The simplest definition of emotionally abusive behavior is anything that intentionally hurts the feelings of another person. Since almost everyone in intimate relationships does that at some time or other in the heat of an argument, emotionally abusive behavior must be distinguished from an emotionally abusive relationship, which is more than the sum of emotionally abusive behaviors.
In an emotionally abusive relationship, one party systematically controls the other by:
- Undermining his or her confidence, worthiness, growth, or trust
- “Gaslighting” – making him/her feel crazy or unstable
- Manipulating him/her with fear or shame.
Here are examples:
“You shouldn’t spend so much on clothes, you don’t look good anyway.”
“Don’t complain about how bad you have it, no one else could love you.”
“Working and taking courses is too much for you; you can’t handle what you need to do now.”
“Your friends and family just want something from you.”
“I have to drink to be able to stand you.”
“One of these days you’ll wake up, and I’ll be gone.”
“You don’t know the first thing about raising kids.”
It’s important to note that most emotional abuse is not as direct and verbal as these examples. All the above can be implied with sarcasm, irony, or mumblings and can be communicated with body language, rolling eyes, sighs, grimaces, tones of voice, disgusted looks, cold shoulders, slamming doors, banging dishes, stonewalling, cold shoulders, etc. There are a myriad of ways to be emotionally abusive.
An emotionally abusive man controls his partner by manipulating her fear of harm, isolation, and deprivation; he threatens or implies that he might hurt her, leave her, or keep her apart from the things she loves. An emotionally abusive woman controls her partner by manipulating his dread of failure as a provider, protector, lover, or parent: “I could have married a man who made more money, I had more orgasms with my last boyfriend, you’re not a real man, and you don’t know the first thing about raising kids.”
This difference in vulnerability to fear and shame is why the gender symmetry present in emotionally abusive behaviors vanishes in emotionally abusive relationships. In other words, women engage in as much emotionally abusive behavior as men, but the systematic use of emotional abuse to control another person is usually the domain of men, simply because it is easier to control someone with fear than shame.
A typical defense against shame is to tune out the person provoking it. Although we never forget humiliation, it is relatively easy not to think about things that cause shame. The root of the word, “shame” means to cover or hide. That’s one reason we tend to make the same mistakes over and over, by the way. The cliché of the numb husband ignoring the nagging or shrewish wife isn’t far from the truth. The abuse, though inexcusable, is not as painful for him. He is more likely to describe himself as adaptively following the path of least resistance than as a victim living under the thumb of someone more powerful.
In contrast, fear is an alarm system whose threshold of activation is designed to adapt to a dangerous environment. In other words, the more you experience fear, the more sensitized to possible danger you become. That’s why you might be unnerved by a moving shadow after seeing a horror movie. The usual reaction to fear is hypervigilence. Women notice more of what the abusive partner is doing and are more likely to have their thoughts, feelings, and behavior controlled by the abusive partner. Indeed, it is almost impossible not to think about things that make you afraid when they are in close proximity.
In many ways, emotional abuse is more psychologically harmful than physical abuse. There are a couple of reasons for this. Even in the most violent families, the incidents tend to be cyclical. Early in the abuse cycle, a violent outburst is followed by a honeymoon period of remorse, attention, affection, and generosity, but not genuine compassion. The honeymoon stage eventually ends, as the victim begins to say, “Never mind the damn flowers, just stop hitting me!” Emotional abuse, on the other hand, tends to happen every day. The effects are more harmful because they’re so frequent.
The other factor that makes emotional abuse so devastating is the greater likelihood that victims will blame themselves. If someone hits you, it’s easier to see that he or she is the problem, but if the abuse is subtle by saying or implying that you’re ugly, a bad parent, stupid, incompetent, not worth attention, or that no one could love you – you are more likely to think it’s your problem. Emotional abuse seems more personal than physical abuse, more about you as a person, more about your spirit. It makes love hurt.
Eliminate Abuse by Increasing Compassion
Although occasional instances of abusive behavior do not constitute an abusive relationship, they certainly raise the risk of ruining health and happiness. Unconstrained by compassion, they can lead quickly to chronic resentment and, eventually, to contempt. That’s because we tend to form emotional bonds with an expectation that those we love will care about how we feel. When loved ones fail to care that we are hurt, let alone inflict hurt upon us, it feels like betrayal. Failure of compassion in a love relationship feels like abuse.
