Tuesday, April 27, 2010

On Emotional Abuse

This is a topic that is very near and dear to my heart.  Well, it's near.  As an escapee from a few emotionally abusive relationships, I have spent quite a bit of my life licking my emotional wounds, and for a while I jumped from one abusive relationship to another, each consistently worse than the one before it.  It got to the point where I took a break from dating for years because I didn't trust myself to make choices that would be healthy, either in a partner, or in a relationship.  Put simply, I was such a mess I didn't think it was fair to inflict myself on anyone else.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.  I'm already at the end of my journey, and I haven't even started from the beginning.  The following is a list, gathered from several different sources which I will cite at the end of this essay, of behaviors that can be classified as emotional abuse.  To be clear, if any, or even a few of these behaviors have happened once in your relationship, it is not necessarilly an abusive relationship.  Just as with the determining characteristics in psychological disorders, abusive relationships require consistency and longevity in their determining factors.

Putting down your dreams and goals
Threatening to use a weapon against you
Name-calling and put-downs
Yelling and screaming
Intentionally embarrassing you in front of other people
Keeping you from seeing or talking with friends and family
Telling you what to do
Using online communities or cell phones to control, intimidate, or humiliate you
Making you feel responsible for the abuse
Threatening to commit suicide in order to manipulate you
Threats of violence and harm to you or people you care about
Threats to expose your secrets

Do you feel that you can't discuss with your partner what is bothering you?
Does your partner ridicule you for expressing yourself?
Does your partner limit your access to work, money or material resources?
Has your partner ever stolen from you? Or run up debts for you to handle?
Does your relationship swing back and forth between a lot of emotional distance and being very close?
Have you ever felt obligated to have sex, just to avoid an argument about it?
Do you sometimes feel trapped in the relationship?
Has your partner ever thrown away your belongings, destroyed objects or threatened pets?
Are you afraid of your partner?

I experience many of these things over the course of my addiction.  And it was an addiction.  I was addicted to the feeling that if I was just "enough," the abuse would stop and my partner would go back to being the person they "had been" or that I had convinced myself they were.  That's the hard part, is that most abusers are not inherently bad people.  Perhaps they have traumatic pasts, or emtional or physical problems that "make them the way they are"... well, sure.  If you believe that people are purely emotional creatures, entirely ruled by their emotions, and incapable of assimilating new input and information into their world views.  But on some level, every miserable person chooses to be miserable.  And of course misery loves company.

But it's never enough.  The problem with a relationship like this is that you feel responsible for the other person.  You feel like they wouldn't be so possessive or controlling of you if they didn't truly love you and need you.  So you keep pouring love and nurturing into the person, hoping to fill the void in them so that maybe one day, they'll give back.  The problem is that abusive people don't have any self-love to fall back on.  They feed on the love of others because they don't have any of their own.  They will never give back because they have nothing to give. 

At some point, something clicked in my head.  I  had gotten to the point where I was so done with the abuse and emotional blackmail that I just didn't care if my partner hurt themselves anymore.  And what's more, I realized that I didn't have to feel that way; that being miserable wasn't a part of life, it was a direct result of the choices I had made, and of my continued choice to stay in my current relationship.  So I did what any logical person would do, and called my dad.  Okay, so it was totally a cop-out moving back in with my parents, but it was one of the best things I have ever done for myself.
The healing process was hard.  At first, I was totally adrift emotionally.  I had spent so much time being told that my decisions were wrong, my dreams unrealistic, myself worthless that I had no confidence in my ability to make my own choices.  Then, I swung completely the other way, positive that my experiences had given me unique insight into relationships, and I saw abuse and neglect everywhere I looked.  Eventually, the pendulum swung back to center, and now I try to see the big picture in everything, but it was a long journey, years in the making.

What makes getting out of these relationships and staying out of them so hard is a general quality of the people who find themselves in them in the first place: slightly lower-than-average self-esteem.  For whatever reason, "fixers" and "nurturers" don't quite value themselves as they should, and so convince themselves that the only partners they're worthy of are, in some way, "damaged goods".  To further complicate the issue, "fixers" will often subvert their needs to their partners in the beginning of a relationship, establishing a precedent that in the wrong situation can become hard to break.  Self-love is not built in a day, and it isn't something that, once acheived, is a given. It is a consistently active process. Just like love between two people, love for yourself needs to be fed, and nutured in order to thrive.

But it is possible.  To escape, to rebuild, and yes, even to love and trust again.  Believe me, I know.

If you are interested in further researching this topic, these are just some of the websites I found:



  1. Nicely put. It's always reassuring to know that someone else understands what it's like to have been there and come out on the other side.

  2. Wow, all of this hits alot of chords with me. I've spent alot of time being the "nurturer" to people who really were treating me like crap. Some of this really is female perspective, but I certainly went through some of the male equivalents. Although clearly nowhere near the degree that you have.