The Other Kind of Abuse: Emotional and Verbal Abuse, Part II
by Nancy S. Tessler, Ph.D.
In my previous article, I have tried to present a picture of the emotional/verbal abuser with whom you might have a relationship----the intimate partner in your life who batters you with control tactics that ultimately beat down your spirit, self-confidence and sense of reality. Now, I hope to inform you of some potentially effective ways of coping with such abuse if your current situation (e.g., young children, financial need, limited skills or work experience) precludes you from leaving this kind of relationship (According to one poll, 75% of you feel compelled to remain in such life-defeating circumstances for some time to come).
The following recommendations are merely suggestions gleaned from survivors who have experienced all kinds of abuse--from active control maneuvers (e.g., arguing, giving orders, criticizing and/or raging) to more passive, albeit equally frustrating, means (e.g., silence, countering, stonewalling and sarcasm). Even with such behaviors, most abusers would deny the mistreatment, claiming to be supportive of their partners and masking their sadistic natures with a respectful demeanor outside of the home.
Even under the weight of such life diminishing forces, there are, however, some general guidelines that may inform you of ways to limit the abuse or, at the very least, help you find ways to obtain gratification outside of the relationship.
First. two major rules of survival that apply to all of you in abusive relationships:
- Do not expect to change the abuser. You cannot change anyone but yours
- Involve yourself in a supportive network, whether a therapy group or talking to as many friends as possible. Sharing your experience gives validity to your reality, which has inevitably been eroded by the abuser.
Other potentially effective means of containing and dealing with the abuse are as follows:
- Of what he/she may be communicating. Reflection or a daily diary helps in undertaking such an analysis.
- Of the abuser's purpose (i.e., to control you---diminishing you in order to make you more pliable). Mutuality is threatening to the abuser.
- That abusers make their partners responsible for their happiness. Do the following lines sound familiar? "You make me mad," as if you are the cause of the other person's anger. "You made me do it." as if you could make the other person---who is immovable--do anything.
- That the abuser may not see you as a separate person. He/she may not tolerate different opinions and make you responsible for all his/her feelings, thereby making you the object of his hostility.
Know about his/her quickly changing behavior
- After a wave of abuse, the kinder side of the abuser may temporarily emerge.
- If you are not there to be a scapegoat, he/she may seduce you back, only to repeat the cycle.
What to avoid
- Trying to change yourself to be perfect, so as to avoid the abuse. It's futile; you are not to blame.
- Isolating yourself. Seek out others to talk to.
- Trying to make everything better--often the survivor puts enormous energy into being acceptable and warding off the persistent rejection.
- Trying to change him. If your partner never expresses sorrow or never admits wrongdoing, but continues doing more of the same, you know you are dealing with a control freak.
- Don't abuse drugs or alcohol to relieve the pain.
- Don't try to enter into a discussion of the abuse, just say, "stop it."
- Take good care of yourself. Maintain healthy habits, exercise, and indulge yourself as often as you can (bubble bath, massage,etc.). Pursue your interests.
- Work to become as financially independent as possible.
- Protect your children as much as possible.
- Develop and maintain a supportive network of friends.
- Constantly reaffirm your own sense of reality--don't be undermined by your partner's twisted reality.
- Look for patterns emanating from the past. Were you subjected to abuse as a child?
- Enter therapy and/or a support group.
Finally, here are some verbatim responses that have worked for some abuse survivors:
"Cut it out."
"I don't want to hear it"
"Don't raise your voice to me."
"I will discuss this later when you are calmer."
"I'm leaving now. I will not stay here and listen to your tirade."
"I will not accept that."
"Wait a minute. It's my turn to say something."
If the abuse comes close to explosive proportions, leave immediately. You might even want to keep a bag packed and some alternative arrangements in place.
Please call my office if you have any questions about this critical issue or would like to form support groups.