Neither anger nor compassion solves problems in love relationships. But compassion puts you in a position where you are more likely to solve the problem to everyone’s satisfaction. At the very least, you will never be emotionally abusive with compassion.
Shame Due To Physical, Emotional Or Psychological Trauma
If you were a victim of childhood abuse or neglect, you know about shame. You have likely been plagued by it all your life without identifying it as shame. You may feel shame because you blame yourself for the abuse itself “My father wouldn’t have hit me if I had minded him”, or because you felt such humiliation at having been abused “I feel like such a wimp for not defending myself”? While those who were sexually abused tend to suffer from the most shame, those who suffered from physical, verbal, or emotional abuse blame themselves as well. In the case of child sexual abuse, no matter how many times you have heard the words “It’s not your fault,” the chances are high that you still blame yourself in some way for being submissive, for not telling someone and having the abuse continue, or for telling someone and not being believed.
In the case of physical, verbal, and emotional abuse, you may blame yourself for “not listening” and thus making your parent or other caretaker so angry that he or she yelled at you or hit you. Children tend to blame the neglect and abuse they experience on themselves, in essence saying to themselves, “My mother is treating me like this because I’ve been bad,” or, “I am being neglected because I am unlovable.” As an adult you may have continued this kind of rationalization, putting up with poor treatment by others because you believe you brought it on yourself. When good things happen to you, you may actually become uncomfortable, because you feel so unworthy.
Former victims of child abuse are typically changed by the experience, not only because they were traumatized, but because they feel a loss of innocence and dignity and they carry forward a heavy burden of shame. Emotional, physical, and sexual child abuse can so overwhelm a victim with shame that it actually comes to define the person, keeping her from her full potential. It can cause a victim both to remain fixed at the age he was at the time of his victimization and to repeat the abuse over and over in his lifetime.
You may also have a great deal of shame due to the exposure of the abuse. If you reported the abuse to someone, you may blame yourself for the consequences of your outcry, Your parents divorcing, a parent not believing you and beating you into believing it did not really happen, or your molester going to jail.
There is the shame you may feel about your behavior that was a consequence of the abuse. Former victims of childhood abuse tend to feel a great deal of shame for things they did as children as a result of the abuse. For example, perhaps unable to express their anger at an abuser, they may have taken their hurt and anger out on those who were smaller or weaker than themselves, such as younger siblings. They may have become bullies at school, been belligerent toward authority figures, or started stealing, taking drugs, or otherwise acting out against society.
You may also feel shame because of things you have done as an adult to hurt yourself and others, such as abusing alcohol or drugs, becoming sexually promiscuous, or breaking the law, not realizing that these types of behavior were a result of the abuse you suffered.
Unbeknownst to them, adults who were abused as children often express the overwhelming shame they feel by pushing away those who try to be good to them by sabotaging their success by becoming emotionally or physically abusive to their partners or by continuing a pattern of being abused or subjecting their own children to witnessing abuse. Former abuse victims may repeat the cycle of abuse by emotionally, physically, or sexually abusing their own children, or may abandon their children because they can’t take care of them.
Shame can affect literally every aspect of a former victim’s life, from your self confidence, self esteem, and body image to your ability to relate to others, navigate intimate relationships, be a good parent, to your work performance, ability to be learn new things, and ability to care for yourself. Shame is responsible for myriads of personal problems, including self criticism and self blame, self neglect, self-destructive behaviors such as abusing your body with food, alcohol, drugs, or self mutilation, or by being accident prone, perfectionism, based on fear of being caught in a mistake, believing you don’t deserve good things, believing if others really knew you they would dislike or be disgusted by you (commonly known as the “imposter syndrome”), people pleasing and co-dependent behavior, tending to be critical of others, trying to give shame away, intense rage, frequent physical fights or road rage, and acting out against society like breaking rules or laws.
Shame from childhood abuse almost always manifests itself in one or more of these ways:
•It causes former abuse victims to abuse themselves with critical self-talk, alcohol or drug abuse, destructive eating patterns, and/or other forms of self-harm. Two-thirds of people in treatment for drug abuse reported being abused or neglected as children
•It causes former abuse victims to develop victim-like behavior, whereby they expect and accept unacceptable, abusive behavior from others.
•It causes abuse victims to become abusive.
The truth is that for most former victims of childhood abuse, shame is likely one of the worst effects of the abuse. Unless you heal this pervasive shame you will likely continue to suffer from its effects throughout your lifetime.
