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Tolerating Emotional Abuse Invites More Abuse

Are you a pushover in your relationship?

Do you ever ask yourself, “How did I get to be such a wimp with my partner?” It likely happened when you acted out of fear and insecurity and decided to tolerate your mate’s manipulative and controlling behavior. Maybe you wanted to keep the peace or pleasing others is tied to your sense of self-worth.

Being a pushover is never the solution to a difficult relationship. Tolerating hurtful treatment weakens self-esteem and self-confidence and perpetuates the cycle of emotional abuse.

When you accept your partner’s disrespectful treatment, you allow yourself to become responsible for his or her poor choices. You become a hostage to someone else’s control.

Your partner’s abusive treatment towards you is not your fault. But you do contribute to the abuse when you don’t stand up for yourself and go against your best judgment.

The following terminology and true stories illustrate how people hurt themselves by disregarding their feelings, needs, and opinions in an effort to gain attention and approval in their relationships.

Chuck & Valerie

Chuck gathered the courage to stand up to his wife, Valerie, the day before, after another one of her rages against him. Valerie is punishing him with stony silence for having the audacity to challenge her. She ignored him last night and left for work early in the morning before he woke up.

Later in the day, as Chuck waits for Valerie to return home, his chest is tight, his breathing is shallow, and sweat beads on his forehead. When he hears her car pull up in the driveway, his heart rate accelerates. He burrows down in his chair and tries to read, but anxiety tugs at him and his mind races with random thoughts.

I’ll offer to cook dinner tonight or take her out to her favorite restaurant. Maybe she’ll forgive me. He glances around the room and spies his muddy shoes by the front door. He sprints across the room and puts his shoes away. I don’t want to give her any more reasons to start in on me. Chuck darts down the basement stairs to his home office. She won’t bother me if I’m working.

Overcome with insecurity, Chuck is deeply ashamed for being so afraid of Valerie.

Edgy Vigil: Chuck is in a state of intense dread and fear in anticipation of Valerie’s return home. He made an attempt to stand up to her, but backed down the moment she reacted with hostility. Changing behavior patterns in a relationship takes time and a great deal of courage, but it’s worth the hard work.

Carla & Sean

It’s four o’clock in the afternoon and Carla is cooking a big dinner for a family gathering to be held in her home. Everyone is due to arrive at five o’clock. She rushes around the kitchen so the food, drinks, and table setting will be ready in time.

Her husband, Sean, sees that she is busy, but he has no regard for her time. His need for attention comes first. He grabs her buttocks, spins her around, and pulls her toward him. Carla asks him to stop and explains that she still has a lot to get done before her family arrives. But Sean bothers her until she gives up, turns off the stove, and allows him to lead her into the bedroom.

Carla is repulsed by Sean’s demanding, self-absorbed behavior, but she has sex with him to avoid a fight. She doesn’t want him to be in an irritable mood, but she overlooks her own feelings. She hides her shame for compromising herself and puts on a happy face for her family.

Feeding the Dragon: Carla is feeding the dragon. She gives in to having sex with Sean to avoid his anger and maltreatment. When dragons are refused, they breathe fire because they believe their partners “owe” them sex, regardless of the quality of the relationship. Dragons use sex for power and dominance and as an attempt to meet all their emotional needs. They have severed any other emotional connection with their partners by abusing them.

Charlie & Leslie

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

One evening, Leslie and Charlie attend a party at a friend’s home. Charlie wants to engage in conversation with a group of friends, so he steels his courage to describe his 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,” he recounts. “I found myself spontaneously learning how to snowboard.”

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

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

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

Muzzled: Charlie refrains from voicing his opinions, thoughts, ideas, or experiences. Why? To avoid Leslie’s criticism and demeaning treatment, especially when other people are around.

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 ruthless conduct. 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 abusive treatment 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 is enabling Claude. She accepts, tolerates, excuses, and supports his abusive behavior in an attempt to cope with the abuse and its harmful effects. Enabling has a seesaw effect: The more partners enable their abusive mates, the more they disable themselves.

In my next blog post, I’ll continue to provide terminology and true stories to define and illustrate abuse tactics and effects. My next topic will be how some emotional abuse victims cope with the abuse by living in a world of illusion. They minimize and deny their mate’s behavior and their feelings about it. They even make up stories and believe the stories are true.

Keep the comments and questions coming. Let’s work together to expose and stop emotional abuse.