How did this happen to me?
You may be confused and wonder why you feel so bad. You may find the word ‘abuse’ scary. You may be experiencing arguments about nothing. You may be questioning everything you do – wondering why you end up yelling and feeling so angry and hiding things to avoid an argument or confrontation.
You are probably in a cycle – there is some tension, things get worse and then there is an ‘incident’ or abuse. Then there is a honeymoon period when you think ‘this will be ok’. And then it starts over again with some tension, and on it goes. Usually cycles escalate over time, creating more drama and tension.
What happens when you start to recognize what is going on? There is a difference between irritating behavior and abuse. This is very important as it defines your experience – if you start doubting yourself, step back and look at what is happening rationally. When you take emotions out of a situation, it is easier to determine controlling behaviors vs. irritations.
Watch for what I call ‘the dripping faucet theory’ - when the kitchen faucet drips, it’s no big deal. It’s a problem and needs to be fixed but it is manageable. After years and years of the kitchen faucet dripping, it will rust out and then there will be nothing left. That is how it is with verbal and emotional abuse, after years and years of abuse, you can end up becoming a shadow of your former self. Your self-esteem gets beaten down, word after word, incident after incident. When I left my situation, I was a shadow of my former self. I was fearful, anxious and doubted everything I did – including my decision to leave.
I tried to share with others, but they often didn’t see it or got tired of hearing my woes. It was then that I realized, “I’m in a pattern!”, “We are both unhappy!” “This is unhealthy for everyone involved”, “I have to do something!” Courage comes when you take a step. When you decide that you have had enough. When you realize that you are responsible for your life AND that the only thing you can control is you. So let’s get you started. Check out the FAQ’s.
YOU MAY BE WONDERING...
I’ve long theorized that people who get into these situations are usually nice, easy going and try hard to let things go. We are often willing to see the best in others and believe we can help, fix or change people. We often come from family systems where this took place and we learned that this was acceptable behavior. Our family of origin might include alcoholics or other addicts, or we might have been raised to feel we had little to no worth. Whatever the reason, we are here now and we can stand up and move ourselves forward.
HOW DO I KNOW?
If this is continuous, if there is a pattern, if you are put-down and treated like an object or servant, if you are told you are XXXX because you didn’t XXXX, if you feel isolated, if you experience verbally abusive statements such as ‘you are too sensitive’ or, ‘there you go again, blowing everything up’, ‘you are the one who is abusive’, ‘you are always trying to start a fight’ and on it goes. Control isn’t a one-time disagreement, it’s a pattern of behavior to help the abuser feel in control and secure.
HOW YOU CAN RESPOND
I didn’t know how to say ‘no’ or ‘that is awful, why would you say that to me’ or ‘I don’t think I want to do that’ but I learned. It took me 43 years to learn how to say:
...I don’t know
...Why do you ask?
...I will get back with you, I’ll have to think about this…
...That doesn’t work for me…
...I’m not comfortable with this…
Take the wind out of the storm by changing your reaction – asking questions or making statements that can’t cause strife can help tremendously. Examples include:
...Do I have this right? You may not agree with me but I hear you saying...
...Are you asking me…
...That sounds awful….
...I’ll try to do better…
...If I understand you correctly….
...Are you asking me to….
WHAT ABOUT THE COMMITMENT I MADE?
Commitments go both ways. Your behavior and choices can’t support an entire relationship that is toxic or abusive or controlling. You can only manage you, and a commitment is made when you decide to do your best. Navigating this issue is the same thing, you are doing your best. Commitment does not mean that you suffer. It means you give your all.
Getting the validation that you are in an abusive or toxic situation can make the difference you need to move forward. Verbal and emotional abuse are tricky because they are hidden, no one experiences this but you and outside of crying and a couple’s fight, it appears to all be ‘normal’. But normal it’s not.
Loving and healthy relationships include respect for each other and respect of self. They seek to understand issues and concerns rather than laying blame and demands. They don’t demean, put down or threaten. They are loving.
Help is available but it all starts with you. It’s not fair and it’s hard. It’s not about who is right and who is wrong. It’s about how you are treated and manipulated and controlled. Remember, when you stick up for yourself, you are giving your soul acknowledgement of your worth.
WHAT IS EMOTIONAL ABUSE?
There are a number of different actions that constitute emotional abuse, but experts agree it is the act of attempting to control someone the same way physical abuse does, Psychology Today reports.
“The only difference is that the emotional abuser does not use physical hitting, kicking, pinching, grabbing, pushing or other physical forms of harm. Rather the perpetrator of emotional abuse uses emotion as his/her weapon of choice,” the site notes.
“It is not normally consistent and can come in a variety of forms, from verbal intimidation to sexual assault. No two [people] are abused in the same manner but experts have been able to recognize a pattern which abuse tends to follow,” the site notes.
This pattern includes a tension building phase (the abuser is always angry), the acute battering phase (the abuser is violent) and the honeymoon phase (when the abuser feels guilty and promises to change).
FAQ's that help
1. Things grow in the dark. The more people who know what is going on equals more chance for you to get through any toxic or abusive situation – and the more that know, the less danger.
2. We teach people how to treat us. Through our response to words and demands made on us, we teach others what we will accept – and what we won’t.
3. We often forget how to set limits, i.e. ‘that doesn’t work for me’ or ‘not in my house’ are phrases that empower.
4. Some of the most powerful people in history have been in tumultuous situations and stood their ground, quietly, respectfully. Rosa Parks, Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King come to mind…
5. No is a complete sentence. If you are in a good mood, ‘No thank you’.
6. 99% of physical abuse begins with verbal.
7. When you change, you force others to change.
8. The hard truth is that we teach people how to treat us. We let them know what is acceptable, what isn’t and how much we will take. So we start here, changing our behavior and learning how to take back our power.