Facing the problems that shame has created in your life can be daunting. You may be overwhelmed with the problem of how to heal the shame caused by the childhood abuse you experienced. The good news is that there is a way to heal your shame so that you can begin to see the world through different eyes, eyes not clouded by the perception that you are less than, inadequate, damaged, worthless, or unlovable.
The Healing Power of Self-Compassion
Like a poison, toxic shame needs to be neutralized by another substance, an antidote. Compassion is the only thing that can counteract the isolating, stigmatizing, debilitating poison of shame.
Victims of childhood abuse need most is what is called a “compassionate witness” to validate their experiences and support them through their pain. me.
“Shame is sickness of the soul.”
While many people suffer from shame, not everyone suffers from what is referred to as debilitating shame. Debilitating shame is shame that is so all consuming that it negatively affects every aspect of a person’s lif. His perceptions of himself, his relationship with others, her ability to be intimate with a romantic partner, her ability to raise children in a healthy manner, his ability to risk and achieve success in his career, and her overall physical and emotional health.
Shame is Not a Singular Experience
Just as the source of shame can be all forms of abuse or neglect, shame is not just one feeling but many. It is a cluster of feelings and experiences. These can include:
Feelings of being humiliated. Abuse is always humiliating to the victim, but some types are more humiliating than others. Certainly, sexual abuse almost always has an element of humiliation to it, since it is a violation of very private body parts and since there is a knowing on the child’s part that incest and/or sex between a child and an adult is taboo. These taboos hold true in nearly every culture in the world. If the abuse involves public exposure for example, being chastised or physically punished in front of others, particularly peers the element of humiliation can be very profound.
Feelings of impotence. When a child realizes there is nothing he can do to stop the abuse, he feels powerless, helpless. This can also lead to his always feeling unsafe, even long after the abuse has stopped.
Feelings of being exposed. Abuse and the accompanying feelings of vulnerability and helplessness cause the child to feel self-conscious and exposed,seen in a painfully diminished way. The fact that he could not stop the abuse makes him feel weak and exposed both to himself and to anyone present.
Feelings of being defective or less-than. Most victims of abuse report feeling defective, damaged, or corrupted following the experience of being abused.
Feelings of alienation and isolation. What follows the trauma of abuse is the feeling of suddenly being different, less-than, damaged, or cast out. While victims may long to talk to someone about their inner pain, they often feel immobilized, trapped, and alone in their shame.
Feelings of self-blame. Victims almost always blame themselves for being abused and being shamed. This is particularly true when abuse happens or begins in childhood.
Feelings of rage. Rage almost always follows having been shamed. It serves a much needed self protective function of both insulating the self against further exposure and actively keeping others away.
Fear, hurt, distress, or rage can also accompany or follow shame experiences as secondary reactions. For example, feeling exposed is often followed by fear of further exposure and further occurrences of shame. Rage protects the self against further exposure. And along with shame, a victim can feel intense hurt and distress from having been abused.
Further Defining Self-Compassion
If compassion is the ability to feel and connect with the suffering of another human being, self compassion is the ability to feel and connect with one’s own suffering. More specifically for our purposes, self compassion is the act of extending compassion to one’s self in instances of perceived inadequacy, failure, or general suffering. If we are to be self compassionate, we need to give ourselves the recognition, validation, and support we would offer a loved one who is suffering.
Self compassion encourages us to begin to treat ourselves and talk to ourselves with the same kindness, caring, and compassion we would show a good friend, family member or a beloved child. Just as connecting with the suffering of others has been shown to comfort and heal, connecting with our own suffering will do the same. If you are able to feel compassion toward others, you can learn to feel it for yourself.
The Benefits of Practicing Self-Compassion
By learning to practice self-compassion you will also be able to begin doing the following:
•Truly acknowledge the pain you suffered and in so doing, begin to heal
•Take in compassion from others
•Reconnect with yourself, including reconnecting with your emotions
•Gain an understanding as to why you have acted out in negative and/or unhealthy ways
•Stop blaming yourself for your victimization
•Forgive yourself for the ways you attempted to cope with the abuse
•Learn to be deeply kind toward yourself
•Create a nurturing inner voice to replace your critical inner voice
•Reconnect with others and become less isolated
As you continue to practice self compassion, you will grow to more fully understand what a powerful healer compassion can be.
So in closing, no matter how horrific your past, love yourself, my beautiful followers. It truly allows others to love you as you should be loved💕💕💕💕