Signs of Emotional Abuse
Are You in an Emotionally Abusive Relationship?
Signs of Abuse
Do you feel like you have to “walk on eggshells” around your partner? Are you afraid a lot of the time in your relationship? Is your self esteem being slowly eroded? It’s possible you’re in an emotionally abusive relationship.
Emotional abuse can sometimes be a tricky thing to identify for those in the situation because often the abuser employs tactics that make the other person feel like they’re going crazy. Abusive people will dominate conversations so that the other has little time to decide if the behavior is harmful. There’s often a pervasive sense of being off balance for the person being emotionally abused. They start to question their own thinking and eventually believe that they must have it wrong and in fact, they’re the bad ones for daring to believe such a thing about the abuser! We call this “crazy-making” because that’s precisely the impact it has on the receiver.
In my own practice I’ve seen couples come in where it’s pretty obvious this is going on. I’ve seen men and women in emotionally abusive dynamics with their partners. I’ve witnessed people literally verbally “shut down” their partner – and the other one shrink away right before my eyes. Part of the problem for people who are being emotionally abused is they often don’t realize it. They’re self confidence has been whittled down to a nub.
Could you be in an emotionally abusive relationship? Ask yourself the following five questions – which are also signs you might be in an emotionally abusive relationship:
1) Does your partner frequently criticize or humiliate you?
2) Does your partner isolate you from your family and friends?
3) Has your partner ever limited or controlled your access to money?
4) Do you feel trapped in your relationship?
5) Are you afraid of your partner?
The Cycle of Abuse
Another important aspect of this dynamic is what Dr. Lenore Walker originally coined as the “cycle of abuse.” Essentially, there’s usually a kind of repetitive looping that goes on that consists of four phases:
1) Tension Building: The receiver gets the sense that the abuser is upset and takes active steps to placate him/her.
2) Incident: Verbal or emotional abuse occurs – consisting of threats, humiliation, blaming, intimidation, etc.
3) Reconciliation: Abuser apologizes, minimizes the abuse, blames the receiver, denies it occurred, etc.
4) Calm: No abuse taking place, often called the “honeymoon phase.”
This cycle has the effect of eventually breaking the person down emotionally. It can happen quickly for some – and take years for others.
Final Thoughts on Emotional Abuse
There are many reasons why abusers and their victims get caught up in this damaging dance. The issues can almost always be traced back to the family of origin for both people. Abusers often had chaotic childhoods with a perception of little control – and deep down they fear abandonment. Sometimes they witnessed their parents engaged in it. The same applies to victims – part of their life story can be around “learned helplessness” for a variety of reasons. They may have a history of being in abusive relationships – or they might have witnessed their parents caught up in the same cycle. Regardless of how people get there – they can get out – and learn how to have healthy, loving relationships.
If you’re in an emotionally abusive relationship, make sure to take steps to protect yourself if you have the intention to leave. Have a safety plan intact and increase your support network. If you suspect your partner has the capability to become physically violent and you fear for your safety call 911.
Health and Wellness Associates
Archived : Jay Jaranson
Lisa Brookes Kift, MFT
Coping Steps for Verbal Abuse With Your Children or Spouse
Do you verbally abuse your family? Are there times you are simply out of control? There is no excuse for this kind of behavior and it must stop. Use these eight steps for coping and put an end to the abuse. You can also use these same steps if you are emotionally or physically abusive.
1. Identify the first sign of meltdown.
To begin to cope with your behavior, you have to identify the first sign that indicates you’re beginning to spin out of control. It may be dry mouth, red ears, flushed face, butterflies in your stomach or heart palpitations. What signals the start of your meltdown? It is imperative to identify this sign, because it is part of a chain of behavior to which you’ve become accustomed. Your first sign can lead to the second link in the chain, which is where you can make an important decision.
2. Consciously choose to cope.
You can use your first sign of meltdown as a cue to cope, rather than as a cue for meltdown. When you feel the sign you’ve identified in step one coming on, you can make a conscious decision to use it to begin your coping sequence.
3. Make an incompatible response.
You need to get past your impulse moment. In order to do so, you must make it impossible to abuse your love ones. What should you do? Leave the room. Go outside. Do whatever it takes that guarantees you will not abuse your children or spouse.
4. Write down and evaluate destructive thoughts.
Have a book that you use specifically for your coping sequence. After you make an incompatible response, write down and evaluate your destructive thoughts. Instead of verbalizing a destructive thought to your spouse or child, write it in your book. Then read it over, and realize you almost said this to your family.
