Emotional Abuse Exposed: Part I

True Stories Revealing Emotional Abuse Tactics & Effects

Posted Feb 04, 2015

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Behaviors that involve deception, denial, contradiction, and invalidation are difficult to spot. Abusers often disguise these methods as harmless or blame their victims.

As a psychotherapist who treats emotional abuse survivors, I realized the lack of language to identify emotional abuse tactics and their intended effects creates a barrier to protection and healing.

To help break down the barrier, I developed more than 100 simple terms and definitions that help victims recognize the subtleties and complexities of emotional abuse and how they contribute to their own misery.

Listed below are the first examples of emotional abuse tactics and effects. In future blog articles, I will continue to provide you with more tactics and effects. The stories are true, but I have changed the names and some of the details to protect privacy.

Emotional Abuse Tactics

Sarah & Jacob

Sarah works full-time at an employment agency and has three children. She does what she can to support Jacob during his mother’s long-term illness. She cooks and takes dinner over to his mother’s house three nights a week, and on weekends she tidies up her mother-in-law’s home and runs errands for her. Sarah is exhausted most nights and unintentionally falls asleep when Jacob keeps her up to talk about his worries.

When Jacob’s mother dies, he accuses Sarah of not being there for him throughout his mother’s illness. Jacob’s criticism makes Sarah feel guilty. She pays special attention to him after the death of his mother, and she hopes he will forgive her. Jacob avoids reasonable discussion to resolve his charges against Sarah, however, so that she will continue to believe she owes him.

Guilting:  Jacob is fostering guilt in Sarah for failure to fulfill his unreasonable demands.  He refuses to forgive her, so Sarah will feel indebted to him. Jacob believes that Sarah is responsible for his happiness

Rachel & Brian

In Rachel’s sixth month of pregnancy, Brian brings home a large and dangerous guard dog that he used to secure a warehouse where he stores construction equipment for his business. When Rachel protests, Brian tells her the dog will stay in their fenced-in backyard and won’t hurt anyone. He instructs Rachel to feed the dog by opening the sliding glass door and putting food on the patio.

One rainy day when Brian is out of town, Rachel opens the sliding glass door to put out a bowl of dog food, and the dog muscles his way into the house. Pregnant and alone in the house with a muddy attack dog, Rachel is terrified. She calls for help and two men from the Humane Society safely capture the dog and transport him to an animal shelter.

When Brian returns home, he chastises Rachel. “You didn’t have to call the shelter. The dog wouldn’t have hurt you. Besides, you should have been more careful and not let him get in. This is all your fault,” he states. Brian retrieves the dog from the shelter and several weeks later, the dog bites his mother in the face.

Twisting:  Brian won’t take responsibility for his poor decision and ruthless conduct. He spins the truth and twists the blame on Rachel to avoid owning his harmful choice to bring home an attack dog. 

Emotional Abuse Effects & Contributors

Dorinda & Claude

Dorinda grew up with an emotionally abusive mother and is now married to Claude, who treats her just like her mother did. As a little girl, she learned from her father to tolerate abuse. He attempted to lessen the intensity of her mother’s wrath by being passive, obedient, and invisible. Dorinda is the same way with Claude and fears that if she makes a wrong move, he will punish her. She never disagrees with him or holds him accountable for his callous treatment. She lives for the moments when his need to feel like a nice guy prompts him to be kind to her.

Dorinda accepts Claude’s abuse as normal and inescapable. Her parent’s marriage is her only role model for intimate relationships. It doesn’t occur to her that she has a right to be loved and treated with respect, especially by her partner.

Enabling:  Dorinda tolerates and excuses Claude’s behavior in an attempt to cope with his abuse and its hurtful effects. The more she enables her abusive mate, the more she disables herself.

Leslie & Charlie

Leslie is shy and uncomfortable when she is the center of attention, but her self-confidence increases when she expresses herself and people support and validate her. Her partner, Charlie, uses her timidity to gain a sense of power and control over her. He gets perverse enjoyment when she speaks out and he discredits and silences her.

One evening, Leslie and Charlie attend a party at a friend’s home. Leslie wants to engage in conversation with a group of friends, so she steels her courage to describe her experience with learning how to snow ski. “The first time I went skiing, I didn’t latch my left ski properly, and the ski fell off in the middle of a downhill run,” she recounts. “I found myself spontaneously learning how to snowboard.”

People laugh, which encourages Leslie to continue, but Charlie cuts her off. “Okay, Leslie. That’s enough about your boring ski trip. No one wants to listen to your idiotic maneuvers.”

Leslie is mortified. Charlie has turned her fun to embarrassment. She waits until Charlie walks to the bar for another drink to resume talking. Just before he returns, she stops talking and asks someone in the group a question to take the focus off of herself.

If only Leslie knew that Charlie uses her to feed his obsessive need to feel smarter than other people.

Muzzled:  Leslie refrains from voicing her personal opinions, thoughts, ideas, or experiences when she is with Charlie. She is desperate to avoid his criticism and demeaning treatment, especially when they are with others. 

Stay tuned for more language and true stories explaining emotional abuse tactics and effects. I welcome your comments and questions.