”
“Don’t walk away from me I’m not done talking.” (This can go on into early hours of the morning.)
“You know what you did.”
“You can’t support yourself. I put up with you. How do you make my life better?”
“If you leave I will take the kids away.”
“You know what you did (years ago) and you deserve what you get.”
If you think you may be in an emotionally abusive relationship gather as much information as you can. Breaking free of emotional, verbal, financial or physical abuse is very difficult. Surround yourself with friends and family who are caring and see you for the wonderful person you are. Develop a sense of yourself. Don’t isolate. Follow your dreams. Join groups of positive inspirational people. Take care of yourself physically, eat and sleep well. Give yourself credit everyday for the things you accomplish. Remember you are responsible for handling your feelings and your partner is responsible to handle theirs. Individual therapy and group support can be helpful.
Signs of Verbal Abuse Video
Books on emotional and verbal abuse
Books to improve communication
Narcissists and Intimacy Video
© 2012 Lois Nightingale, Ph.D.