5. Tell your accountability person.
You are abusive because you can be — you have no accountability. In order to stop, you have to take responsibility. Choose a friend, a family member or someone else to be your “Accountability Person.” You will be accountable to this person. Every time you write down a destructive thought or avoid an abusive situation, call this person. Read him or her what you wrote in your coping journal, and talk about how you feel.
6. Reward yourself for control.
Most likely, you’re as hard on yourself as you are on your children and spouse. You feel guilty and say bad things to yourself when you are being abusive. Remember, you need to love yourself when you make the conscious decision to cope and not abuse.
7. Engage in positive interaction.
When you’re through the impulse stage, go back into the room with your child or spouse. Give your child or spouse a hug, pat him/her on the back, do something positive.
8. Long-term: get counseling.
You need to see somebody on a regular basis to deal with what’s happening inside of you. You can go to a counselor, a pastor or a social worker; somebody who will listen and continue to guide you in the right direction. Make sure that you are taking care of you.
Health and Wellness Associates
How to Spot a Potential Abuser
- Excessive and quick commitment to relationships
- Extremely possessive and jealous, confused with love
- Control of all money
- Name-calling and demeaning
- Threats against you, your children or of suicide for failure to comply (emotional extortion)
- Exhibits cruelty to animals or children
- Takes away choices such as food, fashion, social life
- Excessive monitoring
- Dominating time
- Extreme sense of entitlement
- Blames the victim (“They made me do it”)
- Insecure but presents a false sense of superiority
- Lack of empathy
- Hypersensitivity and victim mentality
- Extreme controlling behavior early on disguised as concern for safety
- Presents dual personalities
- Poor communication skills
- Has unrealistic expectations or demands
In relationships, just as in every other aspect of life, the spirit and attitude with which you do things is at least as important as your actual actions. Embrace and incorporate these powerful values, and you will start living with more integrity, honesty, compassion and enthusiasm. This, in turn, will breathe new life into your relationship.
1. Own your own relationship.
You are fully accountable for your relationship. You can never again believe you’re a martyr suffering in your relationship because of an unworthy partner. Only when you stop seeing yourself as a victim will you start to see yourself as a fully competent and potent force in your relationship.
2. Accept the risk of vulnerability.
Do not let fear paralyze your life. Wanting, reaching out and letting yourself hope makes you vulnerable. At least by putting yourself on the line, you have the chance of getting what you want, as opposed to hurting with no chance of getting what you want. Not to venture is to lose yourself.
3. Accept your partner.
If your partner experiences in you the spirit of acceptance, then it is most likely that he/she will find you approachable. Two partners who are moving toward each other, rather than both trying to seek safety from pain, have a dramatically improved chance of reconciliation.
4. Focus on friendship.
You have to take a step back from the problems and pain of your intimate interactions, and focus on your partner’s positive qualities. Turn back the clock and recall what it was that started the friendship that matured into an intimate relationship.
5. Promote your partner’s self-esteem.
You must bring the spirit of acceptance into affirmative, interactive action. Find the courage and creativity to promote and protect your partner’s self-esteem, even when you feel compelled to be critical. By using the value of self-esteem, you provide a much more nurturing atmosphere, one your partner will not want to abandon.
6. Aim your frustrations in the right direction.
Work at sorting out the causes of your frustration, and resist the impulsive temptation to pick at your partner. Once you start seeing that the negative things you perceive in your partner are often things you see in yourself, you will literally alter the nature of your interactions with your partner.
7. Be up front and forthright.
Nothing can be more frustrating than what is referred to as an incongruent communication, where an individual says one thing yet indicates something dramatically different with his or her nonverbal conduct. Strive to express your feelings in a mature and responsible way. By being honest about your emotions, you base your relationship upon integrity rather than lies and deception.
8. Make yourself happy instead of right.
Start evaluating the things you do in your relationship based on whether those thoughts, feelings and actions are working. For example, you don’t have to prove over and over that you know what you’re talking about more than your partner. Instead, choose a different emotion such as tolerance, understanding or compassion that does not escalate hostility in your relationship. By deciding to be happy rather than right, you will be receptive to your partner’s attempts to de-escalate hostility and return to civil interactions.
9. Allow your relationship to transcend turmoil.
Rough times and arguments happen, and one way or another, they are going to impact the relationship. You must vow to no longer use threats as a lever to manipulate and control your partner. By doing so, you’re setting a clear limit on the places a spirited discussion with your partner will not go.
10. Put motion into your emotion.
You must turn the concept of love into a proactive behavior. Don’t be so consumed with negative messages that your expectations are low. You must require yourself and your relationship to truly be better.