If you are in an emotionally abusive relationship, it will be difficult but not impossible for you to reclaim your personal power. Of course, doing so will be confrontational to the person who is so aggressively trying to rob you of it. While you may simply remove yourself from the relationship and avoid confrontation altogether, if it's a parent, sibling, or spouse, you'll likely want to make an attempt at changing the relationship first.

An emotional shield is a person who can support you while you are confronting your abuser. It should be someone who pledges beforehand to act as a buffer between you and your abuser if you start getting into trouble.

Jill decided it was finally time to confront her father. She dreaded the thought of doing it, but he continued to criticize every decision she made, even though she was married and hadn't lived under his roof for years.

Paul, Jill's husband, agreed to go along even though he at first insisted it was a family issue between Jill and her father. But he too was becoming tired of his father-in-law's derisive comments about Jill.

They agreed to meet at a local restaurant. Jill knew her father would have to listen to her without yelling or risk public embarrassment. Of course, he could always walk out once he had heard what she had to say, but that was a risk she was willing to take. Since she didn't really want to cut all ties with him, this seemed the only way to deal with the problem.

"Dad," Jill began after they had ordered, "you know I'll always love you."

It was her father's turn to be uncomfortable. He shifted in his seat and glanced at Paul. "Sure, honey," he said quietly.

"But, Dad, I've come to a decision about things. I just hope you'll understand." He looked puzzled and didn't respond.

"All my life," Jill continued, "it has seemed to me that you were never happy with anything I did."

At this point he tried to interrupt, to deny what she was saying. But Jill persisted.

"Please, Dad, let me finish. My grades were never good enough in school. You didn't like my clothes I wore or the friends I made. I've always wanted you to approve of me, but every time we talk, there always seems to be something I should be doing that I haven't or something I did that I shouldn't have done. I've spent my whole life wanting you, just once, to listen to what I had to say or watch what I was doing without bringing up everything you thought was wrong. I want you to let go of me, Dad. I want you to let me be who I am without interfering or criticizing."

"Why are you saying this," her father asked, ashen-faced and embarrassed. "If I thought you were doing wrong, it was my job as a parent to say so! What was I supposed to do? Let you go off and do something stupid and get hurt? I wouldn't be a very good parent if I let you do that!"

"But, Dad," Jill said, taking a deep breath, "you never seemed to think anything I did was right. You could always find something wrong."

"Well, did you ever think it was because something was wrong? You pulled some pretty crazy stunts growing up! Come to think of it, this is a pretty crazy stunt. Is this what you brought me here to tell me, that I'm a bad father!" His voice had increased to a level just below shouting. Jill's eyes were beginning to flood with tears. Paul decided now was the time to speak.

"Look, Bob," he began. "Nobody's saying you were a bad father. All Jill is asking you to do is think about how you treated her then and how you treat her now."

"I think this is between my daughter and me!"

"She's your daughter, but she's my wife and a mother herself. This affects all of us. We're just asking that you think about how the way you speak to her and treat her."

"Dad, I'm not saying you meant to be mean or cruel. All I know is how you've made me feel. I still desperately want you to approve of me, but I can't spend the rest of my life trying to get something you're never going to give!"

No one spoke for a moment while their dinner was brought to the table. Slowly, her father began again in a quieter tone. "I was always so worried," he said, "that you'd hurt yourself and that it would be my fault. That I didn't teach you well enough how to ride a bike or climb a tree. That I didn't give you the skills you needed to choose your friends or stay out of trouble. I never wanted you to get hurt...."

But I did get hurt, Daddy," Jill told him softly. "You hurt me...."

Paul just let his wife and her father talk. He didn't really have to say more; he just had to be there. As Jill's father tried to understand how she saw things that had happened in the past, Paul was able to provide examples he had seen in the time they had been married. But mostly he just moved into the background, asserting himself only when the conversation seemed to be tilting out of balance.

There are other sorts of shielding you can use besides another person; the telephone, for example, or even a long-distance relationship by mail. What's most important is taking that first step toward having a say in your environment, the people who are around you, and how you are treated by those people. In other words, reclaiming your personal power will mean learning to say yes to yourself when needed and no to others when warranted.

Copyright 2009 Gregory L. Jantz, Healing the Scars of Emotional Abuse, Revell.

About the Author

Gregory L. Jantz, Ph.D.

Gregory L. Jantz, Ph.D., founded The Center for Counseling and Health Resources in Edmonds, Washington